Large invasive rodent threatens California's natural resources, agriculture

FRESNO COUNTY, California - Since March of last year, there have been more than 20 sightings of a damaging invasive species of rodent called a nutria.

It's a species that could devastate California's natural and agricultural resources.

Wetland ecosystems such as the San Joaquin River in Fresno County are facing a growing threat from an invasive species of rodent, that although not new to California, has seen a resurgence in population within the past year.

They are up to 2 ½ feet long, carry disease, damage infrastructure, and have a giant appetite.

“If you can think of a muskrat or a Norway rat on steroids – this is what we've got,” said Fred Rinder, Deputy Ag Commissioner of Fresno County.

Les Wright, Fresno County’s Ag Commissioner said, “They have a fluke within them that contaminates the water. These things eat about a quarter of their body weight every day. If there's an adjacent field to it, it'll eat rice, alfalfa, corn – anything.”

Some people may not have seen or heard of a nutria before, and that's because they're not from here.

“They were brought in in the 1830s as part of the fur trade,” Rinder said.

Rapidly spreading, the invasive species from South America was thought to have been eradicated from California in the 1970s. But the not so little pests are back.

Now there's a multi-agency effort, including Rinder and others with local agricultural commissioners offices, to eradicate nutria before the population gets out of hand.

“We have begun setting up traps to see where these animals may be. We are setting up trail cameras” said Peter Tira from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But how can people help to stop their impact? The first step is in how knowing how to identify them.

“They're not quite as large as a beaver, but they're bigger than a muskrat,” Tira said.
Rinder said, “You might think initially that it's a beaver, but when it turns and you see the white whiskers, then the orange teeth – that would be a tip that you might have a nutria.”

Even though the nutria may be hard to identify, the local agencies encourage anyone who thinks that they may have spotted one to report the sighting immediately.

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