Harry Cheese

Thanks to Gov. Mitch Daniels' "Lighten Up, Indiana" campaign, all of us know by now that we are one of the fattest, laziest states in the nation. Personally, I think a lot of us Hoosiers are just naturally big-boned, but there is no denying that obesity and the resulting health-related problems are on the rise here in Indiana.

Well, now comes even more alarming news from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources: Hoosier squirrels are also becoming more overweight, less active and, in some instances, even morbidly obese.

Normally, squirrels subsist on a diet of nuts, seeds and vegetation. Due to a wet spring and mild winter conditions, these natural food sources are plentiful. This means less foraging, less storing for later and more time for just kicking back and relaxing in the nest.

But this is just part of the problem. Many squirrels have also acquired a taste for discarded human food products. Especially enticing are french fries, hamburger buns, tacos and chips. Donuts are also a reported squirrel favorite.

DNR field officer Herb Smelt puts it this way: "Many of the so-called 'roadkill' squirrels you see did not die as a result of being hit by a car. At least half of those animals suffered major heart attacks just trying to exert enough energy to scamper across the street. Those chubby little woodland creatures died in their tracks. It didn't used to be that way, before this whole squirrel obesity thing became an issue."

Historically, the common gray or brown squirrel weighs less than a pound. Today's average Indiana squirrel weighs anywhere from two to four pounds, with most of that weight being carried in the stomach, rump and puffy squirrel cheeks. Sure, those overstuffed little fur balls may look cute, but these are the kinds of looks that can kill - literally.

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