Also called copyu, nutria are native to South America. Brought to the United States in the 1930s for their valuable fur, the animals were introduced to the wild and are an invasive species. They now inhabit areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf Coast, and the Atlantic states. Notorious for repopulating quickly, nutria are found in new habitats with regularity and cause damage to various crops, vegetation, and wetlands across the country.
Most nutria damage is caused when the rodent burrows and penetrates dikes and irrigation facilities. Their burrowing can also weaken river banks and cause flooding. Additionally, the rodents girdle large ornamental and orchard trees, which damages the growth of such plants. Their feeding habits may strip wetland areas of vegetation, which causes widespread damage to already fragile ecosystems. Farm crops are not safe from nutria either, as the animal feeds on rice, sugarcane, corn, wheat, barley, and oats, greatly reducing yields each year.
Nutria can birth up to three litters each year, which leads to exponential population growth in affected areas. The rodent is not a good climber, so exclusion methods like fencing prove effective. Like other rodents, nutria can carry disease, including tuberculosis and septicemia, which can be harmful to humans and other animals alike. Parasites such as tapeworms, blood and liver flukes, and nematodes can be found in the urine and feces of nutria and contaminate water supplies where the animal lives.