Death from above: Fighting Invasive snakes with parachuting mice.

Photo by Pasha Kirillov I flickr.com

Photo by Pasha Kirillov I flickr.com

When you think of the word alien what do you imagine? Something otherworldly? Something terrifying? Or maybe something oddly familiar? Popular culture suggests that aliens are fearsome creatures who are a threat to humanity. Their grotesque, often reptilian, appearance evokes a primitive fear and the necessity to protect humanity from these invaders. In Guam, a destructive, threatening alien species has been identified: the brown tree snake. Native to the northern coast of Australia, the brown tree snake was accidentally introduced in Guam during World War II. The brown tree snakes likely found their way onto U.S. ships transporting cargo and slithered their way into Guam’s ecosystem. The alien invasion by these sneaky reptilians has caused economic, health, and environmental concerns for the countryThe snakes are responsible for causing power outages by climbing power lines, biting humans, and decimating Guam’s native bird species. The adverse affect of the brown tree snakes has prompted the plan to exterminate this resented species.

The U.S. government is offering to assist in ridding the country of the brown tree snake due to their presence in Guam during WWII. The proposed solution to relieving Guam of brown tree snakes: poison their prey. Eating dead prey is not characteristic of most species of snakes; however, the brown tree snakes are far from picky eaters and will even prey on already dead animals. Alongside this indifference to types of prey, the brown tree snake has another weakness the U.S. plans to exploit: its susceptibility to acetaminophen. Acetaminophen is a drug sold under the brand name Tylenol and is harmless to humans but deadly to brown tree snakes. The plan to exterminate the brown tree snakes involves stuffing dead mice with Tylenol and dropping them into the habitat of the snakes. The U.S. intends to attach small parachutes to the dead, drug filled mice in order to effectively target the tree dwelling snakes. The poisoning of the brown tree snake has been met with allegations of cruelty and absurdity by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). The death by poison would likely take about a week and cause the snakes considerable pain. When considering a solution to removing the brown tree snake, what is more important: preserving the native environment or ensuring all organisms are treated ethically?

The inter-border crossing of invasive species is a global phenomenon which means all countries must cooperate in limiting the transport of non-native animals. The presence of invasive species is also prominent in Canada and has caused significant economic and environmental problems, especially within our waterways. During their 12 to 20 month adult life, the sea lamprey can prey on and kill more than 18kg of fish. The suction-like mouths of these parasitic fish ensure their prey die of blood loss or after-effects of the wound. The zebra mussel, found in the Great Lakes, has cost local industries millions of dollars per year trying to remove the rapid breeding shellfish. Enough Zebra mussels can clog industrial intake pipes and even sink navigational buoys. Detection and regulation are necessary to prevent the destruction of native ecosystems through the conquest of alien species. The “bioinvasions” of alien species are choking ecosystems by abducting prey and smothering native organisms. The real problem does not lie with the invasive species themselves but with the economic system that is continually dispersing them over the Earth’s surface.

Sources:

  1. Christopher Bright. “Invasive Species: Pathogens of Globalization.” Washington Post Newsweek Interactive. 1999.
  2. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/24/us-guam-snakes-mice-peta?INTCMP=SRCH
  3. http://www.invasivespecies.gc.ca/english/view.asp?x=1
  4. http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/story/2012/02/23/f-invasive-species.html

Steve Watts