Friday, February 22, 2013

Death From Above!

At least, a new government initiative will be death for you if you're a brown tree snake on Guam.

Brown tree snakes apparently got to Guam during World War II, hitching rides on military vehicles or some other part of the high-level traffic at the island during that conflict. In the ensuing years, they have wiped out several species of native Guam birds and almost destroyed many others.

Should the slithery genocidists manage to hitch another ride, they might spread to other islands where birds don't know how to handle a nocturnal, tree-dwelling predator. Hawaii is particularly worried about an infestation. So the U.S. Department of Wildlife will drop dead mice on the snakes while they're still stuck on Guam.

This will be harmful to the snakes not because they're slow and can't dodge a falling mouse. Although I suppose that might happen. Brown tree snakes, you see, are perfectly OK with eating something that's already dead -- many snakes aren't -- and these mice will have been fed aspirin Tylenol before they pass away. This is not because Wildlife officials think the snakes would stop eating birds if they didn't have headaches or something. After all, if the problem is the snakes multiplying too quickly, the experience of many husbands will show that the presence of headaches usually serves to reduce the activity that typically leads to offspring. Cutting back on the headaches would not achieve any reduction in reptilian birth rates.

As it happens, another feature of brown tree snakes is that the acetaminophen found in aspirin Tylenol is poisonous to them. If they eat an acetaminophenized dead mouse, then they kick the bucket. On the off chance a human eats the dead mouse, the acetaminophen will not harm him or her. What eating the dead mouse does, on the other hand, is still open to question.

"Mice, eh? I never heard the like," St. Patrick of Ireland said when reached for comment.


Todd Bergman said...

Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid.

Tylenol is acetaminophen.

Two different drugs.

Friar said...

Correct, of course; I goofed. I tried to find some more about the poisonous effects and it appears that the acetyl derivatives common to both compounds are what does the snake in, but the internet has less about what kinds of things poison brown tree snakes than you'd think, so that may not be right either.