Nutria


I’ve heard them called muskrats on steroids. They’re the kudzu of the animal world, an uncontrollable pest introduced from South America. These semi-aquatic rodents can grow to 30 pounds. In the process they eat a lot of vegetation.

Many introduced species have changed the existing habitat for native plants and animals. Nutrias do more than that. They consume habitat.

Adult nutrias are about 14 inches long from the nose to the base of the tail.  Their round hairless tails are slightly longer than the bodies themselves. Coloration is brownish, and both sexes are similar in appearance and weight. They have numerous long whiskers and orange teeth. Hind feet are webbed except for their baby toes.

Reproduction is prolific. Nutria may breed in any month of the year. One male usually has 2 or 3 mates which share the same burrow. Female nutria mature by six months of age and female nutria usually have two litters per year.  Many females breed within two days after giving birth to a litter. Litter size varies but averages about five offspring.

Their appetite is insatiable and they yank out vegetation by the roots. They can eat up to 25 percent of their bodyweight each day. This, along with their constant digging causes soil to enter our waterways, setting in motion a destruction of living conditions for our native species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.

Murky water and dead vegetation soon leads to lower oxygen levels and a change in the type and number of aquatic invertebrates. Sometimes what we don’t see can be even more damaging to a habitat that what we do see.

Nutrias are shy creatures and prefer to spend much of their time in their burrows when not eating. They seldom are seen sunning themselves out in the open, so we often don’t notice how many there are in an area.

When food supply in marshes and ditches is depleted these vegetarian eating machines move on to nearby cropland. In water they are graceful and elusive, but on land they are less formidable and easier prey for land predators including people.

Nutrias were introduced into this country back in the 1930’s. The goals were to clear out aquatic vegetation and provide a source of fur. There are two problems with this. First, nutria won’t graze underwater vegetation or algae. Second, the fur industry has taken a huge hit since the popularity of the animal rights movement.

We could cut down their population by including them in our diets. I’ve never eaten nutria, but I’ve been told their meat is similar to muskrat. I’m a big fan of that rodent, so I’ll have to try nutria sometime soon. They eat a healthy diet and meat is lean.

One obstacle encountered with nutria infested areas is something called ‘nutria itch.’ This is caused by a nematode. This parasite is not found in nutria meat, but it is present in waters where they live. I suggest washing thoroughly when encountering nutria infested waters, but don’t be paranoid of the outdoors.

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com) and frequently publish articles in several other newspapers in northeastern North Carolina. I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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6 Responses to Nutria

  1. kimberlypaigeweaver says:

    I never knew that they could eat up too 25% of thier body weight. They are very ugly creatures to me.

  2. awhitenhs12 says:

    Ive never heard of these creatures before. Amazing how big they can get.

  3. I’ve never heard of these animals, yet i find it very fascinating how much of their body mass they can comnsum in just one day!

  4. susiehedley says:

    I was wondering why if they’re so popular I don’t see them often. It’s interesting how shy they are. They do seem like the kudzu of the animal world.

  5. curtis24 says:

    These semi-aquatic rodents can grow to 30 pounds an thats alot. Nutrias are shy creatures and prefer to spend much of their time in their burrows when not eating.Nutrias were introduced into this country back in the 1930’s.One obstacle encountered with nutria infested areas is something called ‘nutria itch.’ This is caused by a nematode.

  6. alishabw says:

    Nutrias were introduced into this country back in the 1930’s. The goals were to clear out aquatic vegetation and provide a source of fur. though it didn’t work out that way. I found it interest that they could eat so much, I don’t think I could ever do that and I don’t ever want to try nutria.

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