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Fame-seeking Banff squirrel storms Internet

This photo, snapped by Melissa Brandts in Banff National Park, has taken the Internet by storm. (Photo: Melissa Brandts/National Geographic Stock)

Melissa Brandts/The National Geographic

Like a starlet plucked from anonymity, like the moment Norma Jean became Marilyn, an Alberta ground squirrel who has languished in obscurity in Banff National Park has finally found its moment in the sun.

An earnest Canadian rodent turned Internet celebrity this week, when vacationer Melissa Brandts submitted this photo to National Geographic. The magazine posted the shot to its online Daily Dozen gallery .

"We had our camera set up on some rocks and were getting ready to take the picture when this curious little ground squirrel appeared, became intrigued with the sound of the focusing camera and popped right into our shot!" Ms. Brandts wrote in her caption to the picture, which was posted on Aug. 7.

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Until this week, the squirrel was just one among many, munching on tree buds and scampering in the Lake Minnewanka area of the park, where the photo was snapped in late May.

Now its image is everywhere, spawning a viral craze, as photoshoppers take to their mouse pads and place the fuzzy Norma Desmond into old family photos, a Renaissance painting, and in a compromising position next to a pop star's unmentionables. The "Crasher Squirrel" has also been picked up by multiple media outlets.

"It's cool seeing the photo show up in the cut-and-paste versions. That's fun to see, just to surf the internet once in a while," said Ms. Brandt's husband Jackson, speaking from their home in Minnesota-St. Paul on Thursday, where the phone has been ringing off the hook. "It kind of reminds me of that gnome commercial, where the garden gnome pops up all over the world."

The picture is actually one of many the couple took with a remote-control shutter on their camera, which was set up on a tripod to capture them both sitting by the lake. That plan was foiled by the critter in the foreground who stole the auto-focus, shoving Mr. and Mrs. Brandt into the blurry background. Once they realized the squirrel was in the shot, Mr. Brandt kept snapping away delightedly.

"The best shot was the one where we were laughing the hardest," he said.

When the couple returned from their vacation, they started talking about how best to share the photograph with others. That's when Ms. Brandt suggested National Geographic's "Your Shot" contest, which allows readers to submit their photos and vote on their favourites. The photo with the most votes every month is published in the print edition of National Geographic magazine, according to the site.

"Right now, we're in first place for the month of August," Mr. Brandt said. The picture was also chosen for the Daily Dozen gallery, some of which are published in print as well.

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But it's unlikely that any magazine could accord this Canadian photo crasher any more fame than it has already attained, thanks to its American promoters. The couple has been inundated with calls from the media and requests for high-resolution copies from skeptics who say it couldn't possibly be real.

For the most part, the attention has been positive.

"My wife is big into photography. It's good to see something like that get that much attention," Mr. Brandt said.

But nobody seems more charmed by the scene-stealing squirrel than the owners of the photo.

"A once in a lifetime moment!" Melissa Brandts wrote to National Geographic. "We were laughing about this little guy for days!"

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