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Latest: Return of the giant orange-toothed rodents

Invasive nutria were eradicated from California but are coming back.


Nutria, 20-pound rodents native to South America, destroy wetlands, degrade water quality and damage flood-control levees. Imported to the U.S. by fur entrepreneurs in the late 19th century, they quickly colonized 15 states, mostly in the Southeast. California eradicated them in the mid-1960s, but they multiplied in Washington and Oregon (“Toothy nuisance moves north,” HCN, 10/31/05). Today, they’re found throughout western Washington and Oregon’s central coastal region.


Now, nutria have suddenly reappeared in three California counties, and the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is asking residents to report sightings so officials can estimate how many giant rodents are out there. Nutria are classified as invasive, so it’s illegal to possess or transport them. “We don't know if someone set one loose or if there was an isolated population out there that we didn’t know about,” department spokesman Peter Tira told NPR. “But we do know we have to get rid of them.”