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USDA gets brown tree snakes out of trees, into cages

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Carissa Morgan
  • 36th Wing Public Affairs
Last year the United States Department of Agriculture caught 4,467 brown tree snakes on Andersen. 

"The brown tree snake threatens the economy, ecosystem and health," said Marc Hall, the Supervisory Wildlife Biologist of USDA on Andersen. "We're here to help the Air Force manage this issue." 

As an interdiction program, the USDA is tries to prevent brown tree snakes from accidentally making it to other sensitive ecosystems in the Pacific by way of Air Force transport.

They accomplish this goal three ways. The USDA sets up traps to capture brown tree snakes; they perform canine inspections with Jack Russell terriers specifically trained to sniff out the snakes; and they use spotlighting, which is the process of hand-capturing snakes at night. Their personal protective gear include snake tongs, steel toe boots and gloves. 

The USDA captures brown tree snakes on and around the flight line, the munitions storage areas and base housing. There are currently 1,435 brown tree snake traps in use. 

So far, this year the largest brown tree snake caught in a trap measured a little more than six feet. In 2006, three six-foot brown tree snakes were pulled from one trap. The largest brown tree snake ever caught on Guam measured more than ten feet. Brown tree snakes are generally on the smaller side, ranging most commonly from three to four feet long.  

Traps used to capture brown tree snakes are similar to a minnow trap, said Mr. Hall. They have one-way entrances on both ends of a cylinder. A mouse is placed inside a self contained section of the trap along with food and a water source. The mouse is completely safe and only gets eaten by the snake if there is a fault in the trap. 

The brown tree snake is a nocturnal tree-climbing snake originally from a region encompassing Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. Since the brown tree snake has been on Guam, it has extirpated nine of the 12 song birds or tropical birds native to Guam. The three species of birds left are the Guam rail, the Marianas crow and the Micronesia starling. 

Of those three, the crow and rail are listed as endangered by the federal government and the starling is considered locally threatened here on Guam. 

Due to Guam's favorable climate, the brown tree snake does not hibernate and has a year round mating season. For every 4,000 snakes the USDA catches, there may be 4,000 more being hatched into the system. 

"Brown tree snakes are mildly venomous," said Mr. Hall. "Their venom is very complex and studies have shown that the venom only really affects small animals such as their prey. As far as humans are concerned, they're not really a threat unless the victim is a small child or elderly, who may experience mild respiratory problems if bitten."

However, bites do hurt because of the amount of teeth brown tree snakes have and the overall strength of their bite.

For more information, contact the USDA at 366-3822.