The nutria, the swamp beaver, is a rodent that leads a semi-aquatic lifestyle. This mammal has interesting habits, is the most valuable object of fishing. Farmers are actively engaged in breeding these animals, as its meat and fur are highly valued in the market. What are nutrias, what habits do they have and how do they reproduce?
Origin of the species and description
Nutria is a mammalian animal, it belongs to the order of rodents and represents the nutria family. It is called differently: otter, koipu, swamp beaver. All names are used with the same frequency. Although there are a number of experts who argue that nutria cannot be called swamp beavers. They claim that these animals are not related to real river beavers, rats. They resemble them only remotely – by similar habits, lifestyle. Therefore, this comparison is incorrect.
Coipu are large rodents. Their body length can reach sixty centimeters, and weight – twelve kilograms. Male nutrias are always much larger than females. Outwardly, the animals look like a huge rat. Their body is covered with thick, shiny, long bristles.
Interesting fact: Despite their thick, dense fur, coypu do not exude an unpleasant odor. They are very clean, unlike other members of the rodent family.
Beautiful, thick nutria fur is the most important object of fishing. For this reason, these animals began to be actively bred on zoo farms located around the world. To date, there are about seventeen breeds of this mammal. Ten breeds are mutational, seven are combined.
All of them are divided into two groups:
Standard breeds include animal breeds with a classic brown color. Colored nutria appeared as a result of breeding. The color of their coat is varied. There are Azerbaijani, Italian nutria white, mother-of-pearl, black. Fur of colored breeds is much more highly valued in the modern market.
Appearance and features
From a distance, nutrias are very reminiscent of huge rats. Their coat is shiny, and there is a long tail at the back. Excluding the tail, the average body length is about fifty centimeters, the average weight is six kilograms. However, these parameters are not the limit. In nature, individuals have been encountered more than once, the weight of which reached twelve kilograms, and the length was more than sixty centimeters.
Interesting fact: Nutria are large rodents, have an excellent appetite. An animal can gain its adult weight by nine months after birth.
Koipu have a very strong physique, have heavy, strong bones. The animal has a massive head. It has tiny eyes and ears. They look disproportionate. The shape of the muzzle is blunt, the teeth, especially the incisors, are painted bright orange.
The nutria leads a semi-aquatic lifestyle, so its body and organs have a number of anatomical features:
- Nasal openings of the animal have obturator muscles. When diving, they close tightly, not letting water in;
- The lips are separated, behind the incisors they can tightly close together. This prevents the passage of water;
- On the fingers of the hind limbs there are special membranes. They help in the process of movement under the water column;
- The tail is rounded, not covered with thick hair, quite powerful. It helps the animal to control the direction of movement while swimming;
- The fur is waterproof. It consists of two parts: wool, undercoat. The coat is long, thick, the undercoat is very dense. The fur repels water, does not get wet even when staying in a river or lake for a long time.
Where does the nutria live?
Initially, this rodent lived only in South America. This is his home. It was found in the territory from Brazil to the Strait of Magellan. Today, this animal is distributed on many other continents. He perfectly mastered in Europe, North America, the Transcaucasus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan. In these territories, nutria appeared as a result of the resettlement program.
Programs for the settlement of nutria were carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century. In most cases, nutria adapted perfectly, began to actively multiply and settle in new lands. However, there were also setbacks in the settlement process. The rodent did not take root in Africa, in some part of the territory of the former Soviet Union. In some regions, nutria first took root, but died with the onset of winter.
For example, the population was completely destroyed by severe frosts in Scandinavia, in some northern states of the United States.
For life, nutria choose places near water bodies, lakes, swamps. The water in the reservoir should be stagnant or slightly flowing, the shores of lakes and swamps should be overgrown. In dense forests, mountains, the animal does not settle. It is not found above a thousand meters above sea level. Koipu also avoid areas with cold winters, too low temperatures.
What do nutrias eat?
For life, koipu prefer to choose swampy river banks, shallow lakes, ponds with stagnant water. They make holes on the shore, where there is a lot of vegetation. According to their place of residence, it is not difficult to guess what the nutria eats. Most of her diet is occupied by plant foods. These animals are unpretentious in food.
They love to feast on:
- Leaves, stems of cattail;
- Young shoots of reed;
- Roots of various aquatic and terrestrial plants;
- Water lilies and reeds;
- Water chestnuts.
If the rodent begins to experience hunger at the place of residence, it can eat several molluscs, leeches or insect larvae. However, this rarely happens. With a lack of nutrition, nutria prefer to simply find a new place to live.
Interesting fact: All systems of nutria, its anatomical features are perfectly adapted for life in water. The special structure of the organs allows the animal to eat food even at the bottom of reservoirs without breathing.
The diet for keeping nutria at home is slightly different. For better growth, beautiful fur, breeders feed animals with special balanced feeds with the addition of grains, grass, and vegetables. Sometimes the owners of the farm add leftover food from their own table to the daily diet.
Feed is mixed, steamed. Such nutrition is considered the most effective. When keeping a large number of animals, dry feed can be used. But at the same time, one important rule must be observed – nutria must always have fresh water available. This is vital.
Character and lifestyle features
The whole life of nutria takes place near reservoirs, rivers, swamps. The animal avoids mountains, cold climate. For the construction of its holes, it chooses places with maximum vegetation, because plant foods make up ninety percent of the daily diet. The lifestyle of nutria can be called semi-aquatic. The animal spends a lot of time in the water. He can eat there, swim.
Koipu are most active in their natural habitat at night. At night, they actively forage for food. They eat stems, rhizomes, leaves, reeds. If there is little vegetation, then they can catch and eat a leech, a mollusk. The lifestyle of these animals is semi-nomadic. Nutria rarely live in one place. They move all the time with a lack of plant food.
Fun fact: Koipu are excellent swimmers. Without air, these mammals can overcome a little more than a hundred meters under water. They hold their breath for seven to ten minutes without harming their own body.
Nutria build burrows on steep banks, slopes. Hideouts are usually several complex turn systems. Several animals live in burrows at once – from two to ten. Such groups consist of several females, a male and their offspring. Juvenile males prefer living separately, alone.
Like any other animal that has fur, nutria have molting. However, in koipu it is not so limited in time. Shedding occurs to some extent throughout the year. Wool falls least of all in the summer and autumn periods of the year. Only in winter does the fall completely stop. In winter, these animals have the best quality fur.
Social Structure and Reproduction
Koipu breed well both in natural conditions and in captivity. It is high fertility that allows maintaining the population of animals at a sufficient level. In one year, an adult female can reproduce several times. During one pregnancy, the female bears up to seven cubs.
Male representatives of this family are ready for the breeding process all year round. They are constantly active, unlike their ladies. In females, activity occurs only periodically – every twenty-five to thirty days. Most often, nutria brings offspring in the warm season – in spring, summer. The pregnancy of the animal does not last long – about one hundred and thirty days. Female fecundity declines by the age of three.
Interesting fact: Coipu babies have a high survival rate. Small nutrias are able to almost instantly adapt to the conditions of the world around them. Animals adopt the habits of their parents literally a few days after birth. They start swimming too, try some plant food.
Koipu babies grow very fast. The peak of growth occurs in the first six months of life. By this time, they leave the family nest, begin to lead an independent lifestyle. In the natural environment, this animal lives for about five years.
Natural enemies of nutria
Koipu is not easy prey. From their enemies, animals can hide under water, in complex systems of holes. They build shelters with multiple exits, compartments. In such a hole, it is quite easy to hide from danger. Under water, the nutria can stay for about ten minutes, quickly covering the distance with the help of powerful hind legs with webbing between the fingers. This is quite enough to hide from the enemy.
If the nutria has a chance to avoid an enemy attack by swimming or near the hole, then on land, far from the shelter, this animal is very vulnerable. His eyesight, charm fail him. With the help of hearing, a mammal can hear the slightest rustle, but this will not save him. Nutria run fast, do it in jumps. However, the stamina of the beast is extremely low. After some time, a predator can overtake him.
The main natural enemies of this animal can be called predators. They are often hunted, attacked by wild wolves, cats, dogs, foxes. Birds of prey, such as marsh harriers, also feed on nutria. Great harm to the health of a mammal is caused by leeches, a variety of parasites living inside. Humans can also be classified as natural enemies. Koipu die in large numbers from poachers, at the hands of ordinary people. In some countries, these animals are considered pests, so they are deliberately destroyed.
Species population and status
Nutria has been an important fishery object for a long time. Its fur has high performance, and the meat has an excellent taste. To date, the meat of this animal is considered absolutely dietary. In this regard, a lot of nutria died at the hands of poachers. This would lead to the complete disappearance of the representatives of this family, but just in time they began to breed nutria on zoo farms and distribute them to other countries.
Cases of poaching have decreased significantly since the appearance of zoo farms, where nutria were bred for fishing. However, hunting for these animals is in demand to this day. From zoo farms, some of the animals ran away to the wild, some were released by the farmers themselves due to the fall in demand for fur. All this made it possible to quickly restore the population of these mammals.
Also, resettlement programs saved the nutria from extinction. Koipu quickly adapted to new territories. Undoubtedly, natural fertility helps them maintain a high population. These mammals breed often, quickly. Their cubs easily adapt to almost any conditions. The only exceptions are big frosts. All these factors make it possible to maintain a stable population of nutria throughout their habitat. At the moment, the number of these animals does not cause concern among scientists.
Nutria is an interesting, prolific rodent. This animal is able to bring offspring several times a year. It feeds on plant foods, swims and dives well. Koipu are also the most valuable fishery object. The animals have thick, warm fur, healthy and dietary meat. For these reasons, they are actively bred on zoo farms almost all over the globe.