(NEW YORK) — In Guam, pest control is a little more complicated than buying a better mousetrap. In fact it can require a few helicopters.
To combat the invasive population of brown tree snakes, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services will air drop mice laced with the painkiller acetaminophen into the dense jungles on the island.
“We are taking this to a new phase,” said Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Islands. “There really is no other place in the world with a snake problem like Guam.”
There are an estimated 2 million brown tree snakes on Guam with around 20 to 30 snakes infesting every acre of the island. The snakes showed up on the island after World War II, arriving on U.S. military ships from other parts of the Pacific war theater including Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Australia.
The snakes have decimated Guam’s native bird population, wiping out nearly all species. Growing between three to ten feet, the snakes have affected humans by causing power outages and occasionally biting residents.
Robert Reed, the project leader of brown snake research for the U.S. Geological Survey, says the snakes are “changing the face of Guam.”
“If you walk through Guam forests, you end up completely covered in spider webs because without birds, [the population of ] spiders and their prey have exploded,” said Reed.
To fight the invading species, the mice, to be dropped by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services, will be dosed with about 80 mg of the painkiller, which is also used in medications like Tylenol. In that amount the painkiller is fatal to snakes, but harmless to humans.
The mice will be attached to green streamers, which according to Reed look like something between “a couple of feet of crepe paper and toilet paper,” that hooks into the treetops where the brown tree snakes like to eat.
While the snakes have long plagued the residents of Guam, wildlife officials are concerned that the snakes could make their way to Hawaii via boat or plane and cause similar devastation.
In 2010 a study from the National Wildlife Research Center found that the brown tree snakes could cause anywhere from $593 million to $2.14 billion in damage in Hawaii if they were able to reach the same population density as they have in Guam.
If the air drop successfully diminishes the brown tree snake population, Reed says some birds that have become extinct in the wild could be reintroduced to the Guam jungles.
“This gives us optimism. It’s a very promising new tool that might allow us from just trying to contain the snakes to actually try to restore these ecosystem,” said Reed. “We’ve got some hope, it’s a refreshing thing to have.”
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