News>USDA keeps snakes off of planes, out of cargo
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - The brown tree snake uses the trees to
make his way onto the fence line here, March 31.The snakes use the chain
links to make their way up to the humane traps the U.S. Department of
Agriculture sets on the fence line to try and control the population around
base.(U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - Joe Sablan, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, uses a claw gripper to pull a brown tree snake from a fence
here, March 31. Even though the snake's venom is mild, the USDA takes
precautions to prevent bites. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -Joe Sablan, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, logs in each individual snake after being caught here, March
31.The log shows how many snakes were caught, where they were located, and
the time of night. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - Members of the U.S. Department of
Agriculture captured 18 brown tree snakes here, March 31 on the fence line
around base housing. This type of trapping is called spotlighting; USDA
employees drive along the back fence line using a spotlight to see the
snakes in the night. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - Sensing activity around its cage, a
brown tree snake takes a defensive stance here, March 31. This snake was
caught two weeks prior, and will be rotated to the third week on Monday.
(U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - Brown tree snakes are generally dark
yellow, or brown with light stripes. The average brown tree snake is two to
four feet long, though the largest caught here measured 10 feet in length.
The snakes have four rows of top teeth, two rows of bottom teeth and are
mildly venomous. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - A brown tree snake slithers across the
ground trying to evade capture here, March 31. The brown tree snake is a
nocturnal reptile and evasive species on Guam. The snakes are non-native and
were introduced to the island when they stowed away on cargo ships and
aircraft from the South Pacific after World War II. (U.S. Air Force photo/
Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -James De Leon Guerrero, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, completes maintenance on brown tree snake traps here, March 31.
Traps are examined once a week to ensure they are fully functional and can
be used effectively on the fence line and in forested areas.(U.S. Air Force
photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - Frank Reyes, U.S. Department of
Agriculture, cooks up some mice feeding blocks here, March 31. The
feed blocks consist of regular chicken feed and are used to feed the mice
that are within the brown tree snake traps. The mice are considered
government mice and are kept safe from the snake entering the trap by a
protective barrier. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)
by Airman 1st Class Whitney Tucker
36 Wing Public Affairs
4/1/2011 - ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam - -- Last year the United States Department of Agriculture captured 3,200 brown tree snakes here.
According to an article by the U.S. Geological Survey, shortly after World War II, the brown tree snake was accidentally transported from its native range in the South Pacific to Guam, most likely as a stowaway in ship cargo. As a result of abundant prey resources on Guam and the absence of natural predators, brown tree snake populations reached unprecedented numbers.
Since Guam is a major transportation hub in the Pacific, numerous opportunities exist for brown tree snakes from Guam to be accidentally introduced to other Pacific islands in the same way they arrived here. Members of the USDA here are dedicated to preventing this.
"The brown tree snake threatens the economy, ecosystem and overall health of a region," said Marc Hall, the supervisory wildlife biologist of USDA on Andersen. "We're here to help make sure this snake doesn't make its way to neighboring islands and cause the same problems it has here."
This mission is accomplished in three ways: traps are set up to capture brown tree snakes; canine inspections are performed using Jack Russell terriers specifically trained to sniff out the snakes; and spotlighting, which is the process of hand-capturing snakes at night, is carried out two nights a week.
"We have 1,400 snake traps in operation in areas such as the flightline, the munitions storage areas and base housing," said Kan Dhillon, USDA wildlife biologist. "The traps have one-way entrances on both ends of a cylinder. We place a mouse inside a self contained section of the trap along with food and a water source. The snake sees, and smells the mouse and is lured in, but because of the divide, the mouse is completely safe and doesn't get eaten by the snake."
Team Andersen has also taken the offensive. Brown tree snake population control and elimination measures have been developed and subsequently employed throughout the base.
"There are on-going research projects supported by the Air Force that are dedicated to finding ways to attract, lure, and capture brown tree snakes more effectively," Mr. Hall said.
Research has shown that a 40 mg dose of acetaminophen, the primary ingredient in Tylenol, is lethal to virtually any size of brown tree snake.
"Currently, the most effective way to deliver that toxicant to a snake is through a tiny neonatal mouse," Mr. Dhillon said. "We have a way to kill the snake, but we just need to perfect a delivery system that works on a landscape scale."
Some may wonder why government resources are being used to control and eliminate a pest population on Guam, particularly when most have never even seen a brown tree snake.
"As you may or may not know, the brown tree snake is responsible for the extinction of nine of 12 forest birds on Guam," explained Mr. Hall. "Research is showing that the loss of the birds may be impacting the ability of the natural ecosystem to sustain itself."
Before the snakes arrived, Guam's ecosystem was very different. Numerous birds could be seen and heard when walking through the northern limestone forests. Without the birds to disperse seeds and the fact that nonnative pigs and deer tear up the ground and eat sapling plants, the native limestone forest has been severely degraded and will require extensive help in order to recover.
"It is important that people who may come in contact with the brown tree snake, especially at points of exit and other high-risk sites, understand the scope of this problem and how to identify the snake so proper action can be taken," Mr. Hall said.
For more information, contact the USDA at 366-3822.