South Carolina

Face-eating squirrels ravage jack-o’-lanterns in South Carolina neighborhood

It was a dark and stormy night —

No, no. Wait.

It was a perfectly average night in Columbia’s Rosewood neighborhood. The jack-o-lanterns were left by the porch steps with care, in hopes that Halloween soon would be there.

But terror — with fluffy little tails and sharp little teeth — was lurking.

On Monday evening, John Codega and his family carved their annual Halloween pumpkin. Triangle eyes and nose. Jagged smile. Just your typical jack-o’-lantern.

They set it outside overnight. Come morning, the pumpkin remained untouched.

But by afternoon, it had become “the stuff of nightmares,” Codega said.

“They’ve gnawed off the face,” he said. “And it gets more and more grotesque by the day.”

Rosewood’s serial Halloween bandits struck again, as they have for years before. They’ve never been stopped.

The culprits? A band of face-eating, menacing — but kinda cute, to be honest — squirrels.

“Zombie squirrels,” said Tim Bettis, whose innocent jack-o’-lantern succumbed to the terror in less than 24 hours.

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A before-and-after view of Tim Bettis’ jack-o’-lantern, which lasted less than 24 hours before being destroyed by Rosewood’s face-eating zombie squirrels. Provided photo Tim Bettis

“We made a joke about how it probably wouldn’t even make it to Halloween,” he said. “Last year, every kid that came to the house kept telling us that our pumpkin was broken.”

All across Rosewood, one of downtown Columbia’s signature neighborhoods, face-eating squirrels have wreaked havoc on Halloween pumpkins.

“That’s been going on for years,” said Glenn Matthews, who owns Columbia’s Modern Exterminating company and lives in the nearby Shandon neighborhood, which is a haven to countless squirrels. “They don’t get arrested for it either. Can you believe it?”

In all seriousness, it’s no surprise that jack-o’-lanterns fall such easy victim to squirrels, Matthews said.

“They don’t know that’s your pumpkin. They don’t know you’re trying to make a statement,” he said. “You’re basically putting out food for wild animals.”

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Rosewood resident Sheri Koch caught one of Rosewood’s “zombie squirrels” in the act of pumpkin eating. Koch had not even carved her pumpkin yet before it was eaten. Provided photo Sheri Koch

In a lighthearted thread on a neighborhood Facebook page, some Rosewoodians have suggested possible remedies to protect pumpkins from the squirrels: Cayenne pepper? Hot sauce?

“I really don’t know personally if that works or not,” Matthews said. “It sounds good. I would assume that after a while, they would wear off, just like anything else. ... If you don’t want them eating your pumpkins, don’t put it out there, would be my suggestion.”

Perhaps, though, the squirrels are just getting into the Halloween spirit as much as anyone else.

As the face of his poor jack-o’-lantern has been picked away little by little, Codega said he can “appreciate it on some level.”

“The original intent of those things is to be scary,” he said.