Killer Nutria Hypothesis (Jimmy Carter Rabbit Attack)

One of this week’s Straight Dope Classics, supplemented by a helpful reader:

This reader suggested that Carter was not attacked by a killer rabbit, but rather a nutria.

Our reader claimed that the nutria is “The world’s largest rodent … is very aggressive. Native to South America and valued for its durable fur”

First off, Cecil took care of the false claim that the nutria is the world’s largest rodent.

But this reader’s is a potpourri of mistaken nutriaology.

Rodents in general, being a prey animal, are only aggressive on the defense, when there is no choice to run away. Or swim away.

So our nutria would not be on the attack. It is possible that the nutria was seeking to board the boat, but again, this is not an amphibious assault, rather an attempt to join the President in his little boat as a means of shelter and rest from the stress of swimming.

But nutria are accomplished swimmers, so it is questionable whether a nutria would attempt an unauthorized boarding of a ship rather than continuing to swim across the body of water.

The hypothetical nutria, however, may not have been able to actually board the vessel due to the shape of a boat. This would have required the nutria to leap out of the water to grab the upper edge of the boat, as the lower parts of the boat curve inward to the water line.

Our nutria would generally not attempt to place itself near any creature so large as a human, and would not attempt to get in the boat if it saw such a large creature in the boat.

If it did climb aboard the vessel, upon seeing the large human with a stick, the nutria would likely hop back into the water and swim away.

This presumes that the nutria was unfamiliar with humans. Nutria are actually quite docile when accustomed to humans and well-fed. As an example, at the zoo in Amsterdam, the nutria can be found in a small pond-type display. This structure has no barriers that would prevent the nutria from leaving it and roaming about the zoo should they want. There is also no means of preventing human visitors from approaching the nutria and touching them. Which I did, and suffered no attack, despite being seriously outnumbered by the gang of nutria. The nutria accepted some light petting (non-sexual sense of the term) without reaction.

Thus our nutria chose to remain in their little pond, happy with the availability of water and regular feeding.

Finally, no one values the fur of the nutria. Except the nutria.

It’s like Wikipedia has an article for everything:

Given the clearly-visible ears, I’d say that’s no nutria.

Oh, really?

Back when hunting was considered a sport worthy of network weekend afternoon airtime, I saw a show in which they were driving around a Louisiana swamp in some amphibious truck plinking nutria, then just leaving the corpses where they fell. This was before the gators recovered so there were lots of nutria, and the similarly invasive piranha probably appreciated the free eats.

The internet is great.
Highest res pictureon wikipedia.

Page with blowup of picture.

That picture does appear to depict a rabbit swimming in the water, and Carter splashing the water with his paddle. Unfortunately, it does not show the rabbit swimming toward Carter and hissing and growling. The cameraman was likely not alerted to the need for a picture until after the path turned, but we cannot confirm the incident as described. But we can confirm a rodent with big ears in the water.

I’d cut Carter some slack. I wouldn’t be too happy about a viscious bare-teethed hissing rodent swimming toward me, either.

I remember an incident from childhood, my sister’s cat had cornered a baby squirrel in our garage and was playing chase with it. It was injured and scared. My sister attempted to rescue the baby squirrel, and got a finger full of squirrel teeth for her troubles. That was a tiny baby squirrel. Scale up to an enraged adult rabbit, and it wouldn’t be enjoyable, even if unlikely to be life threatening.

Earlier threads that may be of interest:

I loved the “Paws” political cartoon that appeared after that incident. It’s a nice parody of the old Jaws movie poster. :slight_smile:

Stoopid nitpick: rabbits are not rodents, they are lagomorphs.

Carter’s own version of the story, quoted in the Wikipedia article, says nothing about hissing, growling, viciousness, or bared teeth. As all subsequent versions seem to derive from Carter’s own, I think these descriptors can be entirely attributed to embroidery added by later journalists, satirists, and political opponents trying to insinuate the idea into people’s heads that Carter was terrified of a rabbit. There is, in fact, no evidence that he was in the least upset or worried, or that he reacted to this trivial incident other than entirely sensibly and appropriately. There is really no need for any slack to be cut.

Reading the link, you are correct.

If you look at said wikipedia entry, you will see Press Secretary Jody Powell’s description from her book, The Other Side of the Story:

So while Carter’s description as cited does not include any descriptors of the animal’s behavior, Jody Powell’s description of her interactions with Carter indicate there was more there. Or she made it up.

However, one does wonder why someone would be unnerved by a rabbit calmly swimming toward the boat, whereas if said rabbit were hissing and gnashing its teeth, that would be a reason for having some concern.

Except for the part where he splashed water at it to make it go somewhere else.

On this part we agree. Thus my comment about cutting him some slack.

Perhaps I should have said “varmit” or “critter” or “furry beasty”. I was trying to point out the big ears re the nutria theory, not make a case for the rabbit’s biological classification.

help how do i post , first time on and cannot get hang of it.

Obviously a fake. The shadow under the rabbit’s nose doesn’t match the other shadows in the picture. What we have here is a rabbit’s head put on a nutria body by a retoucher - impressive, in the pre-Photoshop days.

And the picture was clearly shot from a grassy knoll. 'Nuf sed.

Ya think? I’m pretty sure it’s actually a plesiosaur.

Reminds me of this cinematic masterpiece.

Just fyi – the name notwithstanding (it was a nickname for Joseph) Jody Powell was a he.

A man in Belarus got killed by a beaver a couple of weeks ago.

Rabbit + Rabies = Killer Rabbit.

It seems so obvious to me.

A moose once bit my sister.
Powers &8^]

Moose bite hard.