Almost as iconic as the Flying Dutchman, the black squirrels of Hope College are well-known around campus for their abundance and surprisingly friendly nature. “The squirrels have kind of been a part of Hope culture in that everyone comments on them and how weird they are,” said sophomore Kianna Novak. As a result, it is not surprising to find that now, these furry friends have their own Instagram page, @squirrelsofhope.
Once a day, a new photo depicting the life of a Hope squirrel is posted from the account, along with a squirrelly caption. The person behind the handle, an anonymous student who speaks for the squirrels, first started the page as a joke after a friend suggested the idea following an all-too-familiar encounter with a squirrel on campus. “A squirrel launched out of the Durfee trash can and made all of us scream,” @squirrelsofhope said.
The Instagram has been well received by students. Rapidly gaining popularity, the page has reached 200 followers in the three weeks since it was started. “People have loved the page,” @squirrelsofhope said. “I know it is crazy, but I really do think it brings some happiness to people.”
“I think the squirrel account is actually really cool,” said sophomore Grace Purdue. “It’s weird but also a fun way to see how crazy the squirrels can get on campus,” Images on the account depict the daily antics of squirrels all across campus, from sitting on bikes and fire hydrants to sneaking discarded cookies out of trash cans.
“I really want this Instagram to be a fun way to connect the students of Hope with one uniting factor: we all love the crazy black squirrels of Hope,” said @squirrelsofhope.
Aside from their bold personalities, the campus squirrels are best known for their unique coloration, the result of a genetic mutation called melanism. This condition can also occur in other mammals and causes an excess of dark pigmentation in the animal. According to the webpage Squirrels at the Feeder, black squirrels were introduced to the United States in 1902 and were later released in the Battle Creek area by the Kellogg family, as well as the campus of Michigan State University in order to establish colonies.
Two species of squirrels commonly found in the northern Midwest, the Eastern Gray and the Eastern Fox, can both carry the mutation. However, while not unusual to see in the Eastern Gray variety, the sight of a black Eastern Fox squirrel is much more rare. Similarities make the two species easy to confuse.
Darker fur does help the animal stay warmer in the winter, when their black coat can absorb more of the sun’s rays, but does not always serve to hide the squirrel from predators as a brown or gray color would against white snow. In a more urban setting such as Hope’s campus, a lack of natural predators and an abundance of dining hall scraps means the black coated variety can thrive, and they do.
This is good news for @squirrelsofhope, who hopes to continue the page as the public demands. “I will continue to post every day as long as people continue to send me content,” says Anonymous. Pictures and videos can be sent via direct message to @squirrelsofhope, photo credit will be given in the caption.