Update 6/13/16 – To report a nutria sighting, please send an email with the date of the observation and location information to ReportNutria@vt.edu. For more information, visit http://cmi.vt.edu/ReportNutria.html.
Update 9/8/16 – For a summer 2016 update on the status of nutria on the Delmarva Peninsula, see “Delmarva down to it last few nutria thanks to eradication project,” Bay Journal, 7/1/16.
The following article on the invasive rodent nutria appeared first in the May 2013 issue of the newsletter Engagement Matters from the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment (online at http://cnre.vt.edu/community/newsletter/). The author is Scott Klopfer (firstname.lastname@example.org), director of the Conservation Management Institute, a research center in CNRE. The Water Central News Grouper is grateful for permission to reprint the article.
The nutria (Myocaster coypus) is an invasive aquatic rodent species found in southeastern Virginia. Recently, a team of researchers from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnered with the Conservation Management Institute to examine the expansion of the nutria in Virginia and to determine what management actions should be taken.
The nutria is native to South America but has been widely introduced in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Billed as an alternative source of ranched fur during the 1930s and 1940s, this species was both intentionally and unintentionally released into the wild. It eventually gained a foothold in a variety of wetland types on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts. The nutria can be particularly harmful to wetland ecosystems and water-control structures due to their feeding and digging habits. The subsequent damage to native wetlands, agricultural crops, and property is a growing concern for biologists and for citizens.
One of the challenges of initiating a nutria management effort in Virginia was to create a current map of where nutria are found. Based on personal experiences and first-hand reports, the team determined that the area from Virginia Beach eastward to the Great Dismal Swamp and north to the James River was certainly infested with nutria. However, the question remained – have nutria spread from this core area into the surrounding watersheds?
To answer that question, the team sought assistance from the public in areas potentially occupied by nutria. Ads were placed in local newspapers requesting that reports of nutria be submitted to a website (as of 6/1316: http://cmi.vt.edu/ReportNutria.html) along with some basic information about location. In addition, the team targeted naturalist groups, fur trappers, and nuisance-animal control officers for information on their observations of nutria within the area. This effort received a great boost after local TV and print news outlets highlighted the effort and described the potential damage an expanding nutria population can present.
Working with the public to improve our knowledge of nutria in Virginia has proven to be a cost-effective way to gather preliminary information to guide our management strategies. Furthermore, by working with the local news outlets, the team was able to engage the affected communities, help them understand the nutria issue, and get them involved in developing a solution.
The team will continue to work with citizens to further enhance our information about nutria in Virginia, as well as in an expanded study area in North Carolina. We hope this information will help to define the nutria expansion problem and help develop management recommendations.