The National Biodoversity Data Centre has clarified how people in Cork can identify potential sightings of the coypu rodent and said that they have the potential to breed at a fast rate - females can have up to 15 offspring a year.
A number of the rodents, which are natives of South America, have been spotted in the Curraheen River and other locations in recent weeks.
“There haven't been any verified sightings but there have been a number of anecdotal ones. We will be checking those sites to see if they are present or not,” said Colette O'Flynn, Invasive Species Officer.
“We're really hopeful that the coypus population can be gotten on top of and that it won't be a problem down the line,” she added.
Many people have reported sightings of the animal that resembles an otter. There is a distinct difference between the two animals which can help people to be certain.
“When they are in the water you can confuse them with otters because of the long body and tail in the water. The coypu will keep their head above water a lot and they have yellow-orange teeth. If you see that flash of colour, it's likely to be the coypu,”” said Ms O'Flynn.
“When they are out of the water, the otter has a larger patch of white going down the neck, coypus do not,” she added.
The animals are believed to have been accidentally released in the Curraheen area in 2015 at an agricultural show. It is understood that one or two coypu had escaped - either a pregnant female, or a male and a female together.
“The current sightings are linked to that incident but it's hard to say for sure,” said Ms O'Flynn.
“Another coypu was photographed a month earlier than the Curraheen incident in Monkstown when an animal was seen in someone's garden.
“Previous to that coypus have been seen in Tipperary and Limerick, so it's hard to know why they are there. They are not known to be kept as pets but we do know that some petting zoos have kept them in Ireland.
“We also can't rule out the possibility that someone has intentionally released them,” she added.
Ms O'Flynn said the average litter size is four or six offsping. A female is sexually mature and able to become pregnant from about three months and they can become pregnant again just a day after having a litter. They can have up to three litters a year.
They do have a risk of spreading disease to humans and domestic animals including bacteria infections, common liver fluke, and parasitic infections.
Any sightings of coypu can be reported to Cork wildlife ranger Danny O’Keeffe at 087 2472264 or at email@example.com. All the information will be centralised to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.