At a Holden Beach, North Carolina ice cream parlor, the ice cream isn’t just for the people.
A squirrel, affectionately named Putter, gets a miniature ice cream cone of its own when it bellies up to the bar at the Fantasy Isle Ice Cream & Mini Golf, owner Scott Martin said. While seeing a little squirrel munch a tiny ice cream cone may be cute, it could lead to problems with people or malnutrition, wildlife officials warn.
Martin, who bought the shop from its previous owners with his wife in 2015, said that Putter began coming to the shop last summer and hasn’t left since.
The squirrel got a taste for ice cream after stealing some discarded cones last summer, he said. “She’s quite a little piece of work.”
Putter comes from her nest in a nearby tree, and is given a teensy cone with either vanilla or no-sugar-added ice cream up to twice each day, Martin said.
Martin told the News & Observer that he makes Putter’s cone by breaking off the bottom of a sugar cone and adding a dab of ice cream.
Putter’s presence at the shop has drawn customers who want to see the little mascot, who runs about the shop’s mini golf course and plays with golf balls. She has also attracted attention of television station WWAY and national program Inside Edition.
Watching a squirrel eating a tiny ice cream cone may be cute, but feeding wildlife is not good, said Jessie Birckhead, an extension biologist with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
The commission recommends people do not feed any wildlife because it can lead to problems for both the animal and human.
“It’s not good for the animal because you're teaching that animal to expect food from people,” Birckhead said. Feeding wildlife also can lead to unhealthy foraging habits, and may lead to malnourishment.
Martin said he believes giving the squirrel little ice cream cones keeps it from stealing other food, and have put up signs instructing customers not to feed Putter and other critters that come by the shop.
“She’s already got the habit,” Martin said. “We are trying to control it, instead of her getting way too much food.”
Even so, feeding squirrels and other wildlife could lead the animal to assume that all humans are friendly, Birkhead warned. That behavior could be mistaken for rabid or aggressive if a person doesn’t know the animal’s history, and could lead to the animal’s death.
“We want wild animals to be wary of people, because that’s going to protect them and protect people,” she said. “You want to keep wild animals wild.”