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From the skies - poisonous mice dropped to the ground to thin out venomous snakes

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The lush island paradise of Guam has been plagued for years by the venomous brown tree snake. The tiny U.S. territory has seen many of its birds species become extinct on account of the predatory reptile. Now, dead mice filled with painkillers are set to rain down on Guam's jungle canopy to thin out the snake population.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The deadly brown tree snake first reached Guam's thick jungles by hitching rides from the South Pacific on U.S. military ships shortly after World War II. It's estimated that there may be two million of the reptiles on the island now. In addition to decimating the local wildlife, the snakes have bitten residents and have even knocked out electricity by slithering onto power lines.

Environmental officials over 3,000 miles away in Hawaii have long feared a similar invasion, which would likely be a "snakes on a plane" scenario, endangering many vulnerable species and billions of dollars.

"We are taking this to a new phase," Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Islands says. "There really is no other place in the world with a snake problem like Guam."

Brown tree snakes are usually a few feet long but can grow to be more than 10 feet in length. Most of Guam's native birds had no defense against the nocturnal, tree-based predators. Nearly all of the bird species on Guam were wiped out in 10 years time.

The snakes can also climb power poles and wires, causing blackouts, or slither into homes and bite people -- including babies and young children. The venom is not lethal to humans. The snakes are rarely seen outside their jungle habitat.

It's fitting that the remedy for these snakes is at heart a painkiller -- acetaminophen, the active ingredient in such tablets as Tylenol.

The strategy takes advantage of the snake's two big weaknesses. Unlike most snakes, brown tree snakes are happy to eat prey they didn't kill themselves, and they are highly vulnerable to acetaminophen, which is harmless to humans.

The lethal "mice drop" is targeted to hit snakes near Guam's sprawling Andersen Air Force Base, which is surrounded by heavy foliage and if compromised would offer the snakes a potential ticket off the island.

Using helicopters, the dead neonatal mice will be dropped by hand, one by one. U.S. government scientists perfected the mice-drop strategy for more than a decade with support from the Department of Defense and the Department of the Interior.

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