Here's a photo of "Baby" a pet nutria at five months of age standing in a bathtub, reaching up to check out a baby-toy. Notice Baby's webbed hind feet. Can you say, "ahhhhh, ain't he cute." You can read all about Baby at his own website, & check out other pictures of Baby & a couple of his fellow nutrias.
Nutria "Swamp Rats" as Pets
by Paghat the Ratgirl
Many people have claimed the nutria or coypu makes a pretty good pet in terms of its docility & affection for people, though they don't appear to be commonly kept as pets. For most people, lacking a farm & a pool, the nutria is not apt to be a very easy animal to care for properly.
It's scientific name is Myocastor coypus. Mycocaster means "Mouse Beaver" & the species name is derived from Coypu, a South American Indian name meaning "water rodent." In captivity they are voracious, eating rabbit pellets with a great amount of varied fruits & vegetables & grasses. Like rabbits, they will eat their own feces pellets to extract further nutriants. They can live to a record of 10 & 12 years though usually only 6 years (compared to a scant three years in the wild) so are rather a long-term commitment.
They have been semi-domesticated as commercial fur animals in South America. They extended their range into North America only after domestic nutria escaped from fur farms in the 1930s. They are now naturalized citizens of American swamplands, extremely common in Louisiana where they have caused considerable environmental harm by burrowing into banks & damaging dykes & irrigation systems. Their bayou populations reached their highest peak in the 1970s. Since then, the alligator's return from the brink of extinction has kept the nutria somewhat in check.
Though not native of North America they are now common in many regions, most famously in Louisiana but also in 17 other states including here in the Pacific Northwest. Feral populations have also survived in Europe & Asia after escape from fur farms. The demise of the fur industry, for which the nutria was always marginal in the first place, means there is no longer much of a domesticated use for them. They have begun to be accepted as an ethnic food item, so a few are being hunted from the wild.
They are also called "swamp rats" & often unflatteringly described. People who agree they are terribly appealing would rather compare them to beavers, though with scaled rat-like tails. The name "nutria" became more widely used after Louisiana restaurants wanted them to sound nutritious rather than on the menu as "pan fried swamp rats." No doubt many of the tourists who order frankly don't even know what they're eating. But the word nutria is only concidentally homonymous with nutrition; it is actually the Spanish word for "Otter" & when Spanish books speak of the nutria they never mean the coypu.
The picture above right is of a pet nutria being handed a piece of toast. His name is Toro & he's disabled; he would never have lived a long life without human assistance. Toro & his cousin Snapper come & go pretty much as they please from a nearby creek. You can read a little bit about Toro at Twoey's Website, though there's some adult material at that site too, so be careful.
The third picture on this page, on the left, is of Dave Horn with his pet nutria. Dave used to have quite a lovely website with miscellaneous whimsies about family life on the Siuslaw River in Oregon, but alas that site is now gone.
Nutrias are bigger than muskrats, & on average about a third the size of a beaver, which is still pretty darned big for a rodent. Although 20 pounds fully grown is typical, occasionally an old fat male weighs in at 50 pounds. So as pets, they present the same housing problems as other enormous rodents, before even getting 'round to their need for a large swimming area.
Ideally anyone who attempted to keep them captive as pets would provide them a large enclosed goldfish pool, or an artificial bog, but might get by with a large gnaw-proof enclosure with a built-in full-sized bathtub. The last photo on this page is of a pet nutria who lives in a goldfish pond & comes to the edge to beg to be fed. It is harmless to any goldfish in the pond, being strictly a vegetarian.
They are usually nocturnal but will learn to be up days if played with a great deal. They quickly learn that the presence of people means they'll be given treats of banana or muskmelon. Many a cute "park" nutria learns to come out of the water & beg for bread along with the ducks, or to irritate duffers on golfing greens by snatching golfballs in their yellow incisors & running off with them into the water.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl