In keeping with the Lousiana theme of this weekend’s posts, today we will take a look at the Nutria. Nutria are rodents, whose Latin name is a combination of “mouse” and “beaver”. They look like a beaver with a rat’s tail. I used to see them swimming all the time in Lake Ponchartrain. And they aren’t small. They average 12 pounds, but can grow to weigh 20 pounds. Below is a little family of them.
Cute, huh? Well, Nutria are the kudzu of the animal world. They were imported to Avery Island, Lousiana by someone in the McIlhenny family (makers of Tabasco Sauce) with the idea of farming them for fur. The only problem is, it takes more labor to harvest the fur than the fur is worth. The outer coat consists of long “guard hairs”. While the undercoat is soft, it’s hard to separate the two coats.
“Their only two purposes in life appear to be to eat and to reproduce, and they perform both these functions exceptionally well. They use over 50% of their metabolism for reproduction, and are born pregnant.” Okay, I’m lying. That’s a description of Tribbles. But Nutria and Tribbles are definitely related.
It didn’t take long for Nutria to escape Avery Island and populate the coast of Louisiana. How did that happen? Well duh, they swim. From a few initial pairs, it’s estimated that Lousiana now has 20 to 30 million of them. (From the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.)http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/invnutriafaq.asp And they have destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands, because they eat the plants.
In Metairie, in Jefferson Parish, they were causing another problem. They burrowed into the banks of a large drainage canal and were causing the banks to collapse. So the powers-that-be in Parish government started to try to come up with creative ways to handle the problem. In neighboring Orleans Parish, where I lived at the time, they held a contest which various famous chefs participated in (such as Paul Prudhomme), to come up with new and tasty ways to use Nutria as food. Oh yuck! Who wants to eat a rat? While I was gagging on this idea one day at work, one of my employees informed me that she and her family used to eat them all the time when she was a child. They were surviving on what her father could fish for, or hunt or trap. I gather Nutria wasn’t their favorite choice, but she said it was kind of okay if you put it in something like a stew, and beggars can’t be choosers.
Another idea Jefferson Parish had was to trap them and transport them elsewhere in these special trucks that were padded on the inside. That turned out to be too expensive, and in any case there was the problem of, Where do you take them? (Sort of the same problem the Enterprise had with the Tribbles.)
Then they came up with the idea of floating poisoned carrots and lettuce on these little rafts. That idea got nixed, because people protested that a child might accidentally get hold of the poisoned food.
Finally they settled on the old-fashioned way. The sheriff’s department started shooting them. Around dusk, a whole posse of sheriff’s deputies would gather on the banks of the canal and wait for the nutria to come out of their burrows. This solution had the added benefit of giving the sheriff’s deputies shooting practice.
I don’t know if they’re still doing it today or not. I leave you with another picture of one of the little fellows (the Nutria, not the sheriff’s deputies). You’re probably asking youself, what are those orange things in it’s mouth? That’s his front teeth!