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How the Nutria Got Orange Teeth

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Nutrias (Myocastor coypus) are big and nimble rodents that spend a significant portion of their time in the water. They hail from South America. The herbivorous creatures possess sizable front teeth that are memorable due to their coloring -- a hard to miss reddish-orange or yellowish-orange.

Nutria Basics

Nutrias are somewhat beaver-esque in appearance. They have dense brown coats, slender tails and webbed feet that assist them handily in swimming. Mature nutrias tend to grow to about 2 feet in length, and usually weigh a maximum of 20 pounds. They favor living environments that are close to the water, and are fixtures in areas surrounding lakes, in wetlands and in slow moving creeks. They occupy nests or burrows. Nutrias often reside in social units that consist of between two and 13 specimens. Mature males occasionally live independently, though.

Wacky Teeth

Not only are nutrias' teeth an intense orange, they also jut forward prominently. They're equipped with a total of 20 teeth, which are molars, premolars, canines and incisors. Their wide incisors never stop growing as long as they live. Their top and bottom incisors are both orange from the outside. Youngsters enter the world with white incisors, which with time turn orange.

Why Their Teeth Are Orange

The orange coloration in their teeth is not random. The coloring is caused by their enamel, which includes a pigment that consists of the mineral iron. This pigment is the cause of the orange color of the teeth. The iron in it gives the teeth a tougher and firmer texture, which enables the smoother portions in the back to grind down more rapidly. All of this ends up giving the teeth a chisel-like form that helps them greatly with gnawing.

Favorite Foods

Nutrias employ their gnaw-happy chompers to happily chow down on a broad array of vegetation. Some of the things they routinely eat include sedges, rushes, roots, foliage, tubers, rhizomes and stems. They sometimes dine on tree bark, too. Nutrias have a penchant for various specific plants, a few of which are cattails, chafflowers, spikerushes and arrowheads. Nutrias consume substantial portions of food each day -- roughly a quarter of their weights. They on the whole aren't overly fussy about what they're willing to eat. If they see a water plant, they'll probably make it the centerpiece of their next meals. Although they are mostly herbivorous, they have slight omnivorous sides, too, sometimes feeding on mussels and snails.