Imagine you live on a small island with a diverse but delicate ecosystem. Now imagine that a non-native predator, say, a brown tree snake, makes its way to your shores and presently decimates your bird population. How do you rid yourself of said tree snake? Feed it more… but poison the food.
This is the latest solution American researchers on Guam have for dealing with their invasive species. Before the snakes started arriving in 1960 by stowing away on ships and planes, researchers at Andersen Air Force Base say Guam’s ecosystem was flush with a variety of birds. Added to that, the limestone forest there has shrunk, as there are fewer birds to disperse seeds allowing new trees to germinate. And the snakes are pests to humans as well, delivering severe bites and causing electricity outages when they tangle themselves in power lines. If the snakes make it to Hawaii, about 3,000 miles away, the damage will likely be worse, possibly costing an estimated $2.14 billion.
Hence, the poisoned mice. They’ll be laced with acetaminophen, the active ingredient in aspirin, which is beneficial to us but deadly for the snakes, and dropped from airplanes. The 2 million snakes will have to find the mice quickly if researchers expect their tactic to work; snakes will only eat dead mice if they’ve been dead for fewer than three days. Researchers don’t expect native species on the island to be affected by the dead mice, but only time will tell if it makes a dent in the tree snake population.