Skip to main content

Coping with a snake problem

Published March 02. 2013 09:01AM

There was an interesting article that caught my attention this week while surfing the web regarding what I thought was a novel way to solve a problem. The issue is the reptile known as the brown tree snake. This snake is native to eastern and northern Australia and in its normal habitat is part of a food chain that helps control it and keeps the snake population in check. Two predators for this creature are the cane toad and the red bellied black snake.

The problem is shortly after World War II it is believed this snake was a stowaway on military ships which carried it to Guam where it has since blossomed out of control reaching a population which scientists estimate to be over one or two million. In fact there are so many snakes on the tiny island that they are running out of food.

While their population exploded due to their predatory nature, the population of native birds and shrews on Guam has been decimated. Most of the bird species are extinct now thanks to this snake. Scientists are actively researching ways to get the snake population under control and have discovered a unique solution which is almost a pun in a way.

Through studies they have learned that the combination of mice and acetaminophen is effective in killing the brown tree snake. Rather than drop live mice on the island though which could cause its own problems, scientists learned the snake will just as readily eat dead mice laced with the painkiller. What is even better is the drug/mouse combination is lethal to this snake, but not dangerous to the environment or humans.

The reason for their concern is the population has swollen so large now the snakes are causing power outages by slithering on lines, invading homes and biting people and infants. Their bite is not lethal, but it has caused problems on this island that depends on tourism for its economy. The snakes are everywhere and they have reached a point that the island can no longer sustain their population.

The solution of lacing dead mice with painkillers that are not lethal to humans seems to be effective mostly because the snake is a lazy predator and is just as content to eat dead prey as live. By lacing dead mice, scientists hope to attract and kill off these pests in large numbers. To prevent them from reaching the ground when they are dropped on the island by air, scientists are attaching streamer devices on them to hopefully snag them in the trees where the snakes live. This will keep ground dwelling predators from eating them by mistake. At one time they were worried about wild crows eating the snakes, but the population of those has since died off as well.

I think this is an interesting solution to the problem and I hope for the island's sake it works for them. It might be a better approach than ones used in the past in which live animals were introduced into a population to combat an invasive species only to become invasive themselves. The cane toad mentioned above is itself an example of this occurrence. Farmers in the South Pacific from Hawaii to the Philippines had problems keeping pests out of their sugarcane crops so in seeking a solution to the problem they sought out and found the cane toad.

This toad which grows up to twelve feet in length made short work of the pest problem, but then due to its immense size the toad began to have this annoying side effect of swallowing any animal that would fit in its ugly mouth. What is worse is that it secretes toxins capable of killing animals and humans which have contact with them. There are cases of people dying from accidentally ingesting their eggs.

One doesn't have to look to other countries though for examples of invasive species. For example, in Pennsylvania we have all experienced the scourge of the gypsy moth. This predator has destroyed millions of Pennsylvania trees including conifers and its favorite the oak species. Sometimes it takes several seasons to destroy the tree, but conifers can be destroyed in one season. Ever since I can remember Pennsylvania has had an ongoing battle with this pest.

Another pest of the plant nature is bamboo. I remember finding this growing wild up by the cemeteries in Summit Hill when I was a teenager and we would cut it and make poles out of it to play games. More recently when I became a member of the Grand Army Cemetery Board one of the biggest issues we had was that same bamboo had jumped the Kitchen Road and was invading the cemetery. It is extremely invasive and the only way to get rid of it is to remove the infected dirt. This requires digging out two or three feet of dirt and disposing it.

Many times we attempt to solve one problem by introducing a solution that inadvertently becomes its own problem. Time and time again we fail to respect nature in the sense that it has a natural balance and when we upset it whether it is with horses or wild boar or something as benign as a rabbit, we cause problems that can totally decimate an area's natural cycles. We mean well, but as one knows the road to hell tends to be paved with good intentions.

Til next time …

Classified Ads

Event Calendar


October 2017


Twitter Feed

Reader Photo Galleries