by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
Some landowners are still struggling with beavers and muskrats controlling their pond levels and destroying their dams while others are dealing with a different kind of pest. The nutria (Myocastor coypus) also known as the “river rat” can cause just as much damage as its distant cousins. They are mostly known for their large size and large burrows along rivers or streams. I will describe this species’ breeding patterns, habitat and predators/control efforts.
The nutria was introduced to the US by fur farmers but it originally from the tropical areas of South America. Some people started domestic populations for the fur market and others raised them and sold them as “weed cutters”. Nutria today can be found from the shores of New Jersey to Texas and almost everywhere in between. The pesky animals breed throughout the year and have a 130 day gestation length. The females give birth to 3-7 young. The young are very developed and can swim shortly after being born. Most females give birth to ~3 litters per year. Miscarriages are very high in this species and they lose about 1/3 of their fetal young a year. This characteristic is exploited by landowners to gain control over the population.
Nutrias are gregarious animals and usually do not defend territory. They are known for creating large burrows along moving water or utilizing burrows that belong to other animals. They do not build lodges or dams like the beaver and muskrat. Their home ranges extend from 15-450 acres and usually ~10 nutrias inhabit an acre of land. The river rat will displace muskrats and take over fresh and/or brackish marshes. Nutrias are especially to rice or sugarcane farmers, as they are very detrimental to crops along water (especially in Louisiana, although they may have all drowned this year). They do not survive well in harsh winters and the population is somewhat controlled because they are fur bearers.
Humans are not the only threat to nutrias. Alligators are the number one predator of nutria. Next, large snakes, birds, and garr will feast upon the river rat. To control the river rat, the US offers several programs that offer incentive to harvesting this species. Another effort that is not as readily acceptable is the consumption of nutria meat. If you are a very adventurous person and will try anything, you may be into trying nutria meat. Scientists say that it is a very lean meat that is rich in protein and has the appearance of dark turkey meat…I will take their word for it! Other efforts such as chemicals and birth control have proven to be expensive and unsuccessful. The best way to rid of this pest is to harvest them when you see them.
If you own land along a river or stream and have noticed large burrows along the bank, chances are you have a population of nutria on your land. It is best to check into programs offered by the state about their incentives for harvesting nutria; they may even repay you for some wetland damage on your property, especially those that have duck camps in the delta around Mobile bay. If nothing else, this will be a good way to sight in your gun before deer season get here!!
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