This week helicopters will drop dead mice laced with painkillers in Guam with the intention of reducing Guam’s brown tree snake population. After hitching a ride on U.S. military ships from the South Pacific after WWII, there are now 2 million snakes on the island. Within a few decades of the snake’s arrival, the majority of Guam’s native bird species are now extinct. They destroy vulnerable wildlife, bite residents, and even slither onto electrical lines and knock out power.
Guam serves as an ideal place for this snake species to overrun because there is a lack of predators and a vast array of prey. The longest of their species was found on the island. Usually only 4 feet in length, the snake was almost 10 feet long. A nocturnal animal, the brown tree snake can be aggressive if surprised. While its bite is not considered fatal to a human, it is enough to subdue its smaller prey.
Surrounded by heavy foliage, the drop will take place at Andersen Air Force Base. In order to keep the mice from dropping all the way to the ground and possibly being eaten by other animals, scientists created streamers design to snag in branches as the mice fall. Unlike many snakes, the brown tree snake will eat prey that it did not kill itself. It is also highly susceptible to the painkiller acetaminophen, which is harmless to humans. The strategy was a decade in the making among scientists with the support of the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior.
The reptile has extensively tarnished Guam’s appeal as a tourist destination. Hawaii also fears a similar epidemic if the snake reaches its shores. A study from the National Wildlife Research Center in 2010 found the brown tree snake would cost an estimated $593 million to $2.14 billion in damage each year, if they became established in Hawaii as they are in Guam.
Source: NBC News