Coypu or Nutria date back to the Late Pliocene area and with its unique orange front teeth have learned to survive -maybe too well. The distribution of coypu tends to expand and contract with successive cold or mild winters. During cold winters, Coypu Myocastor coypus often suffer frostbite on their tails leading to infection or death. This temporarily controls the numbers of coypu. However during mild winters, their ranges tend to expand northward and since they breed year around can become quite pesty in areas. Found in wide areas across North and South America, Mexico, Europe and Africa, Coypu or Nutria belongs to the rodent family.
Nutria are smaller than a beaver but larger than a muskrat; unlike beavers or muskrats, however, it has a round, slightly haired tail. When moving on land, the nutria’s chest drags on the ground and its back appears hunched. Although appearing awkward, the nutria is capable of fast overland travel for considerable distances. The ears are small and the eyes are set high on the head. The nose and mouth can be closed to prevent entry of water, and can swim long distances underwater. When pursed while underwater, nutria can see and will take evasive action to avoid capture.
They can also be identified by their bright orange-yellow incisor teeth (unlike rats, which have brownish yellow incisors). The nipples of female coypu are high on her flanks. This allows their young to feed while the female is in the water.
They are herbivorous, feeding on river plants, and live in burrows alongside stretches of water.
As demand for coypu fur declined, coypu have since become pests in many areas, destroying aquatic vegetation, irrigation systems, chewing through human-made items, such as tires and wooden house panelling in Louisiana, eroding river banks, and displacing native animals. In the Chesapeake Bay region in Maryland, where they were introduced in the 1940s, coypu are believed to have destroyed 7,000 to 8,000 acres (2,800 to 3,200 ha) of marshland in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Coypu were also introduced to East Anglia, again for fur, in 1929; many escaped and damaged the drainage works, and a concerted program by MAFF eradicated them by 1989.
Coypu meat is lean and low in cholesterol. While there have been many attempts to establish markets for coypu meat, all documented cases have generally been unsuccessful possibly because the coypu are the host for a nematode parasite (Strongyloides myopotami) that can infect the skin of humans. When this happens the condition is called “nutria itch.” Its destructive feeding and burrowing behaviors make this invasive species a pest throughout most of its range.
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image courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutria