Nutria: R.O.U.S.

City Park Nutria
Two juvenile nutria near the Big Lake in New Orleans City Park, July 20, 2019

Don’t think I’ve written about nutria before. Since I spotted two little ones this past weekend, it feels like an appropriate time to feature this long-time denizen of Louisiana.

While nutria have been around here for at least a century, they’re considered an invasive species. They were brought here from South America when the fur trade was still a thing. And, well, nutria don’t just thrive in our swampy, overgrown, landscape — they dominate it.

They look like small beavers when fully-grown. Some things I just learned: the nutria’s genus is “Myocastor,” derived from the ancient Greek words for a mouse or rat, and a beaver. Which is pretty fitting, since their tails are skinny and rat-like. And they have very prominent front teeth, like a beaver. Another thing: their teeth are orange. Really. Apparently because their tooth enamel has iron in it.

I had thought the orange, or rusty, teeth, were unique to the nutria. But the Internet tells me beavers have orange teeth, too, for the same reason.

You learn something new every day.

So, the tail is not the only way they differ from beavers. The biggest problem — unlike beavers, nutria are not industrious — they’re ravenous. Couple that with their prolific breeding habits, and you can imagine the threat they pose to our levees, drainage canals, wetlands. . .

While I like to think that an army of Westleys go out at night to take on these rodents of unusual size, there is in reality something called the CNCP to combat the R.O.U.S. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ “Coastwide Nutria Control Program” offers a bounty on nutria tail from November to March every year.

Nutria being fair game would explain a comment I received from a passerby, as I stopped to photograph the young rodents. He said, “breakfast.” I wasn’t sure if he meant the nutria were having breakfast, or the nutria would make a nice breakfast. He paused his run long enough to tell me that he once tried nutria tacos at a local high school’s annual “Beast Feast.” He said they did not taste like chicken, and the tacos were actually quite tasty.

I figure the two nutria I saw have about four months to enjoy before they get a price on their heads (or tails). Seems like there’s a lesson — or a story — in there somewhere.

They appeared to be eating when I happened upon them. They seemed unfazed by my presence.

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