A film by Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer
2018, 71 minutes
No. 186

Louisiana has suffered from hurricanes, flooding and oil spills, but nothing has been as insidious as the nutria. This giant swamp rat, known for its distinctive orange buckteeth, is prone to tunneling and eating plant roots, threatening the region’s fragile wetlands with erosion. Rodents of Unusual Size follows fisherman-turned-bounty hunter Thomas Gonzales, and other colorful Gulf residents, from hunters and trappers to furriers and chefs, as they try to defend their imperiled land from this invasive species. 

Nutria (the name is derived from two Greek words that translate as mouse beaver) are in fact native to subtropical and temperate parts of South America. They were introduced to Louisiana by fur farmers in the 1930s as an economic stimulus idea. By the 1950s, the nutria population had soared to 20 million.

In recent years, the State of Louisiana has started a program that pays a $5 bounty for every nutria tail collected, which has helped the effort by encouraging former trappers to hunt the nutrias for their tails instead of the fur.  Others have tried business ventures to harvest the nutria for their fur and meat in hopes that by creating a demand for this sustainable resource they can help protect the wetlands and fight back the rodents. 

We meet Kermit Ruffins, a local celebrity and jazz musician, who barbeques nutria outside his concerts in an effort to create interest in eating the rodents.  There is the Native American tribe who wants to return to their trapping past by selling the pelts to Russia and China.  Then there is the fashion collective known as Righteous Fur who designs clothes made out of nutria fur, puts on fashion shows, and tries to renew the demand in the fur industry by promoting “sustainable fur” that will save the wetlands. 

Through these offbeat and unexpected stories of people confronting the nutria problem, Rodents of Unusual Size, which is directed by Chris Metzler, Jeff Springer and Quin Costello (Metzler and Springer together directed Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea), examines issues surrounding coastal erosion, the devastation surrounding hurricanes, loss of culture and homeland, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Official Selection, DOC NYC
Winner, Best of Festival, Wild & Scenic Environmental Film Festival
Winner, Special Jury Award, Mendocino Film Festival
Winner, Excellence in American Profiles Award, SF DocFest
Nominee, Wildscreen - People and Nature category
Official Selection, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival
Official Selection, Big Sky Documentary Film Festival
Official Selection, DC Environmental Film Festival

"A Cajun-flavored tale of resilience... Depicting the resilience of both the nutria and the Louisianans who've endured their presence for many years, Rodents of Unusual Size proves enjoyably quirky and informative." - Hollywood Reporter

"An essential documentary... When fictional creatures start coming to life, we have to wonder what we’re doing to the environment. The title is a nod to The Princess Bride, but Rodents of Unusual Size is about the very real problem of nutria, the invasive giant swamp rat that’s destabilizing Louisiana’s already fragile wetlands." - Metro