The brown tree snake is one slippery character. After hitching a ride on military transports after World War II they landed on Guam and have been systematically overtaking the island ever since. The situation is so dire the government is planning to reign a hail fire of poisoned mice over the island to kill the brown beasts.
The snakes were not native to Guam, but upon arrival they decided they loved it so much they've now multiplied to some 2 million hungry creatures. With no natural predators to wipe them out they've destroyed native bird populations and pretty much taken over. Before the snakes slither on over to Hawaii, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is readying to lock and load with the one thing they know can kill the snakes — acetaminophen filled mice.
As bizarre as it sounds, plain old acetaminophen is highly toxic to the brown snake, and they have no problem eating any prey that lands in their habitat — whether they killed it or not. Since humans aren't at risk from the medicine and any other wildlife that might have been at risk have pretty much been destroyed by the snakes, the poisoned mice plan is being readied for deployment sometime this April or May.
The mice drop isn't just about opening the doors and heaving dead mice out. Scientists have been working for a while to perfect a strategy that targets the snakes so any other native species on the island won't be affected and mice won't hit the pavement and rot. Dead neonatal mice loaded with the poison will be fixed with floatation devices and streamers designed to catch the little snake killing bombs in the tree tops where the snakes live.
In the first assault, the mice will be hand dropped in the jungle surrounding Anderson Air Force Base. The goal is not to eradicate but to try to contain the population growth of the snakes — especially in an area where they could easy hop on the planes coming and going.
If this sounds extreme and complicated consider this — not only have these snakes wiped out most of the local birds, they also bite humans. While they aren't venomous, not many people want to be bitten by snakes that have no fear of human habitats (that means your house) and tourism to Guam has taken a hit. If that's not bad enough the snakes also climb power poles and have been known to knock out power.
While this definitely makes life on Guam less pleasant, government officials are even more afraid the snakes will use the same devious tactic of stowing away on planes or ships and make it over to Hawaii. If they make it to Hawaiian shores, the results could be much like the scenario on Guam — only more expensive and devastating to a State that relies on its natural beauty and wildlife for tourism. Snakes that can grow up to 10 feet long kind of ruin that beautiful postcard picture.
According to the Associated Press:
A 2010 study conducted by the National Wildlife Research Center found brown tree snakes would cause between $593 million and $2.14 billion in economic damage each year if they became established in Hawaii like they are on Guam. Power outages would cause the most damage, followed by a projected decline in tourism. The cost of treating snake bites would account for a small share."
Fortunately, very few snakes have made it to Hawaii to date. In fact strict quarantine measures have meant that none have made it in the past 17 years. The mouse drop in Guam will be part of ongoing measures to keep the record going in keeping Hawaii safe, and containing their damaging effect on Guam's infrastructure.
Is this plan just a little bit creepy? You betcha. But for residents of Guam it sure beats waking up to a brown snake in your bed.