They floated down from the sky Sunday — 2,000 mice, wafting on tiny cardboard parachutes over Andersen Air Force Base in the U.S. territory of Guam.
But the rodent commandos didn’t know they were on a mission: to help eradicate the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has caused millions of dollars in wildlife and commercial losses since it arrived a few decades ago.
That’s because they were dead. And pumped full of painkillers.
The unlikely invasion was the fourth and biggest rodent air assault so far, part of an $8 million U.S. program approved in February to eradicate the snakes and save the exotic native birds that are their snack food.
“Every time there is a technique that is tested and shows promise, we jump on that bandwagon and promote it and help out and facilitate its implementation,” Tino Aguon, acting chief of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s wildlife resources office for Guam, told NBC station KUAM of Hagatna.
It’s not just birds the government is trying to protect. It’s also money.
Andersen, like other large industrial complexes on the Western Pacific island, is regularly bedeviled by power failures caused when the snakes wriggle their way into electric substations — an average of 80 a year, costing as much as $4 million in annual repair costs and lost productivity, the Interior Department estimated in 2005.
The U.S. has tried lots of ways to eliminate the snakes, which it says likely arrived in an inadequately inspected cargo shipment sometime in the 1950s.
Snake traps, snake-sniffing dogs and snake-hunting inspectors have all helped control the population, but the snakes have proved especially hardy and now infest the entire island. Guam is home to an estimated 2 million of the reptiles, which in some areas reach a density of 13,000 per square mile — more concentrated than even in the Amazonian rainforests, the government says.
But brown tree snakes have an Achilles’ heel: Tylenol.
So, the Tylenol in the dead mice will kill the snakes they say, but, I wonder has anyone warned Rep Hank Johnson about this? He will no doubt worry that the mice might, well, make Guam, tip over