The squirrel: Truman’s unofficial resident

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jul 17, 2013 in Rat News | Subscribe

Staring silently from windowsills, creeping around students and darting behind trees, squirrels are abundant on Truman’s campus and have become as much a part of the campus community as the faculty, staff and students.

The two species of squirrels regularly found in Northeast Missouri are the Eastern Grey Squirrel and the Fox Squirrel, said Danny Hartwig, a Missouri Department of Conservation Wildlife Management Biologist.

Fox Squirrels, the larger and redder of the two, are more common on Truman’s campus. Born on campus in many cases, a majority of the squirrels at Truman spend their lives in close proximity with humans, said Hartwig. This constant exposure to Truman students causes the squirrels to fear humans less, an adaptation necessary for their survival.

“I think it’s just the environment they’re brought up in,” Hartwig said. “If they’re out gathering acorns, there are going to be folks walking past them all the time. If they didn’t get used to people walking past them, they’d never be able to gather those acorns. It’s just a product of their environment now that we’ve moved into their habitat.”

While squirrels must maneuver around humans to obtain the food needed to live, many students, such as seniors Alexis Simmons and Laura Greaver, willingly come in contact with the unofficial Truman residents. Simmons and Greaver took student-squirrel interaction at Truman a step further during their freshman year.

In September 2007, a baby squirrel approached Simmons and sat on her foot while she was putting her bike near a tree. An animal lover, Simmons later rescued the same small squirrel from a large crowd of people and brought it in a box to her dorm room.

“I’ve always been really into animals and helping them,” Simmons said. “It’s just something I’ve always done. It’s never been an ‘Oh, should I do this?’ It’s ‘Oh, there’s a squirrel, I’m going to help it.'”

Simmons’ willingness to help the squirrel by giving it shelter for an evening was what she considered a “leap of faith,” as she had only known her roommate, Laura, for three weeks. The risk paid off and Simmons and Greaver worked together to feed and care for the squirrel for its overnight stay.

Simmons said she and Greaver enjoyed playing mothers for the night, feeding the squirrel mashed bananas and baby formula and even going as far as playing classic music to soothe the nervous animal. When the sun rose, it was time to bring “Rudy,” as they named him, to a conservation area south of town where was checked out by conservation agents and returned to the wild.

While some students draw the line at talking to, chasing and playing with the squirrels, others do not wish to go that far.

Graduate student Emily Temple said she refuses to walk near squirrels due to a fear that developed in third grade when she discovered pet rats in a friend’s basement. From that point on, Temple has been terrified of all rodents.

“My friends and family think it’s really funny,” Temple said. “They think it’s hilarious that I have this irrational fear, but I don’t think it’s really irrational. If they came to Truman, they would completely understand.”

Temple said she risks being late to class when she takes alternate routes to avoid squirrels. For Temple, this is a risk she is more than happy to take.

Besides the general fear of the squirrels’ comfort level with humans, Temple described the squirrels as “sneaky and manipulative” and having ill intentions. Temple said squirrels have on occasion thrown things at her from the treetops. She does not stand alone in experiencing such a situation.

Temple reports “squirrel attacks” consisting of being pelted with twigs and acorns by the mammals. While Temple is sure squirrels are throwing things at students, Hartwig and former biology professor and Dean of Sciences Scott Ellis have their doubts.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a squirrel throw something,” Ellis said. “I’m not sure they’re capable of throwing something. They might drop things, but I don’t think they drop things intentionally in order to hit things on the ground. I think that’s giving a squirrel more credit than its behavior repertoire consists of.”

While Temple suggested fencing in squirrels or sending them away, such measures may not be necessary to get rid of the campus squirrels. Although life on campus provides protection from many predators, another threat exists that brings an end to many squirrels: automobiles. Living an average three to four years, many squirrels on campus meet their demise in the form of traffic, Ellis said.

“I think it’s pretty common to see ‘smushed’ squirrels on the streets of Kirksville,” he said.

Squirrels are born into the Truman community and are sometimes removed by means of vehicles. The life of the campus squirrel is an eventful one, full of mixed receptions and human interaction. Love them or hate them, it appears Truman’s unofficial residents are here to stay.

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