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. Gabe from Guam

    Wow, some of these comments are ridiculous. I live on the island, born and raised. 20 snakes per acre is RIDICULOUS. In the urban areas you RARELY find any snakes – in fact I haven't seen ONE in over 5 years, and I frequent nature trails and hikes in dense forests. Nor have any caused power outages or "millions" of dollars of damage, period.

    It is a shame that the native bird species were wiped out as a result of these snakes, and if this works – great! The dog and cat stuff is hilarious. The stray dogs out here hang around dumpsters and convenience stores in hopes of some scraps, if snakes are a part of their diet that's news to me.

    Lastly,their presence on this island paradise is always over exaggerated. Obviously, they're here – the disappearance of birds can attest to that. So having no natural predator, I'm all for this method -> for the person that is worried about birds of prey eating the snakes, we don't have any birds of prey – if we did – the snakes would have a predator.

    Think people!

    September 7, 2010 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Spider hater

    I wonder if they can do something like this for spiders too. lol Nasty little creatures.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ann

    YS: That was informative, thanks. So my thought about the cats was not "silly" afterall. It was a legitamate concern.
    I am not sure only 40,000 tylenol-laced mice will do the trick, though. I hope Guam gets its birds back.

    September 7, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Report abuse |
  4. liz

    tylenol is a poison in the sense that in high doses it's toxic to the liver, if you take to much of anything it could hurt you in some way, some animals cannot filter the tylenol as we do. dogs for example should NEVER be given tylenol, their livers cannot tolerate it at all. i was just at my vet last week and that was exactly what she said so my dog got aspirin.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. M. Ouse

    Everyone is concerned with cats, dogs and snakes ... nobody mentions how the mice feel about it. Execution followed by having your corpse stuffed with drugs and dropped by parachute into the jungle to be eaten by snakes ... not a fate to be envied. Oh, the humanity!

    September 8, 2010 at 5:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. herwin

    the snakes wont be exterminated so when any of these control programs stops, snake population will rise again. Its an endles road going nowhere. Its hard to accept but that island is stuck with these snakes. Let nature goes it way and find itself a new balance.

    September 8, 2010 at 5:59 am | Report abuse |

    Since I moved back to Guam in 2006 I've seen like 5 brown tree snakes. What is wrong with you people! First you think guam is going to capsize then you want to transfer 70000 US soldiers here. Now you want to dump mice full of drugs on our Island. Dump mice on your town and see how that goes.

    September 8, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Another Guam Resident

    What are they (Dept of Agriculture) going to do about the trash (cardboard and streamers) after the fact? And the wild pigs and boonie dogs are going to eat those dead mice, but probably not the snakes...what a bunch of donkeys!

    September 9, 2010 at 12:01 am | Report abuse |
  9. Been there

    We lived there and this seems hilarious but...As other people stated, the wild cats and dogs living there don't belong in the jungle. You can be on the snake's side, but when they come slithering down the edge of your roof to the patio you are sitting on then maybe you would change your mind. While there, we had several 5 footers around our home. We had to have a special mesh netting over any possible opening in our home (such as the dryer vent). They can get in easily and bite children or pets. They are dangerous to pets and obviously have wiped out the local bird habitat and more. They will be dropping the mice in areas that are not inhabited by your typical family pet. As far as other predators that may eat the mice there really aren't any. We had to have all of our furniture sniffed by a dog before shipping it back to the states. I was still nervous about a snake making it in something. One of those snakes would be horrible to the southern U.S. The snakes arrived there by accident and they do need to be controlled. I say give it a try.

    September 9, 2010 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  10. deedee

    From someone that has worked on programs with the birds that were extirpated from Guam by this snake, I say kill the darn thing! I have worked island restoration projects and these snakes are devestating to the island fauna, whether it be avian or mammal. Ideally the cats need to go too, all of them. But I understand Guams significance in the Pacific. Good things are being done on the islands of Rota and Saipan, they just need to stop building the darn golf courses!

    September 9, 2010 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Rich

    Why not just put a bounty on each snake, with only approved methods of take? $10 a snake and a safe hunting method would clear this right up.

    September 21, 2010 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • RabbyTat

      Normally, I would applaud your enterprising solution. However, it is cheaper to import or breed the snakes than to catch them. If you put a bounty, then you set up profit minded cottage industries for perpetuating the income producing opportunity.
      Traps and Tylenol really are the best solutions that I have heard so far.

      January 31, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  12. Randy

    Dogs and Cats? Anyone that has lived on Guam knows there are nearly as many stray dogs and cats as there are snakes. The island wont miss a few.... I saw first hand the ecological disaster caused by those snakes... I say kill them all.

    September 22, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Report abuse |
  13. dartigen

    I still say paying people to trap and/or kill them would work better. $1 per snake, maybe? Within a year you won't be able to find a single snake in Guam. It's worked before – sometimes the point where entire species have been driven to extinction; that would probably be a good thing in Guam given the damage the brown tree snakes have caused.

    October 25, 2010 at 10:29 am | Report abuse |
  14. Nancy

    Just curious, how do they kill the mice?

    January 31, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Dawn

    @Nancy – The mice are probably frozen to death, which is a fairly common practice for killing mice that are to be fed to reptiles.

    January 31, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
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