Using dead animals as a means of covert warfare has been around since at least about 300 BCE. According to historians, Persian, Greek, and Roman literature around that time cites examples of armies tossing dead animals into their enemies' drinking wells to poison them. Humans have been poisoning each other with dead animals ever since.
Of course, we’ve devised much more effective biological weapons for killing people en masse since the good ol’ days when a dead cat or two could turn the tide of war. But when it comes to waging war on snakes, a dead animal still does the trick.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the island nation of Guam is completely overrun with brown tree snakes—so much so, that the snakes have killed off most of the island’s bird species since they invaded aboard American war ships just after World War II. The snakes are usually just a few feet long, but sometimes grow as long as 10 feet. They live in trees and hunt at night. The local birds never stood a chance.
They’re also biting people and shorting out power lines, the AP reports. And now Hawaii, despite lying 3,000 miles east, is worried the snake could somehow reach its shores and wreak similar havoc. Hawaii likes its wildlife, and so do its tourists. So the United States government has decided to make it rain on Guam’s jungles later this spring with dead mice. The mice will be loaded with acetaminophen.
Apparently the brown tree snake—like many a D-list celebrity—loves any meal it doesn’t have to work for. It also doesn’t do so well with acetaminophen, which cures headaches for humans, but cures life for brown tree snakes.
“We are taking this to a new phase,” said Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services in Hawaii, Guam, and the Pacific Islands, in the AP article. “There really is no other place in the world with a snake problem like Guam.”
If it sounds like the feds aren’t messing around, they aren’t. The damage already done to Guam notwithstanding, estimates say the snakes could cause between $593 million and $2.14 billion in economic damage to Hawaii each year if they somehow hitch a ride there by boat or plane.
To develop its mouse-drop logistics, the USDA joined with the Department of Defense, which has been coming up with clever ways to use animals as weapons for a long time. Pigeons were trained during WWII to pilot bombs toward their targets. Bees were trained recently at the Los Alamos National Laboratory to sniff-out explosive substances.
The government’s plans for using dead mice are more complex than just dumping a bunch of dead, drugged mice from a plane.
Per the AP article:
To keep the mice bait from dropping all the way to the ground, where it could be eaten by other animals or attract insects as they rot, researchers have developed a flotation device with streamers designed to catch in the branches of the forest foliage, where the snakes live and feed.
Experts say the impact on other species will be minimal, particularly since the snakes have themselves wiped out the birds that might have been most at risk.
“One concern was that crows may eat mice with the toxicant,” said William Pitt, of the U.S. National Wildlife Research Center's Hawaii Field Station. “However, there are no longer wild crows on Guam. We will continue to refine methods to increase efficiency and limit any potential non-target hazards.”
Now if only the feds could come up wth a similar solution for the Burmese python problem in Florida. Pythons can grow up to 26-feet long and seem awfully fond of dog and cat meat.