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. SCJ

    And all the cats goes: Its raining Rats... Halleluiah

    September 7, 2010 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  2. drazen

    they should just burn some old tires. snakes hate the smell of burning rubber and it would drive them away...then they should set up traps to capture them as they scatter from the strategically placed burning tires....people have been doing that for many years.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Father Pfleger

    It's George W. Bush's fault for not starting a comprehensive food plan for the snakes, thereby forcing the innocent snakes to look to the trees and birds for a food source.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
  4. beeman

    There needs to be a program like this in the USA to rid the country of dogs and cats. Then my yard would be nice and clean.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ron r

    one more good thing about this...if your ever in Guam and get a headache? Wait, does Advil do the same thing? Maybe they get dead quicker and it "lasts" longer! :)

    September 7, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
  6. DOUG THE IMPAILER

    These maybe the funniest comments I have read ever.

    First I agree there are no cats and dogs frolicking in the canopy and maybe there are some ferel animals that may ingest the mice that hit the floor. But the tylenol amounts posted are likely not going to cause harm.

    Second, people care more about cats than dogs on here.

    Third, these snakes are a pest. They were not native to Guam and if they get to Hawaii you are screwed.

    Fourth, tylenol to a snake is like chocolate to a dog. Humans can ingest with no problems and actually like it. Dogs not so much. It can be harmful and potentially fatal to a dog. So hopefully they aren't chocolate coated tylenol laced mice with cardboard and ribbons...... smeared in cat-nip.

    Fifth, I agree with the poster that said, even if it does hurt a cat or dog, thats okay because fewer snakes will mean a better environment for cats and dogs to flourish in. I mean the thick canopied jungle environment of Guam is where we catch cats and dogs to send to the pet stores of the world, right ?

    Sixth, 20 snakes per acre is a crap load. These things are mildly poisonous. Not enough to kill and adult but it will put a dent in that huge ferrel cat population...lol.

    Seventh, keep up the great feedback..... I am Canadian so a Republican is as good as a Democrat.... they both know how make the world love America.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Use Google

    Acetaminophen is the generic form of Tylenol!!!!!

    September 7, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mickey

    Sucks to be a mouse

    September 7, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
  9. DOUG THE IMPAILER

    My experience with snakes is that they will eat when hungry. The mice would have to be fairly fresh or the snakes would ignore it.

    Likely the snakes will wait and ambush the birds that try to get the ribbons for their nest.

    Really the scientists are supplying the snakes with bait.

    September 7, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Nature girl

    Guam 209 square miles and 640 acres to a square mile. So that's 133,760 acres. And according to the article/posts there are 20 snakes per acre. So 133,760 acres times 20 snakes is 2,675,200. And they think there going to wipe out 2,675,200 snakes with 40,000 "fortified" dead mouse sandwiches?
    Somebody probably got promoted for this "great idea" too. Sounds like someone had a math problem. Sounds like a fuzzy math issue ;). Yep, Bush's fault!! Ha Ha Ha :)

    September 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jiminycat

    So the snakes with headaches get some relief, get all excited how good they are feeling, and then they die. I'm not sure PETA will like this much.

    September 7, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jack

    They should put a bounty on them

    September 7, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Willie12345

    Someone better tell Hillary, before it's too late.

    September 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. babs

    besides dogs and cats would be ok from just eating a dead snake that ate the tylenol laced rat, but what about other animals that may eat them? this could be a problem. im a vet tech , i know what im talking about. some animals are not as responsive or poisioned by some drugs while others are, and weight plays a role too. i just think this is a yucky idea. however im glad its tylenol and not rat poison. then every other animal would be in danger...

    September 7, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. YS

    Article:
    Risk Assessment of an Acetaminophen Baiting Program for Chemical Control of Brown Tree Snakes on Guam: Evaluation of Baits, Snake Residues, and Potential Primary and Secondary Hazards
    Environ. Sci. Technol., 2002, 36 (17), pp 3827–3833
    Publication Date (Web): July 20, 2002

    "Abstract:
    The brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) is a significant ecological, agricultural, and economic pest on Guam. Acetaminophen has recently been identified as a promising snake toxicant. Subsequent experimentation has shown that acetaminophen−mouse baits are readily consumed by and acutely toxic to brown tree snakes. Before implementing an island-wide acetaminophen−mouse baiting program for the reduction of brown tree snake populations, the potential risks to nontarget wildlife must be evaluated. Quantification of nontarget hazards by comparing potential exposure levels to toxicity values suggested a significant level of concern for rodents, cats, pigs, and birds. For these species, subsequent calculations and field and laboratory experi ments, which quantified acetaminophen consumption under field conditions, indicated that acetaminophen consumption was minimal. These results indicate that the advantages of using acetaminophen to reduce brown tree snake populations on Guam outweigh the minimal risks to nontarget feral and wildlife species."

    September 7, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse |
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