Louisiana Is Shrinking, Thanks to Giant Swamp Rats

Beaver-like creatures behind vast erosion

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 9, 2013 9:16 AM CDT

(Newser) – When it comes to invasive species, Louisiana may have Florida and its giant snails beat: The state's beloved swampland is literally vanishing at the hands of gigantic swamp rats. Nutria—described by a documentarian tracking the creatures as "a cross between a beaver and a New York sewer rat"—are booming in the area, and they're partly to blame for heavy coastal erosion. They devour the plants needed to hold down the soil, and with some 5 million of them now inhabiting Louisiana's southern coast, they're contributing to a rate of soil erosion pegged at 40 square miles a year, Chris Metzier tells Take Part.

The 20-pound animals, which are the subject of Metzier's upcoming Rodents of Unusual Size, are native to Argentina but were delivered to Louisiana about eight decades ago to be raised for their fur. "One way or another, they escaped into the swamps and have just gone crazy," says Metzier. So what can be done? Some have tried to popularize eating nutria, and Metzier himself has tried nutria jerky and jambalaya and deemed it "quite tasty." Unfortunately, most people can't get over the knowledge that they're eating swamp rat. A potentially better option: nutria fur, which is being plugged as less cruel and more sustainable, since the animals must be killed as an invasive species anyway. Says Metzier, "It's really taken off in Brooklyn."

T-Boy, a six week old nutria, comes out of his hole and looks for his shadow at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011.
T-Boy, a six week old nutria, comes out of his hole and looks for his shadow at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
A nutria.
A nutria.   (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)
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