It’s difficult to tell just how many squirrels reside on IU’s campus. For many, their fluffy tails and chattery teeth blend into the background of IU’s picturesque meadows and woods. For the newly created IU Squirrel Club, the critters are more than just indistinguishable animals; they all have their own unique personalities.
Fifth year senior Emily Jones, founder and president of IU Squirrel Club, said she became interested in squirrels when she arrived as a freshman in 2013.
Jones said it all began with the Instagram account she created two years ago, squirrels_of_iu. Jones first posted Sept. 3, 2015. The photo of a squirrel named Big Mr. Plumpy garnered only 12 likes. A post from Saturday, of a squirrel named Bumpkin, already has 1,038 likes as of Monday afternoon. The page has a total of 6,876 followers.
“It was kind of a joke, honestly,” Jones said. "There was a squirrels of IU Instagram account but it was defunct. The person hadn't posted in years and I was just like 'let's get it started up again.'”
The club has only just started up this fall. Jones said the club arose from followers on the Instagram page pestering her to start a club to learn how to feed the squirrels and identify them.
The club meets every Saturday at the Sample Gates for Squirrel Scavenger Saturdays. Jones said the meet-ups are open to anyone who wants to join.
“We go visit individual squirrels on campus and take pictures," Jones said. "It's a chance for photographers, really, to get together and shoot."
Jones said that another aspect of the club was looking out for the health of squirrels on campus. She said that they are trying to form a relationship with Wild Care Inc., an animal care facility in Bloomington.
“I try to look out for them,” Jones said.
She said the most important thing to look out for is mange, which is a burrowing parasite that causes hair loss on the animals that can become infected. The group can treat them by putting a drop of the antibiotic Ivermectin on a nut and feeding it to them for three weeks.
The club met Saturday for a Scavenger Saturday. Jones was late to arrive, but only because she ran into a group of four Mormon missionaries while she was feeding squirrels. No other members were able to make it to the meet-up, but the missionaries tagged along.
Jones brought along a plastic tub of assorted nuts for the squirrels that she had bought from Kroger.
“Too much of my budget goes toward nuts,” Jones said. “I feed the squirrels, and then I feed myself.”
Through her years at IU, Jones has gotten to know many different squirrels across campus based on their physical characteristics and their different territories.
"You know it's Sampson because he has giant balls,” Jones said. “He's like, very popular with the female squirrels here.”
Coming across a squirrel while walking around campus, Jones would make a squirrel call and say the squirrel’s name. To make the call, Jones would click her tongue rapidly, while wagging two fingers to imitate a tail flick.
Jones said she learned the squirrel call by imitating the noises squirrels make to one another to indicate where nuts were buried.
Jones said she’s no stranger to having a few nicknames. She said at the Jacobs School of Music, she’s known as Squirrel Girl. A few times, squirrels have even followed her onto the bus.
"It was either strange looks or, 'Are you a Disney princess?'" Jones said.
For Jones, being able to connect with the squirrels on campus is therapeutic. She said that having an animal that knows her and can pick her out of a crowd is a bit of an ego boost.
“It's just a really cool thing to be invited into the squirrel world,” Jones said.
Senior Jacqueline Flowers said she joined this fall because of her love for animals. She said that she found out about the club by following the Instagram page.
“I really like the stories that they have along with it,” Flowers said. “You can tell that Emily knows the squirrels very well. It’s cool to not just learn about squirrels but kind of follow the lives of these individual ones.”
On the tour across campus, Jones spoke about the different personalities of a couple of different squirrels that she’s gotten to know. She has approximated their ages based on their physical characteristics and how long she has known them.
Here are two of IU’s most famous squirrels.
Age 8 years
Defining physical characteristic Gray around her muzzle
Territory Wells Quadrangle
Children Two babies who have since left the nest
Favorite foods Strawberries, cicadas, macadamias and pecans
Likes Laying on the ground during the summer, known as “pancaking,” to stay cool
Dislikes Unimpressive suitors
Personality Jones said Charlotte is a queen with a big ego. She is independent and likes her alone time, but is very social too. Jones said she gets around eight or nine male suitors.
“They'll actually line up on the tree to impress her with tail flicking,” Jones said. “This summer I was watching the whole courtship ritual and she took a squirrel and threw him off the branch, like 20 feet below. He limps to this day because of her, so I call him Limpy."
Age 6 years
Defining physical characteristics Over-sized testicles
Territory The field across from T.I.S. on East Third Street
Children Hugh and Sammy
Favorite foods In-shell walnuts and dried fruit
Likes The ladies
Dislikes Other squirrels, dogs
Personality Jones said that Sampson is one of the smartest squirrels she knows.
“He's just very aware of his surroundings,” Jones said. “He'll look left and right when he crosses the street. He'll, like, follow me sometimes and hide in the bushes and just watches."
Sampson is also particularly acrobatic. When Jones offered him a nut, he crawled down a low-hanging branch. Hanging upside down from the branch, Sampson took the nut right from Jones’ hand with his mouth.