I’m going ‘nuts’ over our campus squirrels

Sarah Buchmann

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed some strange things around our campus. Namely, our campus squirrels. If you, like me, spend a lot of time looking down as you walk, you might have seen it too. All around campus, our squirrels are dying – or are they? I’m launching a full-blown investigation to determine the cause of our inanimate squirrels. 

 A potentially dead squirrel lying outside Dodds and Magill.
Photo: Sarah Buchmann

The squirrels, as far as I can tell, have had no bodily harm done to them. The above picture is just one of the many that I and others have seen around campus. There is never any carnage, just what appears to be a sleeping or dead squirrel.

After posting on social media my concerns, I got a few responses. The most notable came from a friend of a friend, Anna Jo (AJ). AJ explained that the squirrel was “just asleep because of the cold” and not to worry. Furthermore, AJ said that when the squirrel became warm enough, he would “just hop right up and keep being a squirrel”.

As great as it was to finally have an explanation, I wanted to confirm this theory. I took to the internet, and found no such thing as “squirrel cold naps” or “comatose squirrels”. Or rather, the results that I did find had nothing to do with the dilemma at hand.

I turned to the biology department and emailed Dr. Given Harper. I gave him Anna Jo’s theory, as well as suggested that it might be an effect of global warming. For example, the pika, another small rodent, is dying out in mountainous areas due to rising temperatures and being unable to adapt quickly.

But Dr. Harper nixed both theories, saying “Squirrels do not hibernate and they do not take naps as they would be vulnerable to predators.” He continued to say, “squirrels are not affected by climate change in a way similar to pikas.” Nonetheless, Dr. Harper provided a new theory: “It is possible [the squirrels] may have eaten some fermented berries and are intoxicated (this occurs with birds), but this is a very wild guess.”

I took the liberty of looking into this theory as well – but only found videos of squirrels acting tipsy and stumbling around as if they were on their way home from a late night at Mugsy’s. 

As my search continued, a friend sent me a link to an old IWU blog, Ask Tommy. This blog ran from June 2009 to August 2012 and had one squirrel related question that caught my attention. “Dear Tommy,” the query said, “I recently found a squirrel skull on campus. Does this mean that our quad squirrels are not immortals sent from an alien world? I was hoping they were because their furry smiles always make my day.”

Silliness of this aside, Tommy responded in all sincerity, that the squirrels may indeed be mortal. But Tommy gave another idea as well: some squirrel deities “planted the aforementioned skull to make you think they are mortal—so that they may continue on with their mysterious and insidious plans while we are none the wiser.”

Tommy pointed the asker to the Twitter account @IWU_QuadSquirls, but there was never anything mentioned throughout the account of dead squirrels, sleeping squirrels, or inanimate squirrels. 


The full exchange between Tommy and Squirrel Lover from the Ask Tommy blog.

Clearly, Tommy’s suggestion does not offer a real answer to our problem, and thus I am at a dead end in my investigation. But this does not solve the problem. Our squirrels are dying. Some more realistic possibilities than immortal squirrels (however much I would love that to be true) include, but are not limited to:

  • Some nut job with a pellet gun and a pension for hunting squirrels,
  • The landscape staff accidentally poisoning the squirrels with chemicals, or
  • The squirrels are just screwing with us.

As much as I would love to leave this mystery unsolved, I’m growing pretty desperate. If you have any information regarding these squirrels and their demise, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.