Rodents of Unusual Size

One critter that we see fairly often on our bike rides is the nutria, or coypu (Myocastor coypus). They seem to be everywhere in the canals and in the Ashida River that flows through the city. As you can see from this shot of one I took this weekend, they are a semi-aquatic rodent are about the same size as a beaver but with a long, rat-like tail.
I am surprised this one let me get so close

Originally from South America, they have been introduced to every continent except for Antarctica and Australia for their fur. Nutria were introduced to Japan in 1910 and the military promoted small fur farms to raise nutria. When the price of the pelts dropped, many nutria were released into the wild where they happily procreated, due to a lack of natural predators and lots of prime habitat. Since 1963, nutria have been hunted in Japan to control their ballooning population. When looking for population counts in Japan, I discovered that Okayama has the highest number of nutria in the country. It is about 9.5 kilometers from our apartment to the border of Okayama Prefecture, so it makes sense that I see them so often.

Super cute baby nutria
The foraging and nesting habits of the nutria have an incredibly detrimental effect on the health of wetlands and water systems in the countries in which they are introduced. They destroy nesting habitat for native species and cause massive soil erosion by eating marsh plants and burrowing through root systems. Places like Louisiana (are you surprised?) have created a 5$ bounty for every nutria shot in an attempt to decrease their population. Some countries are even trying to popularize the sale of nutria meat for human consumption. The meat has euphemistically been named "ragondin", the French word for nutria, and has been found to be much leaner, higher in protein, and lower in harmful microorganisms compared with farmed conventional meats. If you ever manage to get your hands on some ragondin, there are lots of recipes out there that will help you make the most of it.

Shooting them for fur, meat, or even a 5$ bounty may seem cruel, but in many of the countries to which they have been introduced, humans are the only predator able to lower their populations. The wetlands they are destroying are incredibly complex and fragile habitats which play a critical role in maintaining water quality and species richness. In many countries, hunting, whether done by individuals or the government, is one of the few viable options for controlling their population. I say, if you are going to shoot it anyway, why let it go to waste?


Carol said...

Nutria are like the famous gibnut of Belize -- good eating.

Cheryl said...

ooh,are you guys planning to try your hands on shooting/capturing them?

I cannot fathom comsuming the meat..they are in a way rats aren't they?

Laura said...

No, I think the nutria will be pretty safe from us :) I have no idea what the laws are regarding hunting here, and I am pretty sure that owning any sort of largish weapon is off limits to foreigners. I know they eat them in China and Korea, but I couldn't find any info about whether they do in Japan.

I have heard many people say that eating them would be the same as eating rats, but I can't agree. Even though they are related to rats, I don't think it is fair to consider them disgusting and dirty. Rats have a bad reputation because they are disease carrying vermin who live in our sewers and houses, chewing on our things, pooping, and spreading sickness. The nutria never enters human habitation and does not carry many diseases. It is more like a beaver or an otter if you think of it that way, and in many ways healthier than eating pigs and chickens that live in filthy barns and are fed medications. Also, they are much more closely related to the beaver than they are to the rat, and beaver is pretty tasty (^v^)

Cheryl said...

never tasted beaver and will not even venture there!!!

wish I have your sense of adventure when it comes to food...or maybe not..eheheh

Carol said...

The guys in O Brother Where Art Thou ate gopher on a stick and seemed to enjoy it.