Feeding ecology and diet

The coypu will eat almost any available terrestrial or aquatic green plant. It has been called "an eating machine" for its huge appetite for all types of plants. The coypu is primarily an herbivore, feeding on aquatic plants such as rushes, spikerush, arrowhead, pickerel week, smartweed, bur reed, three-cornered grass, cattail, bullwhip, alligator weed, and duckweed. It also eats leaves, roots, stalks, and stems, along with bark, clover, and cultivated crops (if available nearby) such as rice, sugar cane, soybeans, and corn. It forages for food on land and in the water. A Maryland (United States) study determined that roots are its most important food. The coypu will also eat insects, bivalve mollusks, mussels, snails, and earthworms (but seemingly only in England and South America). It is fond of foods that can be gnawed and chewed, which wears down its teeth. The animal eats about one-fourth of its own weight in

A coypu (Myocastor coypus) in duckweed in Louisiana, USA. (Photo by John Shaw. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

food each night, munching throughout most of the night rather than eating large meals. The digestive organ easily breaks down cellulose particles, which are then adapted for use in the body. When preparing to eat, the coypu often brings its food to a feeding site. It usually sits on a riverbank while holding food in its fore feet before transfering it to its mouth. In other cases, it uses vegetation, branches, and other floating materials as a platform to sit upon while eating (and resting and grooming). It also competes for food with native fur-bearing animals such as the muskrat, beaver, and various waterfowl. In its native habitat of South American marshes and coastal lakes, the coypu is well adapted to regular periods of flood and drought. Its ability to breed quickly allows its populations to stabilize well after frequent environmental upsets caused by drought and flood cycles. However, without these regular cycles to regulate its population size, the number of coypus can quickly grow out of control.

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