Nutria, is it a rat, a beaver or an unwanted pest?  Most people think of them as a combination of all three, I like to think of them as a large rat or beaver with a small tail.  Nutria, or as a wide portion of the world calls them Coypu have been around since the age of man and has a fairly long history.

Nutria is native to South America, and was first introduced in the U.S. in 1899 in California as fur.  Between 1899 and 1940 they were imported for fur use not only in California but Washington, Oregon, Michigan, New Mexico, Louisiana, Ohio, and Utah.  “Nutria” actually stands for the fur of the Coypu, which helps explain the name confusion.

When the Nutria Fur trade collapsed in the early 1940’s business owners and trappers simply let the animals go free, and many of the species were relocated across the nation as a control for vegetation by state and federal agencies.  In the free market of America, where capitalism is quick to make a few bucks, these critters were sold to the public as “weed cutters.”

Nutria have short legs and highly arched bodies, measuring roughly two feet in length.  They have a rounded tail that is a little over a foot long with little hair.  They weigh approximately 12 pounds but can range anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds, and have a dense grayish undercoat that is covered by glossy guard hairs that range from dark brown to a yellowish/tan color, as well as white whiskers on each side of their nose.  Nutria have large incisors that are yellow/orange to an orange/red on the outer surfaces, and are commonly mistaken as the American beaver or muskrat.

Highly developed and adapted for aquatic life, Nutria inhabit farm ponds, drainage canals, bayous, freshwater and brackish marshes, swamps, and rivers.  Feeding on bulrushes, cordgrass, roots, and rhizomes and tubers from cattails.  These rodents have caused local concern, due to the fact that they make great hosts for several pathogens and parasites that can infect people, pets and livestock.  Their eating, digging, and rooting habits cause erosion and convert healthy marshes into open water habitat, ruining several native species homes, destroying wetlands and potential hunting sites.  Another concern is lack of predators that eat Nutria, especially since it has a high reproductive rate.

Though our harsh winters make it hard for Nutria to survive in Michigan, if you do encounter one, you can report it to for contact information, or you can also report it using the MISIN smartphone app or through their website  Early detection is our best response for dealing with this species, and reporting these occurrences in a timely manner is crucial for stopping an invasion and limiting the negative ecological and economical impacts.

This article is part of the ongoing series on invasive species funded in part with funds from the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program through the Department of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, and Agriculture and Rural Development. 


  1. Linda Longuski on May 10, 2018 at 4:38 pm

    On May 3, 2018, I sighted what I believe was a light colored nutria in Mt Pleasant Mi on the south side of High street between Watson and Adams Streets heading towards the park.

  2. M.K. Sheffer on February 13, 2019 at 2:18 pm

    Now the animal I saw on my Dads deck in Munising makes sense. It was so large and had a tail unlike a beaver or muskrat. It came back a couple times. I just thought it was a huge muskrat but saw it up close.

  3. Santhosh Jogi on May 26, 2019 at 9:33 am

    I believe I saw a nutria on two occasions recently in the Rochester MI area

    • Leeza on March 16, 2022 at 5:28 pm

      Just saw one at my house. Super gross! Dexter mi

  4. Gary on June 1, 2019 at 10:27 am

    Saw one on deck in Birmingham mi on May 31st

  5. Susan McDonell on July 6, 2019 at 10:58 pm

    I saw a Nutria today in Northville Michigan. I have a photo and will email it to you if you’d like.

  6. Noah Krugel on March 14, 2020 at 8:19 pm

    Pretty sure I just saw one in my neighborhood in Novi.

    • Todd Delor on June 5, 2020 at 8:57 pm

      I definitely have one living on my property. He/she has been hanging around since at least last year. It’s now living under my shed. Can I shoot it?

  7. Alan Smith on May 10, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    Are we allowed to kill them if in our backyard?

    • Viviano Cuevas on March 9, 2022 at 7:35 pm


  8. Shelley Ellis on August 31, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    I believe we have two nutrias in the overgrown yard behind us, here in Howell, Michigan. They look like large and quite fat muskrats.

  9. Lisa on September 13, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    I know my cat has been bring them home through the pet door since April 6, 2018 when I got bit by one.
    Thought it was dead. I poked many times with the end of a broom like I normally do.I was a very big one, the size of a dustpan. Have had one other big and 4-5 or five small ones.

    And I live Southeast New Mexico in the desert. We have no water???????

  10. Johanna S Reeder on January 18, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    I think I saw one in my backyard in Saginaw, MI. that somehow got through my fence and disappeared into the abandoned yard next door. I couldn’t imagine what it was and I started searching the net. It was fluffy and grey and black and had a yellowish rat’s tail. I am quite sure it was a nutria.

  11. Sandie Cardone on February 22, 2022 at 4:27 pm

    I saw one twice today feeding from my chickens’ feed bowl. It was an animal the size of a opossum, looked like a beaver but had the tail of a rat. I am setting a live trap tonight and have notified the DNR

  12. Lee A Knorr on April 22, 2022 at 11:32 am

    I saw what I assume was a pair in a little lake called Strawberry Lake, off Bennett Lk In the Fenton/Linden area many years ago.

  13. D Martin on January 19, 2023 at 2:04 pm

    We caught one in Belleville in a pond . There are about 6 of them . Contacting DNR to see about removal .

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