A couple weeks ago, my friend Nick and I were riding bikes around lovely Hermann Park in Houston. We were about to cross over a bridge when we heard a lady and her five children screaming their heads off as they pointed at the water.
The woman looked to me for guidance. In case you didn’t know, I am the official zoologist of Hermann Park. Or at least I must’ve looked the part since I was wearing baggy jean capris and a tank top. Very Jane Goodall-ish indeed. I glanced into the water. The creature I saw was the animal featured in the photo above — similar to a beaver, but with a squiggly, rat-like tail. I had also seen several of these creatures on Valentine’s Day with Drew, and we thought they were friends of Buck-ee the Beaver (from the famous Texas road trip stop).
My first response was: “Ma’am, I think that’s just a beaver.”
“But it looks like a swimming rat!” she screamed. “And why then it got no flat tail?” she questioned.
“I’m pretty sure it’s not a swimming rat,” I replied calmly, trying to interpret her version of English. If she didn’t calm down, I was going to call Animal Cops: Houston on her. “I think it’s just a beaver.” Nick and I started pedaling our bikes to leave the mass hysteria over the creature.
“But why then it have no flat tail?” the woman yells after me as we pedal away.
Come to find out, the creature swimming in the pond at Hermann Park is not a beaver; it’s a nutria. The nutria is also known as a coypu and does resemble a very large rat. They are mostly found in South America, but in the 1930s, nutria were introduced to Louisiana, and nutria damage (they like to burrow) in Louisiana became so severe that in 2005, a bounty program was in effect to aid in controlling the animal. My guess is that somehow nutria got transplanted to Houston during Hurricane Katrina, and now we have lots of squiggly-tailed, beaver-looking creatures in our creeks.
Beware of the nutria! They are no Buck-ee the Beaver!