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Campus & Community

Terps With Bushy Tails

With Popular Instagram Account, Students Keep an Eye on the Squirrels

By Dylan Manfre M.Jour. ’23

squirrel eating a chicken tender, squirrel near student's Croc, squirrel eating a granola bar

Whether it's hoisting a "tendie" in a tree, begging for attention or giving the look to passersby who get too close to a treasured granola bar, the daily lives of squirrels entrance Terps, who snap images to share with the popular UMD_Squirrels_ account on Instagram.

Photos by (from left) @real_lanceu, @gracequynnie and @_samanthabriggs

squirrel on a scooter
Scooter snack photo by @jpollack33

Spencer Lin ’21 has watched as tiny, furry critters across campus seemed to join the micromobility craze and take a perch on Veo scooters. He laughed when they suddenly *freeze!* on McKeldin Mall, trying to hide in plain sight from passersby. And he stared in fascination—and reached for his camera—when a bushy-tailed little omnivore hoisted up a chicken wing two-handed to take a bite.

These are the University of Maryland’s squirrels, and Lin realized he wasn’t the only Terp with a passion for seeing them scamper and chase each other around the manicured grounds.

That’s why the animal photography enthusiast started the @UMD_Squirrels_ account on Instagram in 2018, which he passed down at graduation to younger squirrel enthusiasts; it now has over 4,500 followers. Perhaps they see a bit of themselves in the cute brown-, black- and red-colored rodents?

squirrel lying flat on sidewalk
Nap time photo by @sophiawinner03

“I think that’s something they can relate to or be, like, ‘Oh, it’s fun that the squirrel was eating something I would eat,’” he said. “I think it’s funny when people see squirrels eat some of the food they have, digging out of a bag of Chick-fil-A or eating a dining hall cookie.”

The page now resides in the hands of Claire Nelson ‘23, an early childhood and early childhood special education major and friend of Lin’s.

The account takes submissions from the public, and Nelson admits she is backlogged with requests from people who want one of their favorite squirrel pics to make the big time. But Nelson doesn’t want just any ordinary squirrel photo or video clip. Technical quality counts, including good lighting and sharp focus, she says. Squirrels inadvertently copying human behavior, particularly in a situation Nelson hasn't seen before, are best of all.

“I don’t want to be too repetitive,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll post something that’s kind of seasonal so during Halloween and Thanksgiving break—I try to get posts that fit thematically.”

squirrel behind the wheel of a yellow car
Squirrel behind the wheel photo by @maddie.v.s

Lin said he always wanted UMD’s squirrel watchers to know “we can’t process all these submissions quick … it’s not because we hate you,” he laughed.

What’s the secret of the rodents’ popularity? Nelson thinks they are a stress-reliever for college students, and perhaps something like an unofficial mascot to rally around.

“It’s almost like we’re bonding over squirrels and there’s a sense of community over something that doesn’t seem like it has much meaning … seeing squirrels on campus almost unifies us in some weird way,” Nelson said.

Up until today, Nelson had not revealed herself as the admin on the account. At graduation, she says she plans to pose for a selfie with a squirrel—and then pass control of the account to the next student up for documenting an amusing slice of Terp wildlife.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.