National Geographic : 1966 Mar
marsh. The heavy-bodied rodent multiplied so wildly that Cajun trappers have fabricated an elaborate and ribald mythology about the fecund creatures. Among other tall tales, the Cajuns say that the female nutria has her teats beside her backbone so that her young can suckle as she swims-which preposterous folk tale happens to be exactly true. Trapping Helps Balance Nature To get the straight story on the nutria, I called on Ted O'Neil in Abbeville. Ted is head of the wildlife commission's fur division and the top expert on Louisiana trapping. I sat down with him in his kitchen to split a pot of tar-black Cajun coffee, and for two hours Ted talked about nutria without seeming to come to an end of his knowledge. During a storm about 30 years ago, he said, a dozen of the 18-pound beaverlike crea- tures escaped private pens on Avery Island. "With no important disease and no ene mies," Ted said, "the nutria have increased till you can hardly put your foot down in the marsh without stepping on a nutria footprint - or sometimes even on a nutria himself. "Lucky for us, the nutria is the great Amer ican Shmoo, fearless and sublimely stupid, so that you don't even have to bait traps; just put them where he'll obligingly step into them. "He grows a durable fur, one of the most easily dyed, and so prized that a nutria coat of finest pelts and craftsmanship sells for around $1,500. Besides, each carcass yields about eight pounds of red meat to feed ranch mink in the north. So, as a pelt or as mink food, the nutria ends up as a fur coat." To let me see the nutria in its unbelievable numbers, Ted O'Neil passed me along to the Louisiana Land and Exploration Company in 377 EKTACHROME(OPPOSITE. UPPER BY CHARLESHARBUTT.MAGNUM:KODACHROMESBY FRANKEKEATING N.G.S.