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Bushy-tailed wingless dragon

November 3, 2023

Henry Abbott

Dragons and squirrels are more similar than meets the eye. In this edition of Burning Bowdoin Questions, I investigated how these winged and tailed creatures found a home in Brunswick.

My first question came to me in a late-night conversation with a friend who excitedly said, “Do you know the story of the Brunswick High Dragon?” Of course, I did not, but I knew that it was a perfect next Bowdoin Burning Question after she began to explain it to me.

Brunswick High School was built in 1938 with support from the College. However, it wasn’t until 1946 that the school selected a mascot. They put the decision to a vote among the student body.

Traditional options were put forward like a polar bear cub (in honor of the Bowdoin mascot), a wolf and a hawk. However, one student, Emerson Zeitler, put forward a more unconventional recommendation: a Chinese wingless dragon.

“[Zeitler] was promoting the selection of a wingless Chinese Dragon, which in Chinese culture is a symbol of power, strength and good luck for people who are worthy of it,” Claude Bonang Brunswick High ’46 said in his anecdote “Emerson Zeitler and the Wingless Chinese Dragon” from his book “Memories in Verse.”

Bonang was a good source to contextualize the actual selection but did not definitively know why the mascot was chosen. However, with some more digging, I found that at least a few Brunswickians do know.

In 2022, Brunswick Junior High School decided to change their mascot to the dragon like the high school. This drew coverage from the Times Record, which investigated the origins of the dragon in Brunswick and uncovered a fascinating structure meant to hold the secret of the dragon: the Guardians of the Conclave.

This group of nine Brunswick citizens—not current students—hold the secrets of the dragon. The members of the group do not know who the other members are and are sworn to secrecy about many aspects of the dragon. For example, they know the name of the dragon and the dragon’s nine children who each represent a value of the school. How these people are chosen remains a mystery.

While Zeitler passed in 2002, the legacy of his recommendation lives on through the Guardians of the Conclave and the orange cartoon dragon depictions that litter the 04011.

Speaking of littering, this brings us to our second topic of the day: squirrels. You love ‘em; you hate ‘em; you feed them even though you are told not to because they are so cute. One of my favorite fall activities is to watch hoards of squirrels furiously dig into the earth, cluttering the quad with anti-skateboard acorns.

Every time I see this annual ritual, the first question that comes to mind is “how do the squirrels find their nuts again?” I thought that it must be some sort of pheromonal answer cultivated from years of evolution. However, I found a much different answer than expected.

Squirrels are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. They use visual cues to identify their proximity from their nests to remember where they put their acorns, according to the Smithsonian Science Education Center.

They also frequently check on their buried nuts and rebury them throughout the season to keep track of where they are.

Using this technique, most experts believe that squirrels retrieve at least two-thirds of the nuts that they bury depending on the region, which may be an optimistic evaluation. Other sources think that some squirrels only retrieve about 15 percent of the acorns they bury.

One of the main things that affects this retrieval is the rampant theft present in almost all squirrel environments. To combat this, some squirrels will fake bury their nuts when they know they are being watched and then secretly bury their precious acorns elsewhere.

One of the interesting things about these territorial food stores is also the “generational wealth” that comes along with it. Squirrels born in forests with a plethora of other squirrels often find themselves dependent on their parent’s previous acorn load. When they cannot find those acorns, baby squirrels must fight much larger squirrels for food and often starve to death.

Acorn burying fosters the circle of life because the acorns and seeds that are not found can grow into large trees. The forgotten acorns of the giant squirrels between College and Bath road are actually foundational to the beautiful trees on campus. I guess we have a reason to love the Bowdoin squirrels after all. And a candidate for Brunswick’s next mascot!


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