Before I came to Texas I'd never even heard of these creatures. They're called "nutria," and are a semi-aquatic rodent that...
Well, tell you what. They have their own web site. Seriously! It's www.nutria.com. You can read all about them there.
We were approaching the tee box for the last hole of the day (it's beside a pond), and as we came around a small mesquite tree with leaves hanging down to the ground and water, we saw the animal pictured above.
These adults are easily the size of a full-grown beaver, and until you see their tails they might be mistaken for one. We stopped and Carol grabbed her trusty camera. The first few shots didn't come out well since in her hurry she missed a setting or two.
The she eased forward and realized we had a small family on the pond bank.
Here, from the tail, you can tell this is definitely not a beaver.
Mama (we assume the big adult was mama) quickly headed for the safety of the water, but paused as Carol caught this last view of her.
The kids were not quite so skittish and posed for a moment before they, too, dove out of sight.
These animals are cute and harmless to humans, but as herbivores they cause damage to sensitive wetlands. They were imported to this country from their natural habitat in South America for the value of their fur. According to the web site, some either escaped or were released into the wilds of Louisiana, and have since spread through the Southern states.
Here's one of the little ones eyeing Carol, and poised to dive into the water.
And this is the last shot she was able to get. They ARE kinda cute with their whiskery faces, aren't they?
Oh, one last point. They have spread so quickly because they have few natural predators. But one predator they DO have is the alligator. One gator will quickly clean out a colony of nutria in a pond or area of a river or wetland. This family's presence assures me that we have no gators in our golf course pond system at present. Of course, that could change overnight.
There's your natural history lesson for today.