Nutria ― giant swamp rats ― on the rise in Stockton

Photo Courtesy of Maryland DNR

Photo Courtesy of Maryland DNR

Leilany Perez, Opinion Editor

With its shaggy, yellow-brown fur, webbed feet and orange buck teeth, the nutria could be mistaken for a muskrat. San Joaquin County is being invaded by nutrias, also known as copyu ― but these rodents, despite their spooky appearance, are no laughing matter.

These “giant swamp rats” are two and a half feet long on average and typically weigh between 15 to 20 pounds. Since nutrias are semi-aquatic rodents, they tend to live on wetlands.

While people may think that having nutrias present in California isn’t a problem since many other rodents ― like beavers and otters ― are present in the state, nutria present a danger to the San Joaquin Delta. Nutrias often burrow into the canals and levees of rivers, including the Delta. These burrows can cause floods as they tend to weaken and damage the foundations of these man-made waterways. Nutrias also tend to serve as hosts of parasites and pathogens, such tuberculosis and tapeworms, leading to the possible contamination of the drinking water that is obtained from the Delta and other places.

Recently, nutrias were found living along the San Joaquin Delta River. According to the “Lodi-News Sentinel,” the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have found 65 nutrias in San Joaquin County as of March 7. Throughout California, a total of 410 nutrias have been found.

Currently, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to create a plan to eradicate all of the nutria in California using detection dogs or trail cameras to locate areas where nutria thrive and capture them. The department is also developing the Judas Nutria Project to help with the eradication of nutria. This project allows for the capture and sterilization of nutria, after which they are released back into wild, using them to lead scientists to nutria populations that haven’t been found.

So far, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has allotted over three million dollars for its plan to eradicate nutrias.