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Unchartered territory: nutria migrating across the James River, causing serious environmental issues

The pesky rodent could be on the verge of a population boom near the Peninsula.

NORFOLK, Va. — Nutria isn’t new to Hampton Roads.

The pesky rodents feast on wetlands, destroying a lot of what keeps shorelines protected against erosion.

Up until now, they’ve been contained, for the most part, to the Southside. But now there are reports of the rodent crossing the James River onto the Peninsula.

Unlike muskrats, nutria munch all the way down to the roots of plants, consuming a quarter of their body weight every day. That kind of appetite and destruction wipes out critical feeding grounds for the ecosystem, preventing shorelines from absorbing the effects of sea-level rise.

Unfortunately, the conditions north of the James River are much better for nutria, something that could make them difficult to control.

According to biologists with the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, one nutria can turn into 100,000 of them in just five years.