Siu-Lan Tan Ph.D.

What Shapes Film?

Puddle Week Viral Videos

Two viral videos of puddles upsetting routines

Posted Jan 08, 2016

It's "puddle week" in the world of viral videos... 

Just the thing to lighten up the first work week after the holidays.

A livestream (#DrummondPuddleWatch) of people trying to avoid a puddle in Newcastle England drew thousands of viewers this week. By the time it was over, more than 500,000 pairs of eyes had watched various Britons attempting to dodge a giant puddle. If you missed the fun, here are two YouTube clips: the "lampost method" can be found here, and a highlight reel is here.

At about the same time, a video of a raccoon's reaction to his cotton candy (or candy floss) disappearing into a puddle - has also gone viral...

The video was posted with titles such as 'Raccoon Accidentally Drops His Candy in Puddle'.

But the fuller version of the video is even more interesting, as the snippet that went viral is from a Japanese television show that provides more context:

The video brings up a popular misconception about raccoons "washing" their food before eating as they are "clean" animals. The raccoon's scientific name, procyon lotor, even originates from the related Latin word, 'lutor,' referring to a 'washer'.

But biologist Dr Malcolm Lyall-Watson's now-classic research from the 1960s showed that the raccoon's "washing" behavior is:  a) probably not for cleanliness, as he found that raccoons do not wash muddy crabs more than clean ones; and b) probably not to dampen or moisten their food so as to make it easier to eat, as they do not wash dry foods more than wet foods.

Biologists more commonly refer to the behavior as 'dousing' rather than 'washing', and believe raccoons rub and handle the food in order to explore it before eating. This is more efficient when underwater, as the water makes their front paws more pliable and increases tactile sensitivity.

Experts disagree about the nature of this dousing action, but the behavior may be a 'fixed action pattern' (FAP). According to zoologist Dr Samuel Zeveloff: 'Because raccoons use a dunking motion when searching for aquatic prey, "washing" their food under other circumstances may simply be an imitation of this motion, even when not foraging' (Zeveloff, 2002, p. 7).

FAPs are instinctive and rigid behaviors, though, so it's interesting that the raccoon seems to have eventually 'learned' not to wash his cotton candy in the longer film clip!

If you still need more puddle fix ... check out my previous post about what toddlers do when they encounter puddles, many for the first time in their lives. See the post by clicking here.

Dr. Siu-Lan Tan  BLOG: What Shapes Film? (covers viral videos and other curiosities)

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Lyall-Watson, M. (1963). A critical re-examination of food “washing” behaviour in the raccoon (Procyon lotor Linn). Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 141, 371-393.

Zeveloff, S. (2002). Raccoons: A natural history. Vancouver: UBC/Smithsonian.