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U.S. government bombs Guam with frozen mice to kill snakes

In a spectacularly creative effort to rid Guam of an invasive species, the US Department of Agriculture is planning to ‘bomb’ the island’s rainforests with dead frozen mice laced with acetaminophen. The mice-bombs are meant to target the brown tree snake, an invasive species which has ravaged local wildlife, and angered local residents, since arriving in the 1940s.

The idea is to poison snakes by getting them to ingest the acetaminophen-containing rats. In sufficient dosages, Acetaminophen, the primary ingredient in Tylenol, can cause liver failure in snakes (and humans, for that matter).

While it might not seem difficult to purge an island of snakes, the snake’s habit of dwelling high in the rainforest canopy has so far thwarted efforts to rid the island of the pest. The difficulty of reaching the snakes’ habitat has led to the idea of mice-bombs as a possible solution.

Conservationists have come up with a novel method to rid Guam of the invasive brown tree snake. In sufficient dosages, acetaminophen, the dominant ingredient in Tylenol, causes irreparable damage to the snake’s liver, killing the snake. Photos by USGS.

Initially mice were tested with a variety of ‘delivery systems’ until researchers with the National Wildlife Researcher Center in Fort Collins, Colorado settled on a streamer attached to cardboard on which the mouse is affixed via glue. This contraption is meant to catch in the tree tops: perfectly positioning itself for hungry brown tree snakes. Researchers want to make certain the mice don’t make it all the way to the ground where they could threaten local wildlife such as crabs and lizards [PDF].

The mice-bomb program is currently underway with Dan Vice, assistant state director of the US Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services in the Pacific, telling Radio Australia that 250 poisoned mice have so far been dropped in a trial run. Researchers are now working to see if the preliminary mice-bombs worked.

An effective snake eradication result would deliver relief for the island’s beleaguered native bird species—six of which have gone extinct since the brown tree snakes appeared. It might also cut bills for taxpayers: the brown tree snake costs $1-4 million dollars in direct damages and lost productivity per yer due mostly to snaked-caused power outages, which occur at a rate of roughly one every three days.

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