Sunday, February 5, 2012

Groundhog Day Louisiana Style: New Orleans T-Boy, Baton Rouge Boudreaux

Photograph of Swamp House at the Audubon Zoo L...
The Swamp House at New Orleans Audubon Zoo that houses T-Boy Nutria, the Groundhog Day prognosticator - Image via Wikipedia
From Denny:  Groundhog Day contenders are popping up all over America.  Groundhogs are not native to Louisiana (because it's too hot) but we didn't allow a little factoid like that to stop us.  Louisiana likes its holidays so what effort was it to rustle up another creative idea than to draft the swamp rat nutria into the Groundhog Day?

Up in the northern part of America it's considered really bad news when a groundhog sees its shadow, foretelling another miserable six weeks of winter.  But here in Louisiana it means a spring that is shorter than usual.

A short spring means summer's grueling heat and drippy humidity will return sooner than desired.  So, you see, burrow-loving animals can come in handy to predict the weather both in the chilly North and the hottie Deep South.

Louisiana's answer to Groundhog Day

Louisiana sports two famous nutria - and a crawfish - for the Groundhog Day predictions:  Pierre C. Shadeaux hails from New Iberia and T-Boy Nutria enjoys his crib at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.  Personally, I think they should rename the New Orleans guy "New Orleans Louie" - but no one stopped long enough to ask my opinion.  It just goes to show you can be number one in Louisiana on Twitter (warriorlight) for the most tweets but you still can't get no respect from your local peeps. :)

Pierre C. Shadeaux of New Iberia (about 2 hours outside of New Orleans, near Texas)

This is Pierre C. Shadeaux and this year he predicted a longer spring and milder summer for 2012.

No 'Shadeaux' good news for South Louisiana

From Will Chapman, creator of the Cajun Groundhog Day celebration in New Iberia and publisher of the Daily Iberian newspaper:  "As Southerners, we don't want some Yankee groundhog predicting our weather, so we turned to a nutria, the closest thing we could find to a groundhog.  

"If Pierre sees his shadow, it's bad news for locals as it means a short spring and that summer's heat and humidity will be here early. No shadow for Pierre, and its good news - a longer spring, milder temperatures - a postponement of summer's heat and humidity."

Chapman explains about Pierre, "Pierre lives in the swamps. Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries agents are nice enough to bring Pierre to town. He stays at a local veterinarian's office for a few days, where he gets spa-like treatment as he's pampered, cleaned up, fed and hopefully gotten into a good temperament and a good frame of mind for making his prediction. And then they bring him over that morning and put him in the cottage."

Pierre enjoys some decadent Louisiana architecture, a custom-built Acadian home in the style of a traditional Cajun cottage.  As many as 100 people show up to view his weather prediction.  Word of mouth and the ensuing tourism should increase the crowds in the coming years.

T-Boy Nutria of New Orleans

This is T-Boy Nutria (short for Little Boy in Cajun French) at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and the Cajun version of a groundhog predicted the same as Pierre C. Shadeaux - a longer spring and milder summer for 2012.  These cute little swamp rats grow to twice the size of groundhog Punxsutawney Phil, weighing in at 30 pounds.  Yeah, we grow 'em big down South.


The staff at the Audubon Zoo like to create a very special Lady Gaga kind of showy entrance for T-Boy to start off the festivities.  This year he popped out of a wedding cake float to discover his "bride" Kim Kardashian.


T-Boy made some other spectacular entrances in previous years in his Louisiana Swamp Exhibit at the zoo.  After Hurricane Katrina he emerged - not from a burrow - but from a miniature FEMA trailer.  

Last year was quite the show too.  He rode a Mardi Gras carnival float past an accusatory traffic camera.  His license plate boasted of the New Orleans Saints' world champion football title.  What a show off.

What is a nutria you ask?

For the uninitiated, nutria were first brought to Louisiana from South America when some Cajun fools thought they would get rich off their fur coats.  Of course, as they are nothing but big rodents, when let loose they multiplied like crazy in the marshes, the bayous, the canals and the swamps - all because they had no natural predator.  The nutria set about devastating the wetlands and became a general pest.  

Louisiana chefs wasted no time figuring out how to cook up the rodent infestation/harvest and market it in the local grocery stores.  Yes, nutria tastes a lot like chicken.  Nutria are mighty cute as babies, sweet looking and fuzzy.  They grow up a bit ugly, sporting long, fierce orange teeth.

As one of the zoo keepers talks about the choice of a nutria over a groundhog, Rick Atkinson, curator of the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit says, "One of the reasons I really like nutria is that when they make their appearance, the first thing they’re going to do is reach for the piece of corn or carrot I’ve provided and begin to eat - and an eating animal is not a traumatized animal. They don’t easily get rattled, and it’s all about the stomach.  They are more outgoing than a groundhog, especially when it comes to food."

Groundhog Day
Claude the Cajun Crawfish

Who is another groundhog contender for the holiday in Louisiana?  There's Claude the Cajun Crawfish from the northern part of the state, Shreveport.  The tradition is that if he waves his claws toward the sun then he is signaling the cold spell will come to an end and that it's time to rock on and enjoy Mardi Gras season.

Claude also says he is better at predicting than groundhogs.  Why?  He says it's because he has no fur standing between him and the weather.  He is also annoyed that people like to eat crawfish and even more miffed that no one has ever taken a bite out of Punxsutawney Phil.  No photos of Claude as he is a bit camera shy.

Baton Rouge Boudreaux

Baton Rouge is the capital city of Louisiana and we have no Groundhog Day contender yet recognized but a fan base is growing via Twitter - or so we keep telling ourselves. Her name is Baton Rouge Betty Boudreaux and she's a real groundhog.  She likes some things to remain traditional - but not all - don't you know.  There are enough men in the game; why not a diva female to rock the boat?

Betty Boudreaux likes to sport a hot pink bikini, drink Abita Voodoo beer, dine on King Cake all year round while she drapes herself in mountains of Mardi Gras beads.  Her trendy ensemble is topped off with a casually tossed purple feather boa.

To her every day is a party.  She's been spotted on the red carpet in large floppy hats with long-stemmed fleur di lis waving at the crowd.

Her BFF is Pierre the Pelican, famous for his movie director styled Martin Scorcese eye wear and jamming swamp parties. Trailing close behind is Betty's faithful bodyguard, Gautreaux the Gator.  He's a famous bar bouncer from the French Quarter that migrated up from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  He fell in love with Betty and Baton Rouge, never to return to his former home, Sin City.  Gautreaux says he has no regrets.

Remember to vote for Baton Rouge Betty Boudreaux next Groundhog Day.  Her political platform is a Mardi Gras float in every driveway, a King Cake in every kitchen and a free crawfish boil in every neighborhood.

My virtual world is a rich place teeming with interesting characters, sort of like the real world Louisiana, don't you think?  You should never pull a news journalist off the oh, so predictable news and let them loose in the creative world.  It can get downright scary in there - or make you laugh.

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