When it comes to animals in trees, a lobster may be one of the last creatures you’d expect to see hanging out among the branches. But at Rutgers University, that exact sight has become commonplace over the course of the last month.
It all began on Rutgers’ annual King Neptune Night, a seafood dinner extravaganza hosted by the school that Rutgers senior Matthew J. Lesiw says is when the dining halls probably get their most crowded all year. The next morning, when the dust from the Sept. 25 celebration had settled, students started to notice that someone had placed one of the cooked lobsters from the feast between two branches of a tree in front of Scott Hall, a building located on the school’s main New Brunswick campus.
As the days turned to weeks and the dead lobster was still hanging tough in its spot of honor, the crustacean’s reputation swiftly began to grow. “None of us expected it to still be there because it rained, it stormed and everything else,” Lesiw tells TIME. “It was a little faded, but there it was.”
Students started making what Daniel Han, a freshman who broke the story for Rutgers’ official student newspaper The Daily Targum, describes as “pilgrimages” to the lobster, presenting it with offerings like mozzarella sticks and taking photos of it. “Tree Lobster,” as the shellfish became known, was even unofficially dubbed Lord Snipp on the Rutgers subreddit.
“It was in a really noticeable place because it was right at eye-level, but it stayed there for weeks on weeks,” Han tells TIME. “It was this out-of-place thing in a really easy to spot place so it became a really big joke among the community.”
The mystery of the disappearing lobster
And then on Oct. 18, the slowly rotting Lord Snipp vanished. Lesiw tells TIME that no one was sure whether it was university officials, a student or someone else who had removed the crustacean of College Avenue from its perch, but that Tree Lobster’s supporters weren’t about to let the injustice go uncorrected. Replacements quickly began appearing in Lord Snipp’s place.
“Other people stepped up,” Lesiw says. Somebody made a lobster out of pine cones and paper and named it Boris, and Boris was in the tree. Then somebody got another actual lobster and put that in the tree and that was named Yellow Band Bobby because it had the little bands around its pincers.”
The person responsible for Boris’ creation was none other than sophomore Autumn Rauscher, who tells TIME that she wanted to do her part to keep Tree Lobster’s memory alive. “Everyone just seemed so sad that he was gone and it didn’t feel right not leaving a tribute in his place,” she says.
However, the two interim lobsters were soon taken down as well, leaving a hole in the heart of the Tree Lobster community.
What comes next
Now, Lesiw is planning to start what he says will be a charitable organization themed around Tree Lobster that he will work to have officially sanctioned by Rutgers. “I want to take this idea and do something really productive with it,” he tells TIME. “I think it’s just so absurd and ridiculous and perfect in so many ways.”
Lesiw says that his first act as the founder of the Disciples of the Arboreal Crustacean will be to station a plastic lobster in the tree as a new replacement for Lord Snipp during a sundown ceremony on Thursday.
“I hope Rutgers doesn’t take another lobster down and I hope this becomes a really great moment to be a part of,” he says. “Maybe 50 years from now there will still be a Disciples of the Arboreal Crustacean on campus and it will be a great story.”