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Deadly mice to rain down on Guam snakes

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - 9:00am

If you're a brown tree snake, those dead rodents that will soon be falling from the sky over Guam's Andersen Air Force Base could be your last meal.

That's because the U.S. Department of Agriculture is planning to pack each one with acetaminophen, the genetic equivalent of Tylenol, which can kill a snake in 72 hours.

The drug-laced mice will be taped to pieces of cardboard, which in turn will be attached to streamers that will be dropped from helicopters over more than 100 acres of the Air Force base on the Pacific island.

The bombing campaign is expected to begin this spring, Dan Vice, the USDA assistant operations director on Guam, told the local Pacific News Center. It replicates a smaller-scale test drop tried on Naval Base Guam in 2010, he said.

The goal, he said, is eradicating the brown tree snake from the island.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says brown tree snakes have wiped out most of Guam's native populations of forest birds since being accidentally introduced to the island after World War II, probably after they stowed away on a ship or plane from their native range in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The snakes, which can grow up to 8 feet long, also eat small mammals and lizards.

The snake is mildly venomous, the FWS says, but it does not pose a danger to most adults, and its bite will not penetrate clothing.

Besides its effect on bird populations, the snakes also take an economic toll on Guam by causing numerous power outages each year when they cross from tree into electrical lines, the FWS says.

There could be as many as 2 million of the snakes on Guam, where they have no natural predators. About 2,000 mice will be dropped in the newest test, the Pacific Daily News reports. The $1 million program is being funded by the Department of Defense, according to the report.

"No one's ever attempted anything on this scale," Vice said of this spring's planned air drop. "You know to date the largest plot that anyone's been able to get rid of snakes is only a couple of acres. We're talking 110 acres so this is completely novel."

The dead mice will target snakes in a fenced-in area of the base, he said, so officials will be able to determine the effectiveness in that area versus an adjacent area that the snakes could move in and out of.

"We have a site where there's a population of snakes that nobody can get into. It's a controlled population," Vice told the Pacific News Center. "This is being done in a very rigorous, scientific manner. This isn't just something that we've just kind of come up with by the seat of our pants."

And if the test works, more snakes could be confronting death from above.

"We want to make sure we are doing it right. If the information shows that it's effective in controlling the population, we will institute a plan to use it across areas in Guam," Vice told the Pacific Daily News.
 

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