UPTOWN — Uptown resident Jeffrey Littleton was walking down Magnolia Avenue Saturday morning to get his morning coffee at a Starbucks when he spotted a rodent he didn't recognize, looking "so cute," munching on an unlucky worm that had risen from the ground after it rained.
The artist and community activist took a picture of the animal from a foot away and left it alone, but regretted it after the fact.
"[I] wish I had scooped it up then," he said.
Curious about the rodent's identity and wondering if any of his neighbors had seen it, he went to the Malden Magnolia Neighbors Block Club Facebook page seeking help.
"I almost stepped on this little guy on Magnolia next to Starbucks," he posted. "He or she is totally unafraid of people, photo not taken with zoom or anything."
Littleton said the animal had a "short tail, not spiney like a rat," and described it as "rounder and cuter then any rat," but not "a common mouse."
He figured it was a lost pet, and not of the common variety.
One Uptown resident thought it could be a chinchilla or degu, a "brush-tail rat" sold in some pet stores.
Steve Sullivan, senior curator of Urban Ecology at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, thought it looked like a baby brown rat, but admitted "rodents kind of look like each other from some angles."
Whatever it is, it is likely a pet and not native to the area.
A friend of Littleton's told him it was a degu, a theory supported by downstate degu breeder Catherine Prewett who saw the picture and told DNAinfo Chicago it "looks like a degu to me."
The highly social and playful animals, native to central Chile, are usually about 9-12 inches long and weigh about 6-11 ounces.
They are generally herbivores who eat bark, leaves, shrubs and reingest some of their feces to "maximize their digestion," according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, which also notes "that they occasionally eat meat in old age," which might explain the worm Littleton said he saw the critter chomping on.
Littleton said Wednesday he was buying a trap to try to capture the animal where he found it and find it a new home, or return it to its owner.
Paul Biasco contributed to this story