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Rats As Big As Dogs Roam in Florida

November 18, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Like something escaped from a mad scientist’s laboratory, the monstrous rodents creep through the underbrush.

Don’t worry, these critters just want some salad.

These rats _ as big as the family dog and weighing more than a Thanksgiving turkey _ are nutria, roaming eastern Hillsborough County as the result of commercialism gone to seed.

``I saw this humongous rat on the road,″ said JoAnn Hoffmann, who encountered a nutria while driving to work. ``My jaw just dropped.″

The nutria are the remnants of a get-rich-quick scheme some 40 years ago, said Bill Kern, urban wildlife specialist with the Florida Cooperative Extension Service.

Entrepreneurs imported nutria _ an extremely large South American aquatic rat _ to start a fur trade in Florida. But people didn’t want to walk around in coats or mittens made of the hide or fur of 3-foot-long rats with naked, scaly tails.

``The prices dropped so low, nobody bothered to trap them,″ Kern said in Monday’s editions of the Tampa Tribune.

The nutria found homes along lakes, drainage ditches and ponds at dairy farms. Exclusively vegetarian, they dine on aquatic plants.

The nutria are not considered game animals, so it’s always open season on them. Just don’t expect to get rich as a trapper: A nutria pelt might fetch $4, Kern said.

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