Turning Point by Beth Irvine
I just heard that the Point Pelee National Park has cancelled its annual monarch butterfly count due to the lack of numbers. I would have thought that the butterflies would be easier to count, but apparently what draws folks there is not so much the privilege of counting, but the sight of the monarch clusters which gather overnight before crossing the Great Lakes.
Loss of habitat gets the blame for the decline in butterflies. Apparently, we’ve been too radical in weeding out the milkweed. I only saw one monarch this year along the Miner’s Marsh. I remember a few years ago, the gypsy moth was considered an overwhelming problem but I hardly see any of them anymore. No one seems to mourn them!
In the space one year, we are without little brown bats, barn swallows and butterflies. So you have to wonder, aren’t there any new creatures taking their place?
A new creature was sighted in the western end of Kentville one evening in September. My friend tells me that though it was large, it moved in a leisurely fashion, exploring the neighbourhood with curiosity, rising up on its hind legs to peep in windows and poking into nooks and crannies as it ambled around a commercial building. It was high in the haunches and (what disturbed her the most) dragged a long, rat-like tail.
As it disappeared around the corner of the building, a cat, prowling the neighbourhood on the opposite side, caught wind of it. “It was following the scent very cautiously while also looking up and around after every step.” Other people in the parking lot saw it, but everyone in the store was too busy to notice it peeking in the windows.
Checking photos on the Internet, my friend found the creature most resembled a nutria, a large rat-like creature native to South America. They are herbivores, chewing their way though plants of the marshland and riverside and burrowing along the banks of waterways. The nutria, or coypu, is native to Argentina, but has just about travelled the world because of attempts to farm it for its soft fur undercoat. They can weigh up to 20 pounds. They’re usually dark brown in colour and have webbed feet and look very like a beaver . . . except for the tail, which is long and rat-like.
Some were introduced to Nova Scotia in 1978, according to Carter and Leonard’s A Review of the Literature of Coypus Worldwide, but never established. At least, though some escaped, there is no proof that any survived their first winter. The critters seem susceptible to cold. However, we all know how adaptable rodents can be! It is reported that they are present in British Columbia and Ontario.
You know, there are persistent rumours of beaver sightings on the Miner’s Marsh. There are none of the usual signs of beaver—no chomped-down trees or bark stripped trunks—but the rumours persist. I wonder whether what people are seeing is actually a coypu?