How to Get Rid of Invasive Tree Snakes: Bomb Them With Parachuted, Poisonous Mice

By Jennifer Welsh | September 23, 2010 1:04 pm

BTSThe USDA and the EPA are in cahoots, scheming against Guam’s invasive brown tree snakes, or are they throwing a party?

Using streamers, cardboard, some acetaminophen (aka Tylenol, aka hangover medicine), some dead mice and a helicopter, the team is looking to destroy the island’s invasive snake population.

Guam has only two snake populations. The first is the island’s only other snake: a tiny, blind worm-like little guy. The second, and more obvious, is the invasive tree snake, which is mildly venomous, can reach 11 feet long, and can be found at up to 12,000 snakes per square mile. The native snake is no competition for this invasive beast, which was introduced to the island in the early 1950’s and quickly decimated native forest species, including all of the forests vertebrates.

It has also invaded the homes of the island’s human inhabitants, causing power outages by messing with electrical systems and biting and scaring people in their sleep. (And there is not much more scary than a snake biting you in your sleep.) The USDA and EPA have been working for decades to solve this problem, but nothing was working.

The new plan: kill the snakes by feeding them acetaminophen, which even in small amounts is poisonous to them. (The typical dose for humans is about 1000 milligrams; a mere 80 milligrams will kill a tree snake.)

“The discovery that snakes will die when they eat acetaminophen was a huge step forward,” Anne Brooke, conservation resources program manager for Naval Facilities Command Marianas, said Thursday [September 2]. “The problem was how you get the snakes to eat it.” [Stars And Stripes]

The solution: the snakes aren’t big pill poppers, so the researchers decided to deliver the poison dose by stuffing Tylenol tablets in the mouths of dead mice, an appetizing snake snack.

The problem with the solution: many of the snakes live in the wild, unreachable forest canopy. To get the mice to drop specifically onto the high branches and not to the forest floor, where they could be eaten by other animals, would require some special equipment,

The solution to that problem: using streamers and cardboard from a party store, researchers at the USGS were able to fashion a parachute, which would land the mice in the canopy, where the tree snakes gobble them up and promptly die.

The USDA started testing the new parachutes earlier this month, dropping 200 of the traps into the forests around Naval Base Guam. The bait was so successful, they expect a full scale roll out of the program to happen soon, Dan Vice, assistant state director of USDA Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam and the Pacific Islands told Stars And Stripes:

The USDA has a grant from the Department of Defense to expand the control efforts on Guam military bases in 2011. Eventually, Vice said, he hopes the method can be used island-wide in the near future. “What we are doing now is finding out the hiccups in the system,” he said. “The next step will be 100 hectares (247 acres) of forest area on Andersen Air Base.”

The USDA team is currently looking for cheaper ways to poison the tree snakes, since the mice (coming in at 40 cents each plus shipping) are getting expensive. One option is to “treat” beef cubes with “decomposition extracts” from 48 hour old dead mice. Tasty!

Related content:
Discoblog: “Spitting Cobras” Don’t Really Spit After All
80beats: Attempt to Control Invasive Species Backfires Spectacularly on an Antarctic Island
80beats: How to Control Florida’s Invasive, Occasionally Killer Pythons?
Discover magazine: Is That a Dead Mouse You’re Cloning?
Not Exactly Rocket Science: The snake that eats toads to steal their poison

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Orionhound

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