Ocracoke nature, flora & fauna

Ask the Observer from Greg Klein

 If you  have a questions about Ocracoke such  as what  was that plant, bird or  turtle you saw, or a question about  Ocracoke’s fascinating  history, send  us a  note including a photo if you have  one. We’ll try to answer it and post is on our  website and possibly in the  hard copy monthly. Send inquiries to info@ocracokeobserver.com and use as the subject, Ask the Observer.

 From Greg Klein:

Having lived in Louisiana, I am pretty sure the first picture is of a nutria. You can see the straight tail in the photo, but he also has webbed feet. He was at the Lighthouse last Thursday and again on Friday just munching away on flowers or grass. He was unfazed by people, many of whom were walking much closer to him than we did. And he was as popular as the lighthouse while we were there.

In Louisiana there is a lot of concern about nutrias being invasive and eating away a lot of marsh grass and destroying a lot of barrier areas. They have also been accused of edging out native species. There is a scalping reward for trappers/hunters and there was even some efforts (unsuccessful) to get local chefs to put them on menus. Are nutria new to Ocracoke and is there similar concerns about them there?

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Answer:   Yes Greg, we do have have nutria on Ocracoke which is what you photographed and they are considered to be an invasive species.  We have yet to see them on any of our restaurant menus on the island and don’t expect to anytime soon.  Here is an article on nutria published in the Observer a while back.

Ocracoke Observer

August 2008

Spotted on Ocracoke: A Live Nutria

Driving from the Hatteras ferry down the Garrish highway into the village, you may very well have noticed a flattened large dead brown colored animal, a night time casualty of being hit by a vehicle.  Almost of these rodents are sure to be nutria (Myocastor Coypus), a nonnative species. Nutria are brown-colored weigh about 12 pounds (though they may be much larger) and are approximately 2 feet long that includes a long mostly hairless tail. Nutria are from South America. Outside of the U.S. nutria also go by the name coypu, especially in the Spanish-speaking world.  They were first introduced to North America in the 1930s in Louisiana for fur cultivation.  Some of them were either released or escaped to the bayous where a substantial population was established. Today it is estimated that there are more than 20 million in Louisiana alone.  Primarily herbivorous and originally believed to be effective in controlling aquatic weeds such as water hyacinth, it became obvious that their voracious appetites for native plants were having a detrimental impact on wetlands. Using historic and present day aerial photographs, it has been estimated that  nutria have been a major reason for more than seven thousand acres of wetlands that have been lost to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge   in the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland.

In North America, nutria are preyed upon by alligators, and juveniles may be eaten by cottonmouth moccasins, hawks, owls and eagles.   In the winter on Ocracoke, there are Nothern Harriers and Peregrine Falcons that might prey upon young nutria. Other than that, there are no other natural predators to control the population.   It seems that there has been an increase in seeing dead nutria on the road in the past year or so. If that is the case, it may be an indication that the population is also increasing on the island.

Nutria spend most of their time in water or hidden in the marshes and are most active in early morning, evening and the night. Unless you are kayaking on the sound side, or traipsing thought their wetlands habitat, the likelihood of seeing a live nutria on Ocracoke is small. So it was a pleasant surprise to find this individual at about 6:30 AM on a June morning on the marsh view observation stand of the nature trail across from the campground.

 

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