Penn State Squirrels: A Species All Their Own


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So unless you are brand new to University Park, or you live in a box, you'd know that the squirrel population here is almost uncomfortably friendly. Frequently while passing by the hub, you see squirrels and humans interacting in a way that you'd never find somewhere else. According to an article in State College Magazine, The Squirrel Next Door, in 1925, the University purchased 4 pairs of squirrels for $32 in the hopes that they would populate the area around State College and become a charming addition to the Penn State Campus. Little did they know back than, that they would actually become the topic of conversation amongst many Penn Staters. Why are these squirrels so friendly and willing to interact with people? Scientifically, this argument can be viewed in many different ways. Based on what i know from psychology classes and the scientific method, i'd say that it could be balled down to a nature versus nurture issue. Is the reason as to why these squirrels are so persistently friendly due to something biological such as their fight or flight response? Or is it the fact that theyve been in a highly populated area for so long that they've adapted to the environment and have thrived through the help of human interaction? I think it could possibly be a mixture of both. On the one hand, its possible that they have survived and thrived due to their human interaction, and those squirrels who can be seen around campus every day have learned that humans can be used for their many resources and scraps they leave behind. Not only do these squirrels answer to food, but after they take your food they'll graciously thank you by attempting to run up the inside of your pant legs. Don't be fooled however, to me squirrels are still rats with tails, but these squirrels in particular are the friendliest ones i've ever encountered. Next time you are walking outside on Pollock road, pay attention to the squirrels. Because they have not always been here, it is fascinating to me that theyve become such a staple here in the community. Why do you think they are so friendly? Is it nature, nurture, or both?



7 Comments

I'm a freshman, so I've only been on campus for about a month; however, my brother and all of his friends from home are sophomores and constantly discussed the State College squirrel phenomenon when home. I've noticed that rather than run away like squirrels do literally ANYWHERE else, squirrels here on campus welcome human interaction with open arms...it's really odd. Although, you mentioned that the squirrels here in state college are not wild at its roots due to the fact that they were purchased, bred, and forced to make a squirrel population on campus. So, I guess you could say that they've essentially in a way, been domesticated. I believe it has to be a nurtured characteristic, if it were nature than squirrels everywhere would have to have such endearingly friendly qualities, and they certainly don't. Perhaps, those 8 squirrels that arrived in state college almost 100 years ago felt foreign to campus and relied on the Penn State human community to survive in their new territory. And as those 8 squirrels began to reproduce those squirrels learned to be nice to humans from their parents, resulting in generation after generation of friendly squirrels. I wonder if this would happen if you set 4 pairs of any animal species into a foreign territory?

This blog post is humorous and something we all as penn state students can relate to. Yes, I would definitely agree with your statement saying that these squirrels have in a sense become domesticated. We could research as to why animals become adapted to humans and how. Maybe they are similar to us and have been able to adapt to the environment that surrounds them like we tend to do as humans. It is interesting to think that squirrels would have such a humanistic quality.

I think this is a great blog post. The first few times I encountered state college squirrels I stopped in my tracks because they acted like they had rabies or something of the sort- just too friendly!I think they act that way just because they're so used to people. I think in a lot of ways they're just domesticated and are perfectly used to their environment.

This is such a great point! I am a junior and I still am amazed at how friendly they are. I am from New Jersey and in Princeton, which is another college town they have a population of black squirrels. They are polar opposite of state college squirrels. They are mean and they will hiss if a human is anywhere near them. The legend goes that when Princeton was established a student wanted to show his school spirit by bringing orange squirrels and black squirrels to the college campus. Little did he know, genetically the black squirrels were more malicious and killed the orange population. There are only black squirrels on the campus now. I wonder if the temperament of the squirrels at Penn State are genetic or if they have developed a good repor with the students on campus. This brings us back to nature vs. nurture. It is interesting because in the case of the black squirrels, I would say it is their genetics because the people in Princeton are just as nice. Does that make all squirrels genetically predisposed to personality and temper?

I'm going to put aside the fact that I'm bitter someone had the idea to blog this before I did. I ALWAYS wonder about Penn State's squirrels. When I first got to campus last year, the squirrels were one of the first things I noticed walking to class. Some of them will cut you off, others will sit still has you pass them mere feet away, and a few look like they're genuinely waiting for a back-sratch. In response to your post however, I think it is a clear case of nurture. If squirrels from a normal neighborhood were placed in Penn State's environment, I think they would clearly stand out. They would be more nervous around people and likely quick to hurry up a tree if masses were walking to class. The squirrels here have grown accustomed to 40,000 students passing them daily, we've developed a relationship with them. If anything, we've been nurtured to co-exist with them, just as much as they have with us.

I just found your post, and realized that I, too, mentioned squirrels in my blog post: http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/siowfa12/2012/09/cant-be-tamed.html

I find the squirrels here at Penn State extremely interesting, as they seemingly have no fear of humans whatsoever. Thinking about that prompted me to research why and how some animals become domesticated. Although I have no yet found specific research on squirrels, I found your post to be very interesting. I, personally, would choose the "nature" side in your argument, basing it on natural selection. Although there is an abundance of trees on the Penn State campus, many of which supply the squirrels with acorns, I believe that many of the squirrels survive on food from trashcans, the ground, or even directly from students. I personally believe that only the squirrels who develop the food-finding skills early on in life survive, hence only reproducing with other squirrels who have also developed these skills. Through this reproductive process, a type of natural selection occurs, leaving only the "fittest" (friendliest and smartest) squirrels alive on the Penn State campus.

Wow i'm really happy about all of these comments. I personally do believe that it is mainly and utmost a result of nurturing. I found it so interesting that the squirrels were actually brought here from somewhere else. Also the article pertaining to the Princeton squirrels actually blew my mind. With that being said, i really do think it could be a mixture of nature and nurture, especially after reading that comment. Even in humans, the way we act is due to a lot of things, including environment but not forgetting about temperment. When we come into this world, we do have a certain disposition when we're born. Maybe these squirrels to begin with have a temperment that supports the fact that they are so friendly, and because they are friendly we as the humans that surround them nurture this mentality and in turn, the squirrels appear to be outgoing and relatable. But in the end, until squirrels speak english or give us the time of day to fully observe them, they are kind of still a mystery to me.

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