The next time a debutante dons a fur coat in public, animal rights activists might want to think twice before dousing her in red paint — it could be eco-friendly nutria fur.

While many activists will decry the killing of animals and glamorization of fur, fashionistas may have just cause to wear nutria pelts guilt-free, according to Discover Magazine.

Nutria are nocturnal, semi-aquatic mammals that have invaded Louisiana’s marshes since being brought to the area from Argentina for their soft pelts in the 1930s. They’re strange animals with bodies like beavers, rat-like tails, duck feet and nipples on the sides of their bodies.

Once prized, nutria are now wreaking havoc on the Louisiana ecosystem by grazing on the roots of plants, destroying vegetation and making the soil prone to erosion.

A government effort to promote the animal as a tasty addition to Louisiana diets — complete with recipes — came up short, and now designers and activists are hoping to create a resurgence in demand for their pelts.

Thousands of nutria are killed every year by the state’s Coastwide Nutria Control Program, and the pelts are currently going to waste. With an increase in demand for the pelts, the overpopulation problem could be resolved.

As a waste product, nutria fur could replace the coats of animals raised and slaughtered by the international fur industry and petroleum-derived (and sometimes fraudulent) faux fur.

Animal advocates have opposed real fur largely on the grounds that most of the fur industry’s skins come from animals living painful and short lives on factory farms.

PETA cites fear, disease, parasites, stress that can lead to self-mutilation, cannibalism of cage mates due to close confinement and gruesome killing methods as just a few of the objectionable conditions the animals endure.

While it’s not clear how humanely the nutria are killed, many see the scheme as trading a destructive invasive species for the health of Louisiana’s wetlands.

A project called Righteous Fur sells nutria fashions, donating a portion of the profits to a coastal restoration organization — and upscale designers like Oscar de la Renta are embracing the idea.

Fur and balanced: Guilt-free nutria pelts?
The nutria, an invasive species of water rat wreaking havoc with Louisiana's ecosystem, is a relatively eco-friendly source of fur.