I was walking on the hike-and-bike trail along the creek by my parents' house in Plano yesterday when a woman and a little girl summoned me over to look at a couple of animals on the bank.
The woman asked me if I knew what they were, and I said I was pretty sure they were nutria.*
"Nutria," the woman said, glancing at her daughter as the girl showered the remains of a bag of popcorn on them. "Those are like R-A-T-S, aren't they?"
"Kayleigh, honey, come away from those a little bit," she said.
The nutria gobbled popcorn as I took a few pictures. I said good-bye and left the two watching their new discovery. The girl had a delighted look on her face; the mother, a hint of a furrow.
Facts I learned or confirmed when I got home: Nutria are kind of cute, but they breed so successfully and eat so voraciously that they are considered invasive, which is not so cute. According to this site, their genus name comes from the Greek for "mouse beaver," and in fact the little girl had said she hoped they were beavers.
I don't know, they look a little like tiny capybara to me.
*I knew this in part because I grew up pretty close to that creek. It's a nice creek in that stretch, deep and wide, and it would have been great for kids to play in, but as far as I knew no one ever violated the no-swimming rule. This was in part because of what we called the nutriarats--one word--but mostly because of the water moccasins that could be seen whipping over the surface of the water.
Some of the more rambunctious boys swore there were also king cobras in the vegetation along the banks, but everyone knew those dudes were full of shit.