Emily Bush • Staff Writer
Several eyewitness reports have shown the recent migration of so-called “water rats” to Harvey Lake.
They only come out at night, and they scuttle away from humans in fear, moving in packs between Harvey Lake and the Lower Lake. As many as five of them have been spotted by multiple students on their way home from class in the evening, but the rats did not stay around long enough to cause any harm. As soon as they are seen, they run to the overgrowth around the lake.
These creatures are of many names: nutria rats, coypus, river rats and giant swamp rats.
These nutria rats are often mistaken for the smaller versions of their capybara cousins or sometimes even muskrats. They are an invasive species taking over watery areas all over the U.S., especially in the south, so it’s understandable why they are showing up in Harvey Lake now.
Dr. Jessica Coleman from the biology department weighed in on the presence of nutrias in Harvey Lake.
“[The nutrias] could potentially damage our lakes, but right now we do not have a big problem with them on campus,” Coleman said. “They more or less move through our area to get to other wet environments. As long as they are monitored, we shouldn’t see any major issues on campus.”
According to the History Channel website, nutria rats were brought to Louisiana from South America during the fur trade in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, traders released them once the market declined, and their population spread from coast to coast. Nutrias are social creatures that breed year-round, and they have around three litters a year with about thirteen babies per litter.
Ebony Walker, an English and political science double-major, reported sightings of four or five of them walking along the bridge between the two lakes one February night. Though, when experts say they are social creatures, that means between themselves, not to humans. Take caution when around the nutrias.
Nutria rats are considered invasive because they chew through crops, property and other wetland plants. According to Havahart’s website, they can cause great soil erosion due to their burrowing. Nutrias’ burrows “[affect] levees, banks, dams, dikes and roadbeds, and may even extend to weakened foundations of buildings, docks and wharves.” They also, according to Havahart, carry parasites, such as tapeworms, and “pathogens that cause diseases.” During the 1970s, nutria rats were declared to be eradicated in California, but they were rediscovered in San Joaquin Valley in 2017. Since then, some states have implemented a bounty on nutria tails in order to eliminate them from the environment
One report from Houma Today states that a Louisiana hunter once turned in nearly 11,000 tails for the $6-per-tail bounty in 2019 as part of the nutria culling program. The same programs take place in Texas with only $5 per tail.
The rats shouldn’t pose much of a threat to UT Tyler as long as they continue to be monitored by the biology department, namely the Center for Environment, Biodiversity and Conservation.
Because of the possibility of flooding, remember, they do still carry parasites and bacteria dangerous to humans, so if you see one, simply leave it be or avoid it.