The Righteous Coypu

When viewed by a distant perceiver

the Nutria could pass for a Beaver.

But up close it is plain

you’d be somewhat insane

to claim you are still a believer.

Thanks to the maxims of one of my children’s grade school teachers I realize that whenever you point an accusing finger at anyone that three of your fingers are pointing back at you!  In church, I learned that he who throws the first stone should be without sin. So, with all that piled on top of my conscious I freely admit that I am full of fault. I once took a tiny plastic alligator when I was in Kindergarten (I was forced to return it, but certainly would have if given enough time).  Now that all that has been said, I will now point a finger.

Photo in “Beaver” Article

My respectfully humble, yet righteous, finger is currently directed at the recent Winter Issue 2013 of the Detroit Zoological Society- a magazine called “Habitat.” I am not a member, nor have I ever been a member, of the Society but just happened upon the issue. The magazine’s feature article discusses the new underwater Beaver habitat under construction at the zoo. It also features a nice little side bar highlighting Fast and Fun Beaver Facts such as the four “powerful, orange-colored teeth.”  The piece is illustrated with three large color photographs (see above and below).

Page 2 of “Beaver Article

In all, it is a beautiful article and overall I have no quarrel with the content. Although teeth can’t be “powerful,” I would be getting picky beyond belief if this was my tact. So, what’s the issue with this issue? All three of those photographs are of a Nutria rather than a Beaver.  Let me repeat – the pictures show a well-fed Nutria instead of a flat-tailed North American Beaver. If this publication was from AARP or something, I would not be so quick to point fingers since the two creatures can be confused with blurred vision. Because we are talking “Zoological Society” here I feel the fault more egregious.

The two creatures are similar but not THAT similar. Nutrias, are aquatic rodents in the style of a beaver but there the resemblance ends. Your run of the mill Nutria will be 17-25 inches long and weigh perhaps 15-20 pounds while the beaver averages 25-40 inches in length and weigh 35-60 pounds.  The tail of the Nutria is round and that of the beaver is, well, you know that one – flat. Our magazine photo mistake could be attributed to the lack of a tail view except for the following fact. Perhaps the single most noticeable Nutria-ic trait is the presence of a distinctive white muzzle and a brace of thick whiskers. In contrast the beaver looks like Baby Huey next to the Walrus faced Nutria. So:

A Nutria is to a Beaver

like a fox is to a retriever.

Though related they are

only when viewed from afar

is there a chance of mixing up either.

Let’s finish this thing up by saying that Nutrias don’t chew wood – even though they have “powerful teeth” and their grizzled dull brown fur contrasts with the subtly toned reddish brown fur of Le Castor (le Beaver).

Native Nutrias are from southern South America and there they are known as Coypus. They made their way into North America when some transplanted individuals escaped from a Louisiana fur farm in the 1930’s. Since that time they have spread throughout the south and up the Atlantic coast – even making their way to Cape Cod (which is where I had my one and only wild Coypu sighting).  They are destructive beasts that rip up vast stretches of marshland and therefore are the primary target of many State Game Agency eradication programs.  There is a continued movement to harvest the nutria for their pelts and one company, called Righteous Furs, is promoting their Nutria fashions.  They claim that nutrias are really nothing more than beavers with Cajun accents but they do so with a wink.

No matter how you frame the picture, Nutrias are not welcome here or on any magazine page passing them off as something they are not. I leave you with a final thought directed at the Detroit Zoological Society and then I will withdraw my pointed appendage. Expecting a Nutria to pass for a real Beaver is equivalent to expecting a picture of a large house cat to represent a mountain lion. No one would allow that mistake pass, now would they?

For a Nutria to pass for a beaver

he’d have to be quite a deceiver.

Keeping white whiskers hid

and his tail ’neath a lid

he just might make one a believer.


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