Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brown Tree Snake

Boiga irregularis
Today's animal is the Brown Tree Snake, a reptile that would be nothing particularly special... if it wasn't for the impact it has has as an invasive species over the last 60 years. They have caused an incredible amount of destruction on the island of Guam, resulting in the extinction of a handful of other species and costing millions of dollars of damage.

You see, they aren't originally from Guam. They actually hail from Australia, New Guinea, and a handful of other large islands in Melanesia. In their native range they can be found in a variety of habitats, including areas free of trees! You heard me right, Brown Tree Snakes can be found in grasslands and in cliff areas, as well as in forests.

Sometime after World War II, but before 1952, a couple of Brown tree Snakes made their way to Guam as stowaways in ship cargo. When they reached the small island it didn't take long for massive devastation to occur. By 1968 they had spread across the entire island, due to the fact that they had no natural predators and no competition from other snakes.

The Brown Tree Snakes have led to the endangerment of several local bird, reptile, and mammal populations. In fact, twelve different native birds have gone completely extinct. In addition to hurting the local fauna, the plant diversity has also suffered. Many animals that served as pollinators saw their numbers decline, which resulted in a loss of plant life. And have I mentioned the power outages? Brown Tree Snakes love to climb electrical wires, causing blackouts and massive repair bills.

So what is being done about this dangerous invasive species? Well, lots of things actually, but there are so many snakes that it has been difficult to control them (recent surveys show as many as 20 snakes per acre, one of the highest Snake densities in the world!) Traps and poisons have been deployed to cut the numbers down, and recently it was discovered that Acetaminophen is deadly to Brown Tree Snakes. As a result, the government has been dropping dead mice laced with Tylenol into the trees.

IUCN Status : Not Listed
Location : Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia
Size : Length up to 6.6ft (2m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Reptilia -- Order : Squamata
Family : Colubridae -- Genus : Boiga -- Species : B. irregularis


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