Brown Tree Snake Research Wins DoD 2015 Project of the Year

By Larry Clark, NWRC Director, USDA Wildlife Services

Brown tree snake. Image Credit: USDA

This month, experts with the USDA-APHIS Wildlife Services (WS) program were honored with the 2015 Project of the Year Award for Resource Conservation and Climate Change from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Environmental Research Programs. The award recognizes WS’ achievements toward the aerial application of acetaminophen-treated baits for the control of brown tree snakes in Guam.

“The successful aerial delivery of toxicant bait is a critical next step toward developing a method for large-area control of the invasive snakes, particularly in remote and inaccessible areas on Guam,” states team leader Dr. Brian Dorr, CWB®, of WS’ National Wildlife Research Center. “The new technique uses dead mouse baits inserted with 80-mg tablets of acetaminophen, which are fatal to the snakes.”

Earlier WS research shows brown tree snakes readily accept dead mice and acetaminophen as bait. The bait is fitted to a biodegradable streamer-like device designed to snag onto branches in the dense tree canopy where the snakes feed. Given the fact that the bait is hung in trees, distributed at low densities, and eaten quickly by the snakes, nontarget species exposure to the bait is very limited.

USDA Wildlife Services research has led to the development of an aerial bait to control invasive brown tree snakes on Guam.  The effort was recently awarded the Department of Defense’s 2015 Project of the Year Award for Resource Conservation and Climate Change.
USDA Wildlife Services research has led to the development of an aerial bait to control invasive brown tree snakes on Guam. The effort was recently awarded the Department of Defense’s 2015 Project of the Year Award for Resource Conservation and Climate Change.

The damage wreaked by invasive brown tree snakes on Guam is hard to imagine. Infestations have led to the loss of all but two of the island’s 12 native forest birds, millions of dollars in damages its electrical power grid, and physical injuries to residents from snake bites. As a large port and home to several military bases, another major concern is the accidental spread of the snakes to other islands, such as Hawaii and Saipan, where they could cause similar damage. The development and use of this innovative, new tool will assist the DoD and others in reducing the environmental and economic risks caused by the snake and potentially aid wildlife restoration efforts on Guam.

Researchers are currently working with a private company to scale-up the manufacturing process by designing a biodegradable bait cartridge and delivery system that can disperse a bait cartridge every 15 meters (4 bait cartridges/second at a flight speed of 125 knots) via helicopter or fixed wing aircraft. Tests of this new system will begin early next year.

To learn more, please visit the National Wildlife Research Center’s brown tree snake webpage and FLICKR site. View several videos related to this research here.

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