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. Chris

    To all the comments about "what if a dog or cat eats the dead mouse, the mice a laced with __Tylenol__. It will not kill a dog, cat or human. In fact it is a bit of a surprise it will kill a snake. It seems the physiology or reptiles is enough different from mammals that something can be toxic to one group but not the other.

    The only problem is this can't kill ALL the snakes and they will have to continue this program forever.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • KAT


      September 7, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • SteveM

      But it might kill the cute little turtles.....

      September 7, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  2. John

    Who is gonna clean up all the trash?

    September 7, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Texas Pete

    How long do you think before PETA starts protesting?

    September 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve springer

      1) Yup, PETA will be a problem.
      2) Who kills the mice?
      3) Who stuffs the mice? Butt or mouth?
      4) How do they attach the mice to the cardboard? Staples or hot glue guns come to mind.
      5) I suppose they'll count the dead snakes with streamers coming out of their mouths or butts to determine if the program works.

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

    I love how everyone is worried about the snakes....pretty sure its the mice getting the short end of the stick...constantly. haha makes me chuckle.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Renesh

      Ha ha nice!:)

      September 7, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Tony

    Sheila is right! those woods are pretty dense. Most other animals that wood have eaten the mice have been wiped out by the snakes. Unless frogs eat mice. They do have a boatload of frogs.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tanja

    This is wrong on so many levels...

    September 7, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • C. Cameron

      I'm bemused by the ignorance of so many of these responses. You haven't LIVED there. You don't KNOW what's been tried (and failed) and what it's like to live with the snakes and the dog packs and the thousands of feral pigs and huge frogs and African snails. Virtually ALL "natural" solutions brought into the Guam have caused massive problems of their own. Man-made introduction of species, accidental or deliberate, are what caused this plague in the first place. I commend those attempting this experiment as perhaps having found a rather low-impact solution to a massive problem.

      September 7, 2010 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • 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 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kevin

    A dog or cat would not last long in the jungles of Guam. They got some mighty big monitor lizards that craw around that island. Every so often, one of them gets into the storm drains and creeps out to snag a dog out of a neighborhood.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • smwboxer

      Not! Lot's of boonie cats, dogs and chickens running around Guam and the monitor lizards don't bother them! Actually, even they are getting rare because the damn snakes eat the hatchling monitors!

      September 7, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  8. darkangelx

    Did anyone stop to think about bringing in the natural predator to the island instead of poisoning?

    September 7, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • vdee08

      and introduce another problem to the island? you're an idiot.

      September 7, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSh

      Yeah, when the snakes are gone, then what will they eat, eh? That's been tried before and it makes a bigger mess.

      September 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nnamdi

      And what happens when the natural predator population skyrockets out of control, or other unintended consequences like that predator feeding on some other indigenous wildlife.

      September 7, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Metallica

      Yes they did. back in 1994, I was stationed there. We found out the problem is there really no known predator except for snake-eating snakes or the lack of food supply.

      September 7, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • KAPA

      Speaking as someone in Hawaii – kill the damn snakes before they make it here to Hawaii. We don't have that many birds left in our forest/jungle. First, rats came over on ships and dined on bird eggs. Then the govt imported the mongoose to kill the rats BUT the rats are active at night and the mongoose are active during the day sooooooo both rats and mongoose dined on bird eggs. See, the birds evolved without predators on the island. They build their nests on the ground, up till the rats showed up on ships there were no predators. And, now we have the feral cat population that is finishing off the birds. Seems people love their kitties, let them breed, abandon them when they move; so there are literally millions on the island (per scientific studies) and they also dine on what is left of the bird population. And you will never believe this one, but the bleeding heart kittie lovers set up feeding/trap stations to trap wild feral cats. They take them in to vets who then neuters them and the wild feral cats are released back into the jungle to kill more birds. Once the wild feral cats are trapped they should be euthanized. These are not kitties any longer but wild cats. Most of the native Hawaiian birds are gone. So kill the damn brown tree snake before it gets here.

      September 7, 2010 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nature girl

      to KAPA, the birds will eventally learn to build their nests in the trees like other birds have learned/adapted/evolved. It will just take a little longer than people are willing to wait. I will bet that some already have, since there are still birds on the Island of Hawaii.

      September 7, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cressi

      Bring in another predator? Are you serious? That's how the Cane Toads in Australia became an eco-disaster.

      September 13, 2010 at 5:52 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jon

    My concern is that the extra weight may cause Guam to tip over

    September 7, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • vdee08


      September 7, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lights Out


      September 7, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • CSh

      Oh my Geez! LOL!

      September 7, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Leah

      Jon, you're seriously my new favorite person...

      September 7, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ron r

    They are using the same tylenol that was used in Chicago in 82. That's why it's killing them.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Levvy

    This is a good thing

    September 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. philip

    How will the snakes remove the mice from the card board ???

    September 7, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tylenol Durden

      They will also drop a small box-cutter.

      September 7, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse |
  13. K

    I figure if Tylenol isn't good for snakes, it can't be that good for humans as well. Let's just turn the whole world into a dumping ground for pharmaceutical companies. Idiots.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  14. ron r

    an earlier article mentioned them dropping staple removers first, which alrady started. Then the mice stapled to cardboard. The support line for the staple removers is not long distance for them, because the support center is in Guam.

    September 7, 2010 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Leah

    Did anyone bother passing this by the Taotaomonas? Don't they get a say?

    Seriously, though, what sort of consultation was made with the locals? Were residents asked for their thoughts on it? Who approved it?

    Believe me, I'm not a fan of the slithery serpents, but I see this as a rather unusual method of treating the problem. I'm curious about how the idea was introduced and what steps and research was invested to ultimately approve the "treatment".

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