4 min read

Parachuting Rats Fight Invasive Snakes

Since brown tree snakes first arrived to Guam, accidentally introduced to the island by humans in the 1950s, they've basically had the run of the place. Guam's native bird species, which had previously known no serpentine threats, were soon driven to near-extinction, and in some cases were wiped out entirely. Today, millions of brown snakes populate the island, unchecked by any natural predator.

But now, in a bid to battle the unwelcome species, thousands of rats have been deployed to the front line, parachuted onto Guam like little commandos, albeit dead and laced with poison.

In all, 2,000 rats have been dropped so far, injected with a dose of painkillers sufficient to kill any snake that takes it as a meal.

If the parachuting rats idea sounds like something other than Plan A, that's because it is. Over the decades, snake-traps, snake-hunters, and even snake-sniffing dogs failed to curb the invasion -- so poisoned rodents doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Guam chief Tino Aguon, leading the charge in the fight, tells the local NBC affiliate that they're keeping an open mind when it comes to solving the snake problem:

"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."

While lacing Guam's already distraught ecosystem with thousands of lethal rats might sound a bit like putting out a fire with gasoline, USDA biologists insist that amount of poison used would be unlikely to affect any other animal that ate it -- noting that it would take around 500 of the rats to kill a dog.

Guam offers an important lesson on just how easily a delicate ecological balance can be thrown off kilter -- and what a daunting, perhaps even impossible, task it is to right it.