2000 Mice Dropped On Guam To Kill Brown Tree Snakes

By Josh Lieberman on December 3, 2013 4:41 PM EST

mice dropped on guam
The brown tree snake, an invasive species, was accidentally introduced to Guam sometime after World War II. The species numbers two million in Guam. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

In an effort to eradicate an invasive snake species plaguing the United States territory of Guam, the U.S. dropped 2,000 dead mice laced with acetaminophen over Andersen Air Force Base on Sunday. The mice are bait for the brown tree snake, which is highly sensitive to acetaminophen.  Just 80 milligrams of the stuff--one-sixth of a standard pill--is enough to kill a brown tree snake.

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The brown tree snake has wreaked havoc on Guam since sometime after World War II, when the species was accidentally introduced to the country via a ship's cargo. With a current population of two million, or 13,000 per square mile, the snake has decimated Guam's exotic bird population, which it likes to dine on. Of Guam's 12 native forest bird species, ten have become extinct since the introduction of the brown tree snake.  

The brown snake also causes power failures at Andersen Air Force Base by getting into electric substations. The snake causes about 80 power failures a year at Andersen, costing $4 million a year in repairs, according to a 2005 estimate.    

Enter the acetaminophen-laced mice. Sunday's helicopter drop was the fourth one so far, part of an $8 million program to combat the snake. Dan Vice, the Agriculture Department's assistant supervisory wildlife biologist for Guam, told KUAM News that the process is "quite simple."  

"The cardboard (in the mini parachutes) is heavier than the tissue paper and opens up in an inverted horseshoe," said Vice. "It then floats down and ultimately hangs up in the forest canopy. Once it's hung in the forest canopy, snakes have an opportunity to consume the bait."

A brown tree snake dies 72 hours after eating one of the mice. Any other animal that consumes the mouse, like a pig or a dog, is unlikely to be harmed by the acetaminophen. The dose is large enough to kill a snake, but small enough that it would take hundreds of the acetaminophen-laced mice to kill a bigger animal. 

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