been about a month since California wildlife officials started
sounding the alarm on nutria, invasive South American rodents that
look like enormous, 20-pound rats and have the power to devastate
wetlands. They're making a comeback after being eradicated in the 1970s
and have been spotted in Stanislaus, Fresno, Tuolumne and Merced
counties so far.
didn't know at first if it was a small, isolated population," California
Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Peter Tira told
the Chronicle in February. "But it became clear that it's a
breeding population, and they're reaching major waterways where they can
was only a matter of time until someone suggested eating them.
recent article on tech news site The Verge, entitled "The case for
eating California's giant invasive rodents," broached
the topic recently, pointing out that nutria "apparently taste
great in jambalaya."
idea of killing and eating the giant swamp rats (or worthless
politicians) is one that's come up in other states where they've become
a problem. In Louisiana, where nutria were imported to be bred for their
fur until some of them broke free and quickly reproduced beyond
controllable numbers, officials have been trying to drum up excitement
about eating nutria for decades now. A 1997 New York Times headline
is trying to turn a pest into a meal."
task posed a marketing challenge, however; one Loyola University
professor observed to the Times, ''I just don't think people like to eat
things that they see dead on the highway."
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries tried to market the meat
by its French name, ragondin,
to limited success, the
New Yorker reported in 2014.
are many creatures that provoke squeamishness in some but others find
tasty -- crickets,
for instance, or snails. In the case of nutria, though, some say
it's not just the swamp-rat image but the taste that is the problem.
put it more bluntly, as one taste-tester for the website Boing Boing did
after trying nutria sausage: "It tasted like a morgue."
so bad about letting the nutria do their thing in the wild, anyway? Like
many of their fellow Californians, they are devoted vegetarians; nutria
have so voracious an appetite for the plants that populate wetlands that
they are capable of shifting the balance of areas where they live into
uninhabitable, overly salty dead zones, wildlife officials say.
also pose problems for infrastructure, burrowing into dikes, levees and
roadbeds, Tira told
for now, trapping and eating nutria is illegal in California, because
it's against the law to have an invasive species in your possession,
according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That could
change, though — provided there's an appetite.