ECO-SUSTAINABLE TREATS FOR THE CANINE CONSERVATIONIST.

Wild Nutria

Marsh Dog is on a mission to turn every dog into a Canine Conservationist! What do we help conserve? Wetlands! How? With wild nutria dog treats. Nutria must be removed to preserve wetlands but their lean, clean, eco-sustainable protein need not go to waste.



WHAT’S IN A NAME?

The generic name “Nutria” is derived from two Greek words (mys, for mouse, and kastor, for beaver) that translate as mouse beaver. The specific name coypus is the Latinized form of coypu, a name in the language of the Araucanian Indians of south-central Chile and adjacent parts of Argentina for an aquatic mammal that was possibly this species. In most of the world the animal is called coypu, but in North America the common name is nutria. South Louisianians frequently mispronounced the name as “nutra” or “neutral.” Nutria are so omnipresent in wetlands that some people do not realize they are an invasive, non-native species that destroy marsh.

 


WHAT IS AN INVASIVE SPECIES?

Invasive species have been characterized as a “catastrophic wildfire in slow motion.” Thousands of non-native invasive plants, insects, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, pathogens, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals (like Nutria) have infested land and water across the nation, causing massive disruptions in ecosystem.

The actual definition of an Invasive Species comes from a Presidential Executive Order issued February 3, 1999. A species is considered invasive if it meets these 2 criteria:

1.It is nonnative to the ecosystem under consideration, and

2.Its introduction causes, or is likely to cause, economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

 

NUTRIA ARE NOT RATS

Because of the shape of their tail, some people mistakenly call Nutria “swamp rats.” Nutria are of the taxonomic order “Rodentia,” as are about 40% of all mammals including squirrels, beavers, guinea pigs, rats, and mice. They are most closely related to porcupines or South American capybaras. All rodents are characterized by a single pair of continuously growing incisors in the upper and lower jaw that must be kept short by gnawing. Did you know that the order “Rodentia” comes from the Latin rodere (gnaw)?

 

WHAT ARE NUTRIA?

Nutria are smaller than a beaver but larger than a muskrat with prominent yellow incisors and long white whiskers. Males are slightly larger then females weighing an average of 12 pounds (5.4 kg). The forelegs are exceedingly efficient at excavating marsh roots, rhizomes, and burrowing.


HOW DID THEY GET HERE?

Nutria were intentionally imported from South America for fur ranching. During World War II fur prices collapsed and many ranchers lost interest. The animals were released and/or escaped into marshes where they quickly became established. Nutria are very adaptable and are currently reported in 18 states across the U.S. They wreak havoc to North American ecosystems wherever they exist.

 

HOW FAST DO NUTRIA REPRODUCE?

Nutria are highly prolific and breed year round. Litters average four to five however, they can have up to thirteen young per litter and three litters per year. Add to this the fact that young are born fully furred and active—able to swim and destroy marsh within five days of birth. As an example of their proliferation: in 1938, 20 individual nutria were introduced into Louisiana and within 20 years, the nutria population exceed 20 million animals. By 1962, Nutria had replaced the native muskrat as the leading furbearer in Louisiana.

 

WHERE DO NUTRIA LIVE?

Nutria inhabit fresh, intermediate, and brackish marshes, rivers, bayous, farm ponds, freshwater impoundments, swamps and various other types of wetlands all over the US. However the greatest population of Nutria exists in Louisiana.

 

IS NUTRIA MEAT GOOD FOR DOGS?

Heck yeah! Lower in fat and cholesterol than turkey, and free of hormones and antibiotics, Nutria is a high quality dense protein source similar in taste to rabbit. Dogs love this healthy alternative protein.

 

THE IMPACT OF NUTRIA

The biggest impact is to marsh. They can quickly convert productive grassy marsh into open water by attacking the very structure that holds the marsh together, the vegetative root mat. Once Nutria chew through a mat and expose mud, tidal currents and wave action lead to erosion. The pitted marsh surface sinks and vegetation is lost to flooding. Open water ponds are called “eat outs” and swim canals are called “runs.”


The photo at the top of this page illustrates Nutria destruction. On the upper right we see an “island” of fenced marsh and damage caused by Nutria all around it. Because the roots are destroyed, the marsh will only come back if replanted.

Nutria also compete for habitat and food with native mammals like muskrat, beaver, and otter; destroy crops like sugar cane and rice; and compromise levees, dikes, roads, and banks by burrowing.

 

CONTROL STRATEGY

In 2002, the Coastwide Nutria Control Program was implemented to reduce the Nutria population (and its impact on marsh). The program, supported by CWPPRA (Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act), has shown significant progress. It consists of an economic incentive payment per nutria delivered by registered participants to collection centers established in coastal Louisiana. The Louisiana Wildlife and

Fisheries implement and license harvesters during regulated seasons. The goal of the Program is to encourage the harvest of Nutria from coastal Louisiana thereby reducing damage to marsh.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of harvested Nutria are utilized in any manner—leaving  this otherwise high-quality protein source to go to waste. In response, Marsh Dog created its line of wild Nutria dog treats. Utilizing an invasive species that is already being harvested to control its impact on wetlands supports conservation efforts.

 

WHAT DO NUTRIA EAT?

Nutria are vegetarians making for a very clean meat, far cleaner than, say, crawfish, which shred dead stuff and feed off microbial protein. Nutria particularly enjoy the base of plant stems and dig for roots and rhizomes in the winter. Over 60 Louisiana plant species are on the menu. Being “generalists,” there’s not much they won’t eat.

Nutria will also happily consume agricultural crops like rice and sugarcane. Their messy feeding habits make them especially wasteful as they only consume 10% of what they cut down.

 

WHY ORANGE TEETH?

The orange-colored tooth enamel comes from iron in the pigment. The iron adds considerable strength enabling the smoother portions in the back to grind down more rapidly. This gives the teeth a chisel-like form. Other rodents like beaver also have orange (iron) teeth.

 




Nutria act like a “mammalian lawn mower” eating the plants, roots and all, and leaving huge stretches of bare mud. Without roots to hold it, the ground simply washes away.

—Dr. Robert Thomas, Loyola University

RIGHTEOUS FUR

Just as the high quality protein of nutria should not go to waste, nor should their pelts. While we don’t advocate a return to fur farms, use of Nutria fur is far superior to “faux fur.” The latter is a plastics-based product that is not environmentally friendly. Check out Righteous Fur for their work with wild nutria fur.

 

EAT THE INVADERS

In the late 1990s, Louisiana promoted wild Nutria “Ragodin” for the human market.

Today, the world-wide trend to consume invasive species (as opposed to poisoning or wasting them) has gained momentum. Bizarre Foods star Andrew Zimmern, Eat the Invaders biologist Joe Roman, and Eating Aliens author Jackson Landers have all shared the positive and delicious aspects of eating invasive species like nutria. Several New Orleans chefs built menus featuring nutria and edible invasive plants, bringing awareness to the issue.

Rowan Jacobsen writes “The invasivore movement has caught fire. Some of the worst invaders, like gypsy moths and Asian long-horned beetles, will not grace lunch counters anytime soon, yet where perniciousness meets deliciousness, there is hope.”

 

BURROW ISSUE

Nutria construct burrows in the banks of rivers, sloughs, and ponds, sometimes causing considerable erosion. Burrows can weaken roadbeds, stream banks, dams, and dikes, which may collapse when the soil is saturated by rain or high water. Rain action can wash out and enlarge collapsed burrows and compounds the damage.

 

THREE SQUARE

Schoenoplectus pungent, a species of flowering plant in the sedge family, is one of the Nutria's favorite foods. This important plant provides cover for waterfowl and is an important food source for native species. In addition, it’s fast growth, ability to reduce pollutant loads, and sequester carbon, three square is a valuable wetland plant.

 

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COYPU VS NUTRIA

In most of the world, nutria are known as coypu. The reason they are called nutria in America has everything to do with marketing. Otter is considered to have the finest quality fur on the market. While the fur of nutria is good, it’s not considered as valuable as otter. The Spanish word for otter is ‘nutria.’ By calling coypu 'nutria,' the early marketers hoped to sow a bit of confusion and add greater value to fur from a large aquatic rodent.