For years, the state of Louisiana has been plagued with an invasive beast: the nutria. The voracious, rapidly reproducing rodent eats up to a quarter of its body weight daily, and females can have a few dozen offspring in a year. Also known as the “coypu” or “river rat,” the nutria can grow up to 20 pounds and wreak havoc on ecosystems, agriculture, and even municipal structures like water pipes.
But now the nutria has spread to California’s Central Valley, where it’s threatening one of the most productive agricultural regions in the United States. This is a bridge too far for the state that’s loathe to harm an animal.
With its long, orange teeth, the nutria chomps down on all sorts of plant life — usually the roots, tubers, shoots, and leaves of marsh plants, reports the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It’ll also eat crops like corn, soybeans, and clover. That spells trouble for Louisiana’s wetlands and California’s farms, among other areas of the US.
Over the years, schemes to take on booming nutria populations have ranged from the practical to the downright outrageous. Here’s a few gems.
9. Rodent bounty hunters
To encourage residents to help control the nutria population, the state of Louisiana put a bounty on nutria heads — well, on their tails. This summer, officials raised the reward from $5 to $6 per tail.
“What we are trying to do is create an artificial market to make it worth people’s time, especially for the individuals that harvest a lot,” Catherine Normand, a biologist at the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told Nola.com. For the state’s most prolific nutria hunters, Normand says, the bump could increase the payoff by hundreds or thousands of dollars. This past season, the most overachieving hunter turned in about 11,000 nutria tails, earning $55,000.
8. Protein-packed dog treats
Pet food company Marsh Dog found a solution for what to do with the captured-and-killed nutria: Turn them into dog treats. The company rolled out wild nutria dog biscuits, USA Today reported.
Marsh Dog estimates that it could get rid of more than 55,000 nutria each year. And by making the rodents into treats — about half of a nutria’s body is usable meat — they can tout a push toward sustainability. “Why kill it if you won’t use it?” asks Marvin Moncada, Ph.D., research and development food scientist at Louisiana State University’s AgCenter Food Incubator.
7. Chef-crafted human treats
So, nutria makes a decent dog biscuit, but what about us? Turns out, people have been coming up with creative ways to cook nutria for decades. But lately, the techniques have been getting fancier.
In a recent documentary that aired on PBS, local New Orleans celebrities like musician Kermit Ruffins and chef Susan Spicer each demonstrated how best to cook nutria, reports Undark.
The blog Can’t Beat ‘Em, Eat ‘Em features recipes including nutria fettuccini, nutria soup, and nutria à l’orange. They also feature a video on how to prepare nutria from, uh, scratch. (Warning: The skinning and slicing parts are a bit graphic.)
6. Organized betrayal
The great state of California recently dedicated $10 million to controlling populations of nutria, after decades of believing their days of fighting the big rodents were behind them. In addition to hiring 46 staff members, part of the effort will include a project called “Judas Nutria,” The Associated Press reports.
The government plans to tag surgically sterilized nutria informants with radio collars and send them back into their communities. Then, because the rodents are social, officials will follow the wire-wearing snitches to find other nutria. They’re also getting help from trained dogs to sniff out the rodents.
5. Carcass in Congress
Speaking of California, to illustrate the nutria problem and gain support at the federal level, one rookie congressman is getting a bit more… inventive. Representative Josh Harder brought a dead (and what looks to be professionally taxidermied) nutria to Congress in order to make his point.
Harder named her Nellie, as he explained in a tweet complete with a video of his nutria-accompanied remarks.
“Nutria can destroy crops, they destroy almond trees, as well as irrigation canals,” Harder tells Congress in the video. “We have to stop the swamp rat invasion before it gets out of control.”
4. Shooting with the sheriff
In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, it’s a bit less political and a bit more down and dirty. At least in the mid-2000s a band of camouflage-clad nutria hunters would troll the banks of drainage canals at night, NPR reported. The effort was organized by then-Sheriff Harry Lee, who was said to have owned a nutria coat.
3. Nutria rodeo
While in the spirit of eradicating invasive species to save ecosystems, why not have a little fun with it? A group of Louisiana teens hosted the Sassafras Nutria Rodeo to give hunters a chance to showcase their kills and compete for the biggest rodent, reports Nola.com.
The rodeo seems to have been a hit: Hundreds attended, families posed for photos with nutria, and at least one giant nutria clocked in at 18.5 pounds.
Nutria had to share the spotlight with a few other invasives, though, too: Also featured were feral swine, Asian carp, and coyotes.
2. ‘Rat’ trapping
Traps might seem like a reasonable way to deal with nutria, and indeed, they don’t require surgery or nighttime hunting trips in the sewer. But a quick Google search for nutria traps you can buy online yields some potentially problematic results. Sure, some of the traps, like the cage-like double-door trap, are relatively harmless.
But leg-hold traps, which are a slightly safer version of those terrifying bear traps, pose bigger risks, especially if they’re being placed in areas where small humans like to play. In a YouTube video, a hunting team calls their method the Cajun Mouse Trap, but don’t let the name fool you: It mostly just involves shooting nutria with shotguns from airboats. This simple method is a thrill to watch from a very safe distance.
1. Good, old-fashioned poison
When all else fails, unleash the rat poison. The deadly method can certainly be effective: Just place the poison near nutria burrows or other places you don’t want them to be, suggests a company called Professional Wildlife Removal.
But poisoning quickly raises other concerns, like non-nutria animals and also humans. “However, be careful to place the poison in an area where another innocent animal will not eat it and die or where your pets or children can come into contact with it,” the wildlife removal website warns.
Perhaps it’s best to leave the noxious substances to the experts.