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Poster reveals gnawing mystery.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

Welcome to the Nutria State, home of the Oregon State University Nutrias and their mascot, Benny the Nutria.

Doesn't sound right, does it?

Well, let us explain this funny "tail," one most likely with a skinny, ratlike ending, and not a flat, wide one.

No, the nutria has not replaced the beaver as Oregon's state animal. But someone with a sharp eye who attended a Sept. 29 meeting in Salem of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife's Beaver Working Group - an advisory panel working to relocate the bucktoothed critters for environmental reasons - could have made a strong case.

On the wall at the meeting was a large poster titled, "Importance of beaver (Castor canadensis) to Coho habitat and the trend in beaver abundance in the Oregon Coast Range," with photos of two alleged beavers on either side.

The poster was put together by Erin Gilbert, an assistant monitoring coordinator with department's Oregon Plan for Salmon and Water Sheds, who works in the agency's office in Corvallis, home of the OSU Beavers.

The alleged beaver photo on the left side of the chart actually came from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. The photo on the right came from a Web site called, a collection of animal pictures and facts that bills itself as "the largest virtual zoo in the world."

But is that a nutria in the photo on the left side of the poster?

"I'm not a wildlife biologist, so I'm not really qualified to make that distinction," Gilbert said Friday. "I'm not an expert, by any means." Gilbert said he snagged the photo off the Illinois Web site while searching the Internet for a beaver photo.

"I just took the easiest route," he said. "I wasn't sure what this poster was going to be used for."

The Register-Guard ran a large image of the same photo, downloaded from the Illinois Web site, in a story that ran in Tuesday's Oregon Life "Outdoors" section titled "State of the Beaver." (The photo link provided by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was from the Illinois Web site).

The newspaper received several e-mails and letters to the editor insisting the photo was of a nutria.

"The picture you printed on Tuesday a on the front page of section D was that of a nutria and not our state animal the beaver," wrote Springfield's Tony Helfrich, an experienced trapper. "Thought you might like to know."

"The long guard hairs and grey/white whiskers gave it away for me, as did the nose which is covered in hair," wrote Jeff Jones of Eugene.

"The beaver has only a few thin whiskers while the Nutria has several light colored whiskers," wrote Kevin Lewellyn of Springfield. "The Beaver's nose is like a dog's; predominate dark and rough, while the Nutria's is not. The Beaver is lighter in color while the Nutria is darker. The hands of the beaver are not as dark or as webbed as the Nutrias and the nails are not as long."

Curious, we asked a few experts to take a gander at the photo on Friday. And where better to start than at OSU?

"It looks a little suspicious," said Dana Sanchez, an assistant professor in the school's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, who is part of the Beaver Working Group and was at the Sept. 29 meeting.

"I can't see a tail. I can't determine from this picture, but there is doubt in my mind." After consulting with some OSU biologists, Sanchez called back and said: "The thing that gives us pause is not being able to see the tail."

Beavers have flat, wide tails and nutrias have skinny ones, Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Rick Boatner said. Boatner looked at the photo Friday and said "it's definitely a nutria." You can tell by the size of the eyes and the shape of the face, he said. Even though they are larger animals, "Beavers have small eyes and ears," Boatner said. And the snout on a beaver is more round, he said.

Even the folks in Illinois agree it could well be a nutria in the photo. A wildlife biologist with the state's Department of Natural Resources said "based on light colors on the face and the white whiskers a it's a nutria," according to spokeswoman Stacey Solano. But then what does Illinois really know? According to the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wetlands Research Center, nutria are now extinct in the Land of Lincoln.

With that, we turn to another expert on identifying beavers, the Oregon Duck mascot.

"Beaver or nutria, doesn't matter," the Duck said via his iPhone. "Both overgrown rodents are over-populated and should kindly leave the duck pond alone! Who wouldn't recognize my beautiful face, what with my curvaceous bill and sparkling lovable eyes?"

Register-Guard reporter Mike Stahlberg contributed to this story.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; A state fish and wildlife meeting on beavers may have featured a nutria
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 10, 2009
Next Article:Nobel decision finds fans, skeptics in Oregon.

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