By Brad Wyss
Pictures: Chicagotonight.com, Dailymail.com, StephenKing.com
Whether you’re parking in Dr. Dennis’ front yard or five football fields away on the back side of MPCC; while trekking across campus there is often a chatter that is nearly impossible to ignore. The perpetrator may be watching you from afar, above, or around the trunk of a tree. They are always there. The gray squirrel and the fox squirrel are some of the most cunning and active beings on campus day in and day out, and they often leave their impact in unwelcomed ways.
There are distinct differences between the gray squirrels and the fox squirrels in spite of their shared domiciles. The fox squirrel (pictured below on the right) weighs on average two pounds and can reach up to 40 inches long. The gray squirrel (pictured below on the left) weighs in at a mere lonely pound and is only approximately 30 inches. Despite the gray squirrel’s meager size they make up for it in angst in order to establish a hierarchy for feeding, mating, and nesting privileges. The most common sounds squirrels make are chattering and barking. Barking is used to establish dominance when in close quarters and to alert other squirrels in the same area of a dangerous situation or to say “Hey, get out of here. These are my nuts”. The chattering is the noise made when the squirrel is gnawing on its nutty forage, the bark of an old oak, or any other woody alternative. This chattering has no actual lingual meaning but it does satisfy a very important need of the scurrying tree dwellers; like many rodents, a squirrel’s two front teeth never stop growing which requires the toothy critter to constantly gnaw like a beaver to keep the teeth useful and from growing out of control. Understanding the guests on campus leads to the reasoning as to why they remain on the hill of dear ol’ McKendree.
A true tree hugger, an avid arborist, or the average Joe (or Joette) milling about McKendree’s campus would be impressed with the plentiful nutty forage about the ground all around campus. On the front lawn in front of Bothwell Chapel and Old Main there is a well-rounded pod of both red oaks and white oaks. These oaks produce the staple crop that feeds the majority of the furry guys and gals on campus: the acorn.
Oak trees take up to 30 years to mature enough to produce acorns. Luckily for the squirrels, a majority of the oaks are very mature and likely over a century old, producing plenty of acorns annually.
If you are walking between Voigt Science Building and Carnegie Hall there is one of the biggest nut crops produced in all of the Midwest, and second on campus, being the black walnut. In addition to being delicious and nutritious for squirrels, the hard outer shell on the walnuts creates a majority of the chattering done by the toothy critters. The third and possibly the least well known nutty tree on McKendree’s hill is the pecan. Pecans trees reside primarily on the far south side of campus lining College Road. One might recognize this tree by the triangular shells of the pecans surrounding its trunk littered about by the munching menaces. These nut producing members of McKendree provide both a home and plentiful forage for both the gray and fox squirrels.
We have got squirrels on campus; so what? According to first-hand accounts and mid-eighties news articles, squirrels have been terrorizing the hill of Lebanon for decades. According to Keith Suydam, long-time Lebanon resident and Horner Park Board member, there was talk of an organized eradication of the gray squirrels starting at Horner Park, the gray squirrel population being discriminated against due to their scrappy nature. Back in the eighties, the local newspaper, The Lebanon Advertiser saved the gray squirrels native to Horner Park. There were satirical news pieces and cartoons describing accounts of squirrels attacking small children and pets or even toting automatic rifles and grenades. Due to the opposition from the media, the gray squirrels were spared.
When asking around about accounts of terror, I asked Frank, a member of McKendree’s physical plant crew, of any damages squirrels cause around campus. Frank replied with general damages such as squirrels gnawing on the weathered wooden trim which is plentiful on McKendree’s Civil War era buildings. Frank also spoke of nests being made in vents about campus. Both of these accounts of destruction and intrusion can be deemed serious offenses, but the final account that Frank shared was one of terror.
Frank set the scene as there was he and a partner responding to a squirrel in a Carnegie Hall classroom. The squirrel breached through an air vent by the time they arrived. The perpetrator had scaled its way halfway up the wall and glared back at Frank and his partner as they burst through the door huffing and puffing from the elevation change of third floor Carnegie.
Frank explained that his partner was an ex-McKendree baseball player. Frank said “he picked up his broom and turned it over, and took a big swing on it (the squirrel) and it slid down the wall just like a cartoon character.” As Frank and his partner celebrate their victory over the intruding squirrel, Frank’s story took a turn for the wild side.
“The squirrel came back to life, ran around, jumped on the wall,” he said “then the best part of all was he jumped off the wall, ran around our feet and climbed up the pant leg of (my partner).” Frank spoke on and on about how hard he was laughing at his partner’s “horrified” face.
Squirrels are everywhere. In the trees, in the quad, in the bird feeders, in the air vents, and even some pant legs. Who do they know here? They probably know everyone on campus from Dr. D to Pizza Joe in Ames. Are they a problem? That is a case by case question for an individual to answer. To some they are an absolute nuisance and should be eradicated, and to some they are harmless little rascals sheltered by dear ol’ McKendree.