New England is under siege by squirrels as the varmints get ready for winter.
They're munching on crops, invading homes and their bodies are littering the roads. Denizens are likely wondering why.
"They're eating the pumpkins. They're eating the apples. They're raising some hell this year. It's the worst I've ever seen," Robert Randall, an orchard-owner in Maine told the Associated Press.
The boom in the squirrel population actually started in 2017, thanks to a bumper crop of acorns and other foods squirrels love. The result was that squirrels entered last winter decidedly full, with more of them surviving the winter than usual. When they emerged in the spring, these squirrels were quick to do what many animals like to do in spring: Mate and reproduce.
And mate and reproduce they did. Given that more squirrels made it through the winter last year, there were more squirrel babies this spring, and all of them need to eat.
Unluckily for New Englanders, nature didn't keep up the acorn pace this year, and so the squirrels are going outside their usual dining options and finding other sources. According to the AP, squirrels have been reported taking bites out of apples, peaches, high-bush blueberries, pumpkins and gourds, and some in New Hampshire are even dragging away ears of corn.
"It is crazy. You see squirrel tails everywhere," Greg Sweetser, owner of a boutique apple orchard in Cumberland Center, Maine, told the AP. Sweetser said that it wasn't uncommon to see squirrels nibble on apples that had fallen to the ground, but now they've taken to climbing the trees and munching on those apples as well. They're often only taking a single bite, however, and then moving on to the next course, leaving the fruit ruined. As a result, farmers are keeping a close eye on their crops as harvest season gets into full swing.
Homeowners are also being watchful of the squirrels. According to New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR), at least one wildlife control company has seen demand for its services double this year, and squirrel calls already made up 75 percent of its business.
The uptick in the squirrel population has resulted in one other unfortunate — or fortunate, depending on who you ask this year — side effect: There are a lot of dead squirrels along the roads. The Boston Globe reports that wildlife experts from state transportation and fish and game agencies have been "inundated" with calls about squirrel carcasses. One wildlife biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game described it as a "squirrel-nado."
Precise numbers are hard to come by and would naturally vary by state, but the Globe collected reports of one motorist seeing at least 100 dead squirrels in a single day in New Hampshire along a short stretch of Route 125. One motorist along the Maine Turnpike reported upwards of 320 bodies, while another reported 508.
Speaking to the Globe, Scott Lindsay, a wildlife biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said it wasn't completely unusual to have sizable increases in the squirrel population, but that he hadn't seen the population ever get this high before.
Lindsay did explain that there was a light at the end of this particular squirrel tunnel, however. Given that the acorn crop was smaller this year, it should naturally level out of the squirrel population over the course of the winter.
"Most things in nature are dynamic, and most times you're going to get back to equilibrium," Lindsay explained. "I suspect that's going to happen over the next year."
In the meantime, the people of New England will just have to be steadfast in their preventive squirrel measures.