Mice Bombs Kill Snakes

By Cassie Martin
BU News Service

The invasive brown tree snake should really watch what it eats... Photo courtesy of USGS
The invasive brown tree snake should really watch what it eats… Photo courtesy of USGS

On Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture dropped 2,000 dead mice laced with poison over the forests of Guam in an experiment aimed at killing an invasive snake species that has decimated the island’s bird population and thrown the ecosystem out of whack.

The tiny creatures were laced with 80 milligrams of acetaminophen–enough to kill brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularis)┬ábut relatively harmless to most other animals–tagged with a radio tracking device, attached to makeshift parachutes and dropped into the trees. The idea was that the parachute would get tangled in the tree branches, creating an irresistible yet deadly meal for the snakes.

The brown tree snake arrived in Guam over 60 years ago, likely in the wheel wells of airplanes and the hulls of ships. Today, 2 million brown tree snakes call Guam home. So far, they are responsible for the extinction of nine of 12 of the island’s forest bird species, which has subsequently led to the degradation of forests and an explosion of spider populations. Researchers fear the snakes could invade the Hawaiian islands as well, and potentially cause an estimated $593 million to $2.14 billion in economic damage annually.

This is the fourth mouse bombing since 2010. A 2012 study by the USDA found that brown tree snakes indeed devoured the mice and that the bait were effective killers. Combining this method with traps, snake-sniffing dogs, and snake-hunting inspectors, researchers hope to eradicate the species and re-introduce native animal species that were obliterated by the snakes.

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