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Snake Invader: The Brown TreeSnake

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 4

From Guam to Hawaii

brown tree snake

Yes, these reptiles like to be off the ground, evidently it is a safety issue for them, but to wind around plane wheel wells and take a free trip to Hawaii? Yup, that's what happened. Neither military or commercial flights are safe. They aren't picky. Guam wasn't their original home either.

They are native to Australia, New Guinea, Indonesia, and the Solomon Islands. They probably arrived in in Guam about 63 years ago. They could have hid out on a military flight from Papua New Guinea and cruised onto Guam effortlessly. A ship also could have innocently carried the invaders.  Known in the serpent world as Boiga irregularis, they have wreaked havoc on the island with few natural competitors or predators to keep it in check.

Boiga irregularis

Normally the Brown Treesnake hides out during the day, and hunts during the night. That is, when it is in a native habitat. Not so in the ravished island of Guam. These wily reptiles adapted to hunting during the day since they have no predators on Guam. The snakes colonized the whole island and soon the bird species was almost gone - eaten, devoured by those semiconstrictors. First they squeeze the victim, then they bite the victim to deliver the venom, then the victim dies and is eaten head first. Now the only remaining birds on Guam are those living in special habitats safe from the snakes.

Next they began surviving on rodents and lizards to maintain an amazingly high snake density of 13,000 per square mile. That is very alien to Guam, since it only had one snake species before the invasion. A small worm like blind snake that poses no threats to the humans or fauna. The Ramphotyphlops braminus is happy feeding on termites and ants - no worries, no threats.

To all those with snake fear , know that human adults don't suffer from the bite (the venom isn't strong enough), but human infants need to be taken care of immediately. Other health risks on Guam are from the lack of birds and lizards and other native species with vertebrates from the snakes appetites. Those species ate insects and now there are more insects. That means more diseases have increased (like dengue fever). The extra insects harm vegetables and crops, too.

Guam is a U.S. territory and a beautiful island that has tourism as it's second largest industry. Unfortunately, the brown treesnakes are just at home in a restaurant or hotel as in the forest. The tourism industry is way down because of those aliens. Oh, the chicken farming has become ruined so eggs must be shipped to the island now and the cost is high. You can imagine the cost of transportation has increased too, what with all the added checking of planes, ships, and cargo containers for security from hidden snakes tripping around the world. I guess one could look at it as a kind of Guam Homeland Security scene.

The Big Threat
Did you realize that Oahu was a snake free oceanic island until recent years when 20-30 snake discoveries per year have been made in Hawaii, and there have been 8 documented discoveries of the BTS (brown treesnakes) ? This is spooky because emergency trapping didn't work. The invaders got away. It is highly likely that a snake population will grow and change the ecology of the state. Containing the snake population is an ongoing research priority as the dispersal events continue.  There are various private, federal and state organizations working on the problem - one of them is North America Brown TreeSnake Control.

All in all, one should consider these as possible weapons of mass destruction - look at Guam!
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Comments

Mar 15, 2012 12:25am
southerngirl09
Interesting information about the brown treesnake. I don't like snakes. I can safety say that I will not be visiting Guam. Good article! Thumbs Up!
Mar 15, 2012 11:31pm
footloose
Thanks for the read and comment. I don't really hang with snakes either, but they are fascinating creatures. I wrote an earlier article about transmuting the fear of snakes because usually there is fear behind the dislike.
Apr 17, 2012 1:46am
Etcetera
My grandmother once got into to bed with one of these snakes and another time had one living in her pantry. North Queensland is however crawling with all types of non friendly wildlife.
Interesting article.
Apr 19, 2012 5:43pm
footloose
Whoa, how spooky for your gram. Yup, northern Australia is where those pesky critters hang out. Thanks for the read and comment.
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Bibliography

  1. Animal Invaders Brown Treesnake. Ann Arbor: Cherry Lake Publishing, 2009.
  2. "History of The Brown Tree Snake Invasion on Guam." USGS Science for a changing world. 17/02/2012 <Web >

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