‘Particularly chonky’ squirrels at University of Michigan great for Instagram, not so much for squirrel health

‘Particularly chonky’ squirrels at University of Michigan great for Instagram, not so much for squirrel health

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ANN ARBOR, MI — Squirrels have always been big on the UM campus. Quite literally.

The fox squirrels on the Diag — the ones with orange-ish bellies — were always bigger at UM than in her hometown a decade ago when Gail McCormick said she was a UM student.

But nowadays, the squirrels need another word to describe their even bigger size.

“These ones are particularly chonky,” McCormick said.

Their “chonkiness,” The Urban Dictionary’s word for fat animals, makes for fun on social media, though wildlife experts and squirrel enthusiasts say the food people toss at our furry friends is bad for their health.

Take a look at the UM reddit page, and every few days someone posts a picture with a caption like “EXTRA Chonky Diag Squirrel” or “the supreme chonk.”

(Just for fun, here are two more from the last couple of weeks with the captions “Saw this small dog on my way to campus” and “He generates gravity.”)

The photo taken by freshman Cori Spetnagel at the top of this story, however, shows a squirrel that was just fed Cheerios by students.

“The poor guy was just munching along, sitting there,” she said.

The increasing girth of these Rubenesque squirrels is shocking to UM alums, as well as those who visit campus.

One joke is that someone walking by had to search online for “what do pregnant squirrels look like?” Another is that the addition of Joe’s Pizza on South University Avenue coincides with the squirrels’ increasing body mass. Another student has even seen them fed Twizzlers.

Ann Arbor resident Olivia Post noted the squirrels do not seem as scared of humans as they should be, saying “food over fear, I guess!” For more reactions to the increasingly chonky squirrels, see this Twitter thread that saw more than 400 reactions.

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According to the UM Museum of Zoology, the typical diet for fox squirrels are acorn, hickory, walnut, mulberry and hawthorn seeds. Feeding squirrels makes them dependent on people for food, which increases their comfort approaching people and can lead to unsafe interactions, animal experts say.

At UM, the Squirrel Club is a student organization working to feed the campus critters the proper diet of nuts or seeds. It’s a way for the campus to come together during the fall and winter semesters when squirrels are fattening up for the cold, according to the club’s website.

Lainah Grace, a former member of the Squirrel Club at UM, said she had to be prepared with peanuts in her coat pocket “100% of the time” during the feeding frenzy.

“The squirrels are fearless,” she said, adding that today’s squirrels are “larger than any (she) saw.”

For current students such as Spetnagel, the students who feed the squirrels the wrong food are more into the internet humor over their girth than the health ramifications.

“Try not to think too hard about the health of these squirrels,” she said. “But it is nice to swap these photos with friends.”

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