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Oh my! It's raining dead mice on Guam!

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
December 4th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

It's raining dead mice on Guam. Last Saturday two thousand dead-mouse carcasses rained down on a portion of the island as part of an effort to eradicate the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has for sixty years or more, consumed virtually everything in sight.

ANDERSEN AFB, GUAM (Catholic Online) - The brown tree snake is one of the best examples of how much havoc an invasive species can wreak on a habitat. Introduced sometime between the end of WWII and 1952, the snake, indigenous to Australia and New Guinea, made its way onto the island aboard a poorly-inspected cargo flight.

The snakes, and there were likely more than one, found a land overflowing with food in abundance and zero predators. The population exploded, at one time reaching a density of 100 snakes per hectare. Their thin, long bodies allow them to scale trees rapidly where they can search the foliage for food.

Birds made the snake's favorite food and following 1952, the native bird population plummeted. Several species became locally extinct. People were confronted with the slightly-venomous snakes in their homes and yards, family pets were lost. Today the snakes cause about 80 power outages a year just by slithering into electric substations. Officials say the infestation causes about $4 million in annual damages.

The snakes infest the entire island and are commonly seen in yards and other personals paces where one would not care to see a snake. Furthermore, they are aggressive when confronted.

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About 2 million of the snakes are thought to inhabit Guam with a current density of about 13,000 per square mile. That's more snakes than inhabit the Amazon rainforests.

Aircraft out of Guam have also been contaminated with the snakes. At least one flight to Texas managed to have a snake aboard. Snakes have been caught attempting to deplane flights from Guam to neighboring islands too, including Hawaii where they could pose a significant threat.

To control the snakes a variety of methods have been used. Snake-sniffing dogs have proven most effective at inspecting cargo and finding the reptiles before they can board the planes.

However, without an effective natural predator available, officials have settled on one powerful control- mice.

These are not ordinary mice. The two thousand mice that rained down on Andersen AFB on Saturday were euthanized and pumped full of acetaminophen, common Tylenol, which is lethal to the brown tree snake.

A tiny dose, just one-sixth the does in a single pill is enough to poison a brown tree snake that can be longer than nine feet in length. And it's powerfully effective. In previous experiments where Tylenol-laced mice have been dropped, the snakes were entirely wiped out with a zero percent survival rate.

After being euthanized and pumped with acetaminophen, each mouse carcass was attached by string to two pieces of cardboard and green tissue paper. The makeshift parachute is ideal for catching branches over forested areas which leaves the mice hanging in the trees where the snakes prefer to hunt. Some of the mice are equipped with radio transmitters to help biologists track what's happening.

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To the snakes, the dead mice make for a snack too tempting to pass up. They smell delicious and don't require killing-it's the snake equivalent of a free lunch. But as any mouse would tell you, the only thing that's free is the cheese in the mousetrap.

As the snakes digest their free lunch the acetaminophen goes to work poisoning and killing the reptile.

Within the past several years, the brown tree snake population on Guam has been dropping. Biologists believe the snakes have saturated the island and now exceed the carrying capacity of the island to support their population. In other words, they have eaten themselves to starvation.

However the brown tree snake is good at surviving for long periods without food and although the population has been dropping, there is still food to be found on the island, particularly in the form of birds, which although scarce, continue to live in the trees.

Mother nature will cull the herd to a point where an equilibrium is established between the snakes and their food, but not without further, permanent damage to the ecosystem and human industries. To finish off the two-million snake population a lot more mice will be needed for years, possibly decades to come.

That may be unrealistic because of the costs and labor involved so the most likely scenario is a long-term détente between man and snake which may be broken by the occasional mouse-drop. Until then, double-check anything that comes shipped from Guam-unless it's Tylenol for some odd reason.

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