Tags: mice | airdropped | guam | toxin | kill | snakes

Mice Airdropped on Guam Full of Toxin To Kill Brown Tree Snakes

Image: Mice Airdropped on Guam Full of Toxin To Kill Brown Tree Snakes U.S. military service member holds a Brown Tree Snake at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.

By Alexandra Ward   |   Tuesday, 03 Dec 2013 09:52 AM

Scientists launched yet another mice drop on Guam Sunday, sending 2,000 toxic-laced rodents raining down on the U.S. territory in an attempt to kill off the huge population of brown tree snakes that's wreaking havoc on the island's Andersen Air Force Base.

The air assault marked the fourth mice drop since February, when the U.S. approved an $8 million program to try and eradicate Guam's 2 million snakes and help save its exotic native bird population — one of the reptiles' favorite meals, according to NBC News.

Andersen Air Force Base also wants the snakes gone because the legless creatures keep sliding into the complex's electrical substations and causing an average of 80 power outages a year, the Interior Department estimated in 2005, which can cost up to $4 million in annual repairs.

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U.S. officials have been trying for years to get the number of brown tree snakes in Guam under control, but the mice drop strategy is the only thing that seems to be working.

"Every time there is a technique that is tested and shows promise, we jump on that bandwagon and promote it and help out and facilitate its implementation," Tino Aguon, acting chief of the U.S. Agriculture Department's wildlife resources office for Guam, told NBC station KUAM of Hagatna.

Scientists discovered earlier this year that snakes have a curious sensitivity to acetaminophen, which is the active ingredient in Tylenol. In fact, just 80 milligrams (about one-sixth the size of a standard pill) is enough to kill one.

So wildlife workers are collecting dead mice, pumping them full of painkillers, and then dropping them via cardboard parachutes into the forest canopy where the snakes can easily access them.

The mice drop technique is especially efficient because it doesn't pose a threat to other animals. Dogs, pigs, or other animals would have to consume 500 of the Tylenol-poisoned mice to feel any negative effects.

"One reason acetaminophen is so effective for snakes is that it's very low toxicity to other organisms," Dan Vice, U.S. Department of Agriculture assistant state director supervisory wildlife biologist, told KUAM. "Of all the organisms in the forest to be concerned about the monitor lizards, the iguanas is probably the one that is potentially at risk but because the baits are hung up in the forest canopy and not distributed on the floor the monitors aren't going to encounter the baits with great frequency the monitors climb trees but they tend not to feed in trees."

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