Brown Tree Snakes Cause Havoc in GuamPublished February 25, 2013
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Most of Guam’s native birds have gone extinct due to the lusty appetite of an invading reptile species: the brown tree snake.
Shortly after World War II, the rapacious snake invaders stowed aboard military ships from the South Pacific and landed on Guam. After they slithered ashore, the snakes took up residence in the inviting plush island's thick jungles. Today, their population numbers are in the millions, and they have been causing havoc on this small United States territory now for over 60 years.
The brown tree snake generally measures a few feet in length, but under the right conditions they can grow to be over 10 feet long. The native bird population was decimated within just a few decades by the nocturnal marauders. These snakes are also adept at climbing power wires and poles, causing power outages, and often wander into people’s homes, biting both adults and babies. The snakes have also adversely affected Guam’s tourist trade by killing off the wildlife native to the island. However, they are rarely observed outside their jungle habitat. While the reptiles use venom on their prey, fortunately it’s not lethal to humans. Nonetheless these snakes are considered dangerous pests.
In order to reduce the population of the island’s predatory pillagers, according to a story featured on National Public Radio, dead neonatal mice laced with acetaminophen, (the active ingredient in painkillers such as Tylenol) will be dropped this coming April or May one at a time by hand over Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, an area which is surrounded by heavy foliage. This mice-drop strategy has been perfected by U.S. government scientists with support from the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense.
Since the snakes are perfectly content to eat prey they did not kill themselves, the dead mice will be enticing to them. And although acetaminophen is harmless to humans, it is highly toxic to the snakes.
To prevent the bait from falling to the ground where it may kill innocent wildlife, the mice are fitted with flotation devices that have streamers designed to be caught in the tree branches where the snakes live and feed. William Pitt, of the U.S. National Wildlife Research Center's Hawaii field station said, "One concern was that crows may eat mice with the toxicant. However, there are no longer wild crows on Guam. We will continue to refine methods to increase efficiency and limit any potential non-target hazards."
While this strategy may work to preserve what remains of the native birds and to reduce the risks to island residents being caused by the burgeoning brown tree snake population, this writer wonders what unwanted side-effects may result from what sounds like a gruesome and potentially dangerous plan. Since acetaminophen is extremely toxic to felines, if feral or outdoor cats consume one of these mice, they are destined for a painful death. Will the torrent of acetaminophen-laced neonatal mice raining down on the targeted area eventually end up as throwing out the baby with the bath water?
What do you think? Tell us in a comment.