Nutria (Myocastor coypus), also known as the coypu or river rat, is a 12lb rodent native to South America that has been introduced to North America, Africa, Europe, and Asia and has become especially invasive in coastal regions of the US. They resemble a small beaver with a long, thin tail. Nutria were originally introduced to the US in 1899 to be used in fur farming and were deliberately released in Louisiana in the 1930’s to control invasive water plants. There are nutria populations established in many states, although control efforts have been especially focused in Louisiana, where nutria greatly damage coastal marshes by digging up soil to eat the base of plant stems, roots, and rhizomes. Control efforts have been successful, with a drop in wetland loss due to nutria destruction at nutria survey sites from 27,000+ acres/year in 1998 to just over 1,600 acres/year in 2011.
Chef Philippe Parolla was involved in a movement to popularize nutria for human consumption, but their rat-like appearance made many consumers hesitant to eat them. There are additional markets for nutria as guilt-free fur and as a dog treat ingredient.