A creepy, crawly video of tiny critters holding each other's tails and scurrying across the ground like a furry centipede has captured the internet's attention.
Called "The NOPE train," the video has garnered nearly 3 million views since it was posted to Imgur on Monday (July 24). Commenters got creative, calling the furry unit "the human centipede: mice edition," a "rat king in the making" and a "fluffy snake." One user wryly posted, "The caboose is a bit wobbly."
At least two commenters got the animal right: They're shrews. And not just any shrews — that fuzzy conga is a mother shrew leading her babies in a train, known as a caravan, according to Cynthia Alvarado, a clinical veterinarian at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. [The World's 6 Smallest Mammals]
Here's how the caravan works: The mother shrew heads the line, and each preceding baby shrew bites down on the base of the tail belonging to the shrew in front of it. Then, with Mom in the lead, the shrews can travel together in a fairly ordered procession.
Shrews typically form these caravans when their nest is disturbed and the mother decides to evacuate her young to safety, according to the Mammal Society, a charity in the United Kingdom that advocates science-led mammal conservation. Caravans may also be used to encourage shrew pups to explore their surroundings, the society noted.
Female shrews usually have three or four litters between May and September, with each litter consisting of about five to seven pups. Each litter can have two or three fathers, the Mammal Society reported.
Another video of a shrew caravan, posted by YouTube user Вот так Вот and called "Мыши идут строем," which translates to "Mice go in line," shows the bizarre phenomenon as well.
Given that Вот так Вот and several Imgur posters thought the critters were rodents, it's important to note that shrews are in an entirely different taxonomic order.
"Mice are in the order Rodentia, and shrews are in the order Eulipotyphla, which includes animals likes moles and hedgehogs," Alvarado said.
Original article on Live Science.
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Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.