Cao Ni Ma (草泥马, Cǎo Ní Mǎ), literally “Grass Mud Horse”, was supposedly a species of alpaca. The name is derived from cào nǐ mā (肏你妈), which translates to “fuck your mother”. Note that the comparison with the “animal” name is not an actual homophone, but rather the two terms have the same consonants and vowels with different tones, which are represented by different characters. Their greatest enemy are “river crabs” (河蟹, héxiè, resembles 和谐 héxié meaning “harmony”, referring to government censorship to create a “harmonious society”, while noting that river crabs are depicted wearing three wristwatches, vaguely referring to the Three Represents, where 代表 “represent” and 戴表 “to wear a watch” are homophones, both pronounced dàibiăo), and are said to be frequently seen in combat against these crabs.
Videos of songs, as well as “documentaries” about “Grass Mud Horse” started appearing on YouTube and elsewhere on the Internet. The video scored some 1.4 million hits; a cartoon attracted a quarter million more views; a nature documentary on its habits received 180,000 more.
The “Grass Mud Horse” became widely known on the English-language web following the 11 March 2009 publication of a The New York Times article on the phenomenon, sparking widespread discussion on blogs, and even attempts to create “Grass Mud Horse” themed merchandise, such as plush dolls