Richard and Maxine live in a two-story Los Angeles home with a large balcony, a fireplace, a flat-screen television, and a rather cozy-looking couch. Latticework lines several exterior walls of the house, which overlooks an expansive lawn. Their neighbor, Derrick Downey Jr., designed and built the home. But unlike most adults, Richard and Maxine don’t pay for their mortgage, furniture, or food.
That’s because Richard and Maxine are squirrels.
While a squirrel house doesn’t seem to be as popular IRL as a birdhouse, it sure gets a lot of love online for creating fun settings among which the small mammals can feed. Some people—like Downey, who chronicles his interactions with squirrels on Instagram as @derrickdowneyjr—say the proximity helps him develop a relationship with the animals.
“The bond that I have with Richard and Maxine and all the other neighborhood squirrels is something that has been fostered for years,” Downey says, adding that “there’s some type of connection there.”
And he isn’t alone. The internet is loaded with pictures, videos, and #squirrelhouse content filled with squirrel structures that range from a cottage-y picnic table to a retro midcentury-modern bungalow—all designed to entice the bushy-tailed rodents. Even celebrities are getting involved; Demi Lovato, for example, has installed squirrel-size tables and a feeding station on her Los Angeles property.
“Having people interact more and know more about squirrels is valuable just in terms of a [cultivating a] greater appreciation for nature, our surroundings, and biodiversity,” explains Ben Dantzer, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology who studies squirrels at the University of Michigan.
But unlike some creatures, such as bats and other native pollinators, whose habitats have been endangered by humans, neighborhood squirrels don’t need help to survive, experts say.