September 7th, 2010
10:17 AM ET

Tylenol-loaded mice dropped from air to control snakes

The USDA says brown tree snakes have wiped out Guam’s native populations of forest birds.

Dead mice packed with acetaminophen, strapped to pieces of cardboard and dropped from helicopters may help control one of the big headaches for the Pacific island of Guam – the brown tree snake.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week began dropping the expired rodents packed with 80 mg of the generic equivalent of Tylenol on the forests of Naval Base Guam.

Since scientists discovered that the household pain reliever was deadly to the brown tree snakes, they’ve been trying to figure out how to get it to where many of the serpents live in the canopies of the island’s forests, according to a report in Stars & Stripes. The Tylenol-loaded mice are attached to two pieces of cardboard joined by paper streamers that snake exterminators hope will catch on tree branches, providing deadly snacks for snakes at those heights, according to the Stripes report.

The aerial attack on the tree snakes is designed to augment current trapping systems, which are placed around ports and airports to prevent the snakes from hitching rides to other Pacific islands such as Hawaii and causing the same ecological nightmares they’ve been responsible for on Guam.

"The brown tree snake traps that you see around Guam are actually the most effective trap for catching snakes in the world," USDA Assistant State Director Dan Vice told Guam Newswatch.

"Most of the traps that people see however are sitting on a fence or on a port. And they're targeting the few snakes that might get to that fence."

YouTube: Guam Newswatch video on the snake problem

So the mouse bombs have begun falling on the jungle forests, where the USDA says there can be as many as 20 brown tree snakes per acre, one of the highest snake densities recorded anywhere in the world.

The USDA says brown tree snakes have wiped out Guam’s native populations of forest birds since being accidentally introduced to the island half a century ago, probably after they stowed away on a ship or plane from their native range in Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. And because there are no native predators on Guam, officials say poisoning the snakes is the only way to control the population.

The snakes take an economic toll, too, becoming entangled in overhead electrical wires and causing power outages which cost the island millions of dollars in repairs and lost work.

If the current the experiment works – scientists will know because they’re also packing the dead mice with radio transmitters for the snakes to ingest – death from above will be coming for snakes at the island’s Anderson Air Base next year, according to Guam Newswatch. Success there could see the program expand island-wide.

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Filed under: Animals • Guam
soundoff (223 Responses)
  1. dike

    I am sure french frys will do the same. It works on humans. Except it may not be that green because of all the extra chemicals that go into making it.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim

    These things get very dicey. They used to try to introduce a natural predator, which means introducing another non-native species, which has the potentional to cause a whole NEW problem. Ive seen some of this eco-engineering first hand...funniest was the Mongoose being introduced to the virgin islands to control the rat population. Turns out they didnt think it quite thru...rats are nocternal, Mongoose are diurnal. Now they have a rat AND mongoose problem on the island. Still, this seems to be a silly, short sited solution. Hey, will a snake eat a piece of cardboard if it has a rat on it?

    September 7, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • McCluck

      I suppose its good we are getting some practice in on a geographically isolated system. :)

      September 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Logic

      I think its natural predator is a BIGGER snake...(j/k I don't really know)

      September 7, 2010 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Spok2soon

    Wow! Sounds great! Now if we could just alter this experiment for crack heads, I know the perfect neighborhood to start with. Felony Flats, Here we come! ;)

    September 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Metallica

    I got to admit, some of these comments are really funny. Truth be told, the real problem facing the Marianas is the snakes ruining the infrastructure (electrical, etc.) making costs for these commodities to increase. The actual threat to humans is null.

    September 7, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SJE

    Okay, I had a pet snake (boa) and she didn't want anything to do with dead prey. Isn't this the same thing with these brown snakes?? Don't most predators prefer the "hunt?" So, if they do, won't they just be dropping dead mice that are going to rot . . . . Maybe the brown snakes are different. I don't know, just saying.

    September 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marc

      SJE raises a valid question. In all the reptiles I've ever dealt with, none of them would touch dead food. So to me it would seem that most of the mice are going to be eaten by scavengers (probably birds). So if a bird eats enough mice to contain a toxic dose of Tylenol and then gets eaten by a snake, the plan might work. What might work better would be to sterilize thousands of live mice (high doses of X-ray would probably do it) and embed a blood resistant time capsule in its skin. That way the Tylenol wouldn't get released until the mouse was digested by the predator. The risks to the native population would probably be about the same as the dead mice.

      September 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dawn

      It all depends on how the dead food is prepped. My husband regularly fed corn snakes, king snakes, rat snakes, milk snakes, boas, etc. nothing but dead mice. You don't want to feed a reptile something old or rotted or something that has another odor contaminating it. He would also re-warm the dead rodent to a temperature that would register correctly for the snakes heat seeking senses.

      January 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. AK

    Now I have heard everything....

    September 7, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
  7. SteveM

    Hmmm...Shannon's post seems to have been deleted. Must have bbeen really good!

    September 7, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  8. les1031

    This is one funny thread :)

    September 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DSKI

    i saw this on a news special about 5yrs ago. if tylenol works then go for it. if it does nork, they may to set the entire island on fire and start from stratch.

    September 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • DSKI

      i meant to say, 'IF IT DOES NOT WORK....."

      September 7, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. seemorenow

    Thats messed up !

    September 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  11. McCluck

    An interesting note: We are very scared that the brown tree snake may become an invasive species in North America. This would be a major problem for all of our nesting bird species since they lack a tree-snake like predator. In other words, If a brown tree snake made it into our ecosystem, it would flourish and a massive number of our bird species would dissappear much like happened in Guam. And they have been found climing the fences surrounding airports in north america! The snakes did a similar takeover of Guam by hitching a ride with humans, or at least that is my understanding of it.

    September 7, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • smwboxer

      Actually, this is a tropical species and could not live in most parts of North America. Also, birds in North America have evolved with snakes and know how to deal with them.

      September 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Infidelite

      Hope they invade Newark or NYC first. Snakes would be preferable to rats and dopers.

      September 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nature girl

      Actually Chuck, we do have a tree-snake type predator here is the US. Corn snakes are a good example. I watched three corn snakes fight..(.literally fight, complete with head butting)... over two mocking bird eggs after the mother bird had abandoned the nest due to too many noisy kids running under the tree where had built her nest. We have lots of egg eating snakes. It's just that US has more room and populations of certain animals can restore themselves easier.

      September 7, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  12. seemorenow

    That messed up !

    September 7, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. smwboxer

    I lived on Guam in the 80's. It's horrible what the brown tree snake has done. I can remember seeing honey creepers, rails and fruit doves in the wild. They are all gone now, only existing in zoos. These snakes were nasty. Even when little, the do not from people. Just rear back and start striking. I hope they are successful in finally getting rid of the damn things.

    September 7, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Bibb

    They could introduce a predator species that has had the ability to procreate removed... kinda like a mule. OR... Maybe easier, ... surgically neutered or spayed. In fact, surgically removing the capability to reproduce could be fairly cost-effective, compared to ongoing mice dumps. Every few years, a few of these non-reproducing predators could be put into the system.

    September 7, 2010 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Brownstain

    Will it work on the slithering snakes burning kurans in Florida?

    September 7, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
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