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Documentary Tracks The ‘Swamp Rat’ Takeover

They weigh 20 pounds, have bright orange buck teeth, and look like a cross between a beaver and a rat. The nutria is an invasive rodent that has become a scourge on ecosystems in Louisiana and elsewhere. In the new documentary “Rodents of Unusual Size,” filmmakers track how nutria first arrived in Louisiana and follow the work of hunters who kill the rodents for money and to protect the environment.
Host Frank Stasio speaks with one of the film’s directors Quinn Costello about his experience following the nutria trail. “Rodents of Unusual Size” screens at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham on Saturday, April 7 at 10 p.m.


1. They belong in Argentina, not the US
"In Argentina there are natural cycles of the seasons that regulate the nutria and keep them in check so they're not a problem. But when they were brought over to Louisiana as something to augment the fur industry to provide a cheap alternative to mink and muskrat, there were no natural predators. It was pretty much warm all year. There was a lot to eat. And so their numbers grew and grew and grew."

2. They are contributing to the decimation of the Louisiana wetlands
"Most importantly what they affect are efforts to rejuvenate the coast. Every time you try to plant wetland plants to try to get the integrity of the soil back to guard against things like hurricanes, the nutria will come along and just completely disrupt that."

3. Nutria fur was a short-lived hot commodity
"The initial idea was: This is going to be a cash cow, and everyone's going to get rich off of this rat fur, and we're going to actually downplay the fact that it looks like a gigantic rat. We're not going to advertise that because once it's processed into its fur, it has this very lustrous beautiful feel."

4. Nutria are tasty, but many people can't stomach them
"They basically came up with this plan of: Well, let's get people to eat the nutria out of existence. And they started working with all these celebrity chefs and started working with these public relations firms to try to get people to eat the nutria and to no avail."

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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