CLINTON, N.C. — Rodents can cause big problems, especially when they weigh 20 pounds. Some people in Sampson County say traps set for beavers are catching something that looks more like a giant rat instead.
Beaver dams are popping up all over Sampson County, but licensed trapper Alan ReBarker said trouble now has a new face:
"They're an invasive species. Once they're here, they're going to get a hold and they'll be here," he said.
ReBarker caught a group of nutria last winter, which he later froze. He said he caught his first nutria in 2000 and he's seen a steady increase showing up in his traps ever since.
"Oh, there is a population here now and it's going to grow from that point, and where it goes, we'll just have to see. It may be a point where they have to have a bounty like the beavers," he said.
ReBarker said the 8- to 20-pound nutria feed on roots and reproduce quickly, which can cause trouble.
"Destroying the vegetation in swamps, the can destroy wetland habitat and burrowing, doing damage under the highway," he said.
States such as Louisiana already deal with that kind of damage from the rodent. ReBarker said North Carolina still has a much smaller population.
"They weren't ever here to begin with, so now we're dealing with that -- something that wasn't ever here destroying habitat for other animals," ReBarker said.
Nutria were first brought to the North Carolina Coast more than 50 years ago to breed for fur. ReBarker said the fact their numbers are piling up further west suggests every county could eventually face the rodent.
Nutria have also been spotted as far west as Johnston County in the Neuse River.