June 25, 2018

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has more than 250 invasive plant and animal species, but there’s a new kid on the block – Nutria. We highlighted this 20-pound rodent in our recent Lowlight Reel but given rapidly increasing statewide concern for the large destructive rodent, it deserves a closer look and an urgent call to action.

While their most recent infestation to the state has garnered a lot of attention, Nutria have actually been in California before. They were present in the Central Valley and South Coast in the 1940s and 50s but were successfully eradicated by the 1970s. It is crucial that the same be done this time as well.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has been hard at work to track down and terminate the beaver look-a-like before their population gets too out of hand. Females reach sexual maturity at 4-6 months and can have up to three litters of up to 13 babies each, per year. Do the math. Environmental destruction begins with the fact that they can eat as much as a quarter of their body weight in vegetation each day, wasting and destroying as much as ten times that amount. The destructive feeding habits cause extensive damage to native plants and destroy marshlands resulting in loss of critical habitat and wetlands, threatening endangered and rare native species. Nutria are also known to burrow into levees which could lead to serious breaching and flooding of delta islands and resulting severe water supply disruptions for Bay Area and Southern California residents and Central Valley farms.

The unwelcome guest can also pose a threat to human health as they are hosts to tuberculosis, septicemia, tapeworms, and nematodes that cause a rash called “nutria itch.” The aquatic rodent can potentially contaminate swimming areas and drinking water supplies.

CDFW has been using any available resources, in coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Food and Agriculture, to eradicate the species before the population gets out of control. The 2018-2019 budget recently passed by the legislature included additional augmentations to fight the destructive intruder. CDFW asks that suspected observations or potential signs of nutria in California be photographed and immediately reported to CDFW ONLINE, by email to Invasives@wildlife.ca.gov, or by calling (866) 440-9530. Policymakers must be prepared to make sure responding agencies have the resources they need to stop the invasion.

Helpful Links:

Nutria Identification Chart

Stafford Lehr CDFW Nutria Response in CA 2018 5-14-2018

Department of Fish and Wildlife- Nutria Webpage