Semi-aquatic rodents native to South America, nutria currently inhabit brackish marshes in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware.
This non-native, invasive species was introduced to Dorchester County to enhance fur trade in the 1940s as part of an experimental fur station. However, the station was unsuccessful and the nutria were inadvertently released into the wild. These released specimens have produced the large populations that exist today in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Nutria can grow to a length of two feet and weigh about 15 to 20 pounds. Resembling beavers, they have large yellow front teeth (incisors) and enormous appetites for root mats of wetland grasses. The destruction of these root mats destabilizes soil, leading to the erosion of marsh that filters runoff and provides critical habitat for native species.
Nutria have few predators, and female nutria reproduce throughout the year and it is not unusual for a single nutria to give birth to three litters annually. Since implementation of a nutria eradication effort on Marylandís Eastern Shore began in 2000, nutria have been cleared from more than 30,000 acres of Chesapeake Bay marsh.
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