JONES COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - A Myrick man woke up Thursday morning to what he thought was a 20 pound beaver laying dead in his front yard.
"I have lived here for 40 years and have never seen anything like it," said Bill O'Neill. "We guess the dogs got to it."
O'Neill said he was thrown off by the beaver's tail, so he decided to Google the animal just in case.
"It said it was some kind of rat," O'Neill said.
The giant rodent in O'Neill's yard was indeed a rat, according to Alligator and Furbearer Program Coordinator Ricky Flynt with the Mississippi Wildlife Fisheries and Parks.
It is called a Nutria Rat, and Flynt said they are in every corner of Mississippi counties.
"If you are near a body of water you are a near a Nutria rat," Flynt said.
According to Flynt, the Nutria rat is not native to North America. The rodent was brought to Louisiana from South America in the 1930s and farmed in enclosures for their fur.
Flynt said a hurricane destroyed most of the nutria farms, and many escaped into the wild.
"They have a very prolific reproduction habit, very much like rats," Flynt said. "They are sexually mature at four months old and will perform a minimum of four pups a litter."
Flynt said the animal is classified as a nuisance, and they do cause extensive damage in aquatic habitats.
"They are foraging on native vegetation, burrowing into the banks of levees and causing damage to ponds rivers and streams," said Flynt.
Although the animal looks menacing, Flynt said Nutria are tame animals.
"They don't carry any diseases of concern, and they aren't dangerous," said Flynt. "They are somewhat tolerant of human activity."
As far as what to do if you run into a Nutria, Flynt had one piece of advice.
"Get rid of them," Flynt said.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries encourage anyone who encounters a Nutria to take action due to their reproductive nature.
"You can hunt Nutria all year round, we encourage it," Flynt said.
Nutria can be found in and near any body of water. They have a file tale and webbed feet, according to Flynt.
"There is no market for their fur right now, but they have expanded across the country," said Flynt. "They are all the way up the East Coast and some are even in Washington State."
To learn more about Nutria rats, click here.