Viral 'shower rat' neither showering nor a rat

The video of the 'shower rat' went viral earlier this week.
The video of the 'shower rat' went viral earlier this week. Photo credit: Twitter

A video showing what appeared to be a rat taking a shower made the rounds on social media earlier this week.

It was posted to Reddit on Monday (local time) by a user in Peru without any explanation and the internet was as mystified as it was delighted. 

But experts say the video is less adorable than it seems.

First of all, as many who saw the the clip speculated, the creature in question is not a rat.

Dallas Krentzel, an expert in rodent biology, told Newsweek that the creature's large head, short tail, flexible limbs and upright position indicated that it was, in fact, a pacarana, a large rodent indigenous to South America.

"There is just no other rodent that would fit all of those features and the fact that this video was taken in Peru, where pacaranas are known, just seals the deal," he said.

Many people were charmed by the rodent's imitation of human-like behaviour, as it appeared to wash itself just like a person taking a shower.

But experts say this behaviour is highly unusual for rodents, who clean themselves by licking.

What's more, the creature's "strange" movements seem to communicate distress or even pain, according to rat researcher Tuomas Aivelo.

"A rat wouldn't do that unless there's something it really wants to get rid of," he told Gizmodo. 

"I think it's soapy all over - that's probably a problem for the rat. It just wants to get rid of the soap."

This could mean that a human squeezed soap or shampoo onto the animal, which might have irritated its skin, and then filmed it as it desperately tried to wash it off.

Unfortunately, this is one viral animal video that's a whole lot less cute than it seems.