Its Latin name is rattus norvegicus, but it is more commonly known as the sewer rat. It has been estimated that, in Venice, there are four such rats for every inhabitant.
In Venice the sewer rat, which thrives in its canals and drains, is known as a pantegana and a large model of one was the central attraction in this morning's corteo acqueo (water parade).
The corteo acqueo started at the Punta della Dogana and was supposed to finish at the Ponte delle Tre Archi. At least, that is what I had been led to believe. I, accordingly, found a nice place on the bridge and waited...and waited...and waited.
Shortly after noon, the parade, headed by the pantagena, finally entered the Canale di Canaregio. However, halfway between the two bridges, the pantagena suddenly stopped. A few minutes later a barge full of photographers placed itself in front of the rat, thereby blocking my perfect view! Moments later the pantagena 'exploded', releasing green smoke and scores of red balloons.
Traditionally, the Svolo della Pantegana (Flight of the Rat) marks the opening of carnival in Venice.