As one of the oldest colleges in the United States, it seems fitting that Yale was also one of the first higher education institutions to have a mascot. Back in 1890, an article in the Yale Daily News noted that Harper the Champion English bulldog would be on hand to represent the student-athletes at a sporting event. Two years later, in 1892, Harper was replaced by the first Handsome Dan, a purebred pup adopted by a student for $5. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today, dozens of schools around the U.S. have live animal mascots. Even with the rise of costumed mascots in the early 1960s, fans still love a live animal representative. According to Michael Lewis, a marketing professor who spoke to CNN, the reason the tradition took off so quickly and has endured for the last century and a half is quite simple. "Human beings love animals," he told the outlet, "They're so much more compelling than a guy in a suit."
Live animal mascots are so compelling that many have amassed impressive social media followings that would qualify them as influencers in their own right.
OddsSeeker compiled 10 of the most popular live animal college mascots to celebrate the tradition, based on the size of their social media followings as of June 2023. From Handsome Dan himself to CAM the Ram and Bevo, read on to learn more about the dogs, sheep, and bulls who represent some of the nation's most prominent colleges and universities.
- Instagram followers: 42.6K followers
- School: Yale University
Yale University was the first institution in America to adopt a live animal mascot. According to legend, the first Handsome Dan debuted in the early 1890s, when Andrew B. Graves, a member of the crew and football teams, adopted him from a local blacksmith and began bringing him to sporting events.
When Graves graduated in 1892, he left the bulldog in the care of his younger brother, who carried on the tradition and ensured the pup had a permanent resting place on campus when he passed in 1898 (the dog is stuffed and locked in a glass cabinet in the Payne Whitney Gymnasium). Following the death of the original Handsome Dan, the school went without a live mascot for three decades until the class of 1937 raised funds to adopt a replacement in 1933. As of 2023, there have been 19 Handsome Dans, with the most recent arriving on campus in 2021.
The tradition of leading the live mascot across the field at the beginning of each game remains intact. However, many other things surrounding the furry creature have changed, like the fact that he now shares his duties with a costumed bulldog mascot and regularly posts on his Instagram account, @handsomedanyale.
- Instagram followers: 119K
- School: Louisiana State University
In 1934, several LSU's athletic department members devised a plan to bring a real-life tiger to campus to serve as the school's official mascot. The group solicited 25 cents from every student, raising $750, and then headed to Little Rock Zoo, where they purchased a 1-year-old, 750-pound cat named Sheik (his name later changed in honor of Chellis "Mike" Chambers, the man who spearheaded the adoption campaign).
The pure-blooded Bengal cat lived at the school for 20 years, traveling with the team and appearing at nearly every home game. This original Mike the Tiger was stuffed and displayed at the university's natural history museum after his death. These days, LSU is represented by Mike VII, who has Siberian and Bengal characteristics, and was donated by the Wild at Heart Wildlife Center.
He no longer appears at football games the way he once did—that tradition ended in 2017 with his adoption—but a costumed mascot takes his place. Fans still have the opportunity to keep up with him via his Instagram page, @mikethetiger_lsu, or at his on-campus habitat (the only one of its type in the country).
- Instagram followers: 53K
- School: University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin's live mascot, Bevo the Longhorn, made his first appearance during halftime of the 1916 Thanksgiving Day football game. Tom Buffington, who introduced the burnt orange and white steer to the student body, explained why the animal had been chosen: "emblematic as he stands of the fighting spirit of progress… the great longhorn was free to roam the wilderness of Texas, so must the University be free to roam the world of thought, unhampered and unafraid."
These days, Bevo XV (unveiled in 2016) represents the school, appearing on the field before every football game and posting up behind the endzone as a good luck charm. A costumed mascot, Hook 'Em, also wanders the sidelines and frequently poses for pictures with his docile counterpart.
The Silver Spurs, a student group, is tasked with the care of each Bevo, traveling with the animal to away games and bringing him to all of his public appearances (according to the university, Bevo is the most charitable mascot in the country— his appearances bring in enough money to fund scholarships and fund philanthropic endeavors). Folks who aren't local to the Austin area can keep up with Bevo through his frequently updated Instagram account, @texasmascot.
- Instagram followers: 58.4K
- School: Texas A&M University
Tradition has it that Texas A&M got its first live mascot, a mixed-breed, black and white pup, in 1931 after a group of cadets accidentally hit the dog with their car and brought it back to campus to care for it. It wasn't until Reveille III that the custom of adopting a full-blooded rough collie to fill the position began.
In accordance with tradition, the current Miss Rev (@missrevx on Instagram) is cared for by a sophomore cadet in Company E-2, who must bring the dog everywhere, from class to dates to game day appearances, for the entire year she is under their care. Interestingly, Reveille is the highest-ranking member of the Corps of Cadets—a general who wears five silver diamonds on her official gear. The deceased Miss Revs are buried north of Kyle Field, with their heads pointed toward the stadium so they "can always watch the Aggies outscore their opponent on the field."
- Instagram followers: 35.9K
For the first several decades, the University of Washington didn't have an official mascot—or at least one that lasted longer than a year or two. Finally, in 1922, after several rounds of voting and community polling, the organization landed on the husky. That same year, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity adopted a small grey pup they named Frosty I, who became the school's first live animal mascot.
The fraternity continued purchasing and caring for husky mascots until 1958, when the university took over, assigning the pups an official handler and covering the cost of their care. The current dog-in-residence, Dubs II, is the school's 14th mascot. Born on Jan. 4, 2018, he took over after the retirement of Dubs I and continues the long-standing tradition of leading the football team out on the field at the beginning of every game. You can follow his off-day antics on Instagram, @dubs_uw.
- Instagram followers: 14.8K
- School: Colorado State University
Named in honor of Colorado State University's original moniker, the Colorado Agricultural and Mechanical College, CAM the Ram has been the school's live mascot since 1945. Cared for by a student group of volunteers, the first Rambouillet sheep's impact as a "spirit booster" was significant enough that the institution has kept the tradition going ever since.
Today, the 26th CAM represents the college at sporting and official events. One of his most important duties is running across the endzone after every home game touchdown. Eighteen students from various majors are tasked with CAM's care, ensuring he's fed, healthy, and ready for game time. They also run his Instagram, @csucamtheram, keeping fans in the loop regarding his busy schedule.
- Instagram followers: 28.1K
- School: University of Colorado
The University of Colorado had a slew of unofficial live animal mascots (usually rented or loaned for a single game) before 1966 when a freshman class officer convinced his father to purchase and donate the first buffalo. The team did have one buffalo before this, in 1957 when "Mr. Chips" debuted at the CU Days Kickoff Rally that year.
But then came the first "Ralphie," who, like each of its successors, was a female bison, an animal whose size and temperament were considered a better fit for the job. From the jump, Ralphie appeared at every Colorado home game, running across the field before kickoff and at the close of halftime. Initially, the massive animal was accompanied by a group of sophomore class officials, but the school quickly learned that a more trained group of handlers would be required to keep the buffalo in check.
These days, five team members (all varsity athletes in their own right) run with Ralphie VI. While Ralphie's everyday location has always been a secret for her protection, fans can keep up with her well-being on Instagram, @cubuffsralphie.
- Instagram followers: 59.3K
- School: Butler University
The tradition of Butler University's Blue, a pure-blood English bulldog, dates back to 1919. It was an unofficial debut when a fraternity's pet wandered into the school's newspaper offices as they were in the midst of debating new personalities for their various sports teams. The choice stuck, and other unofficial bulldogs assumed the role until the mid-'70s when the practice fell out of fashion.
But in 2000, the school was convinced to re-up the program, finally giving the pups an official name and duties. Currently, Blue IV represents the institution, showing up at nearly every home basketball and football game and relaxing off-campus with his handler family in his downtime. You can follow all of his cute escapades over on Instagram, @thebutlerblue.
- Instagram followers: 15K
- School: California State University, Fresno
The live mascot program at California State University, Fresno, has been more spotty than any other school on this list. Student Body President Warren Moody adopted the first bulldog to begin the tradition in 1921. The dog showed up on campus daily, and the Fresno Morning Republican referred to the college from then on as "The Bulldogs."
A little over a decade later, the institution installed its first official mascot, an all-white pup named Touchdown. The tradition continued until the late '60s, when it fell by the wayside in favor of more pressing concerns, and wasn't fully revived until 2006 when the first Victor E. Bulldog was voted into the role by a fan poll. The current Victor E. Bulldog is the third, though he's set to retire at the end of the 2023 season and will be replaced by Victor E. Bulldog IV. You can follow the active mascot's activities on Instagram, @victorebulldog.
- Instagram followers: 13.3K
- School: University of Arkansas
Of all the schools on this list, the University of Arkansas' live mascot program is among the newest. The first Tusk was selected in 1997, after pressure from fans to obtain a fresh new face for the organization. The Razorback, and the subsequent five that have followed him, are all descendants of the same familial line.
Tusk IV and V live on Stokes Family Farm and are taken care of by the same family, the Stokes, who keep the half-ton pigs on their farm, transporting them to the stadium on game days. The current Tusk, Tusk VI, only stepped into the role in 2023 after his brother, Tusk V, passed away. The university, and the Stokes family, keep fans updated about the sweet pigs' antics over on Instagram, @tusk_ua.
Story editing by Jeffrey Smith. Copy editing by Kristen Wegrzyn. Photo selection by Clarese Moller.
This story originally appeared on OddsSeeker and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.