brown tree snake

Background and Description
The brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) is a species that must be kept OUT of Hawai`i. It was an accidental introduction to Guam in the 1950's and has since become a serious pest, having devastating effects on the environment and the economy of Guam. Every effort must be made to keep the brown tree snake from becoming established in Hawai`i.

The brown tree snake is native to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the north coast of Australia. The snakes are generally 4-5 feet long, though they may reach lengths of 8 feet, and weigh up to 5 lbs.

They multiply quickly, and can lay up to 12 eggs twice a year. The young snakes are about 18 inches in length when they hatch, but may reach lengths of 3 feet in about one year. In some forested areas of Guam, there are about 12,000 snakes per square mile.

The snake is mildly poisonous. It kills its prey by chewing to inject the venom. It is relatively strong and hold its prey by wrapping its body around the victim. Snakes can be easily remove d by unwrapping them starting at the head or tail. The brown tree snake poses no danger of strangulation or injury from constriction to adult humans, but can possibly suffocate or poison small children and infants.

Effects on Economy and Environment:
Snakes crawling on electrical lines frequently cause power outages, and damage electrical lines. The major power outages and resulting damage to electrical equipment are significant economic burdens to the residents of Guam. The power interruptions cause a multitude of problems ranging from food spoilage to computer failures.

Brown tree snakes feed on a wide variety of animals including lizards, birds, and small animals, such as household pets. These snakes are responsible for virtually wiping out the native forest birds of Guam. Nine species of birds have become extinct, and several others are severely threatened.

This snake is an able climber and is most at home in trees and shrubs, where it forages at night using its keen sense of smell and sensitive night vision to track down its prey. It frequently invades homes, commercial buildings, and other urban habitats in search of food and hiding spots. Any site that provides protection from bright light and high temperatures is a potential daytime retreat. Snakes can coil their flexible bodies in extremely confined spaces when hiding.

What Can be Done?
Cargo handlers, local residents and other travelers must share in the responsibility to protect Hawai`i from this pest species. Careful inspection of materials, cargo, airplanes, and baggage shipped from or through Guam is necessary to prevent the dispersal of snakes to other places.

Any snake sightings should be reported immediately to government officials.

-Adapted from the brochure, The Brown Tree Snake. A Harmful Pest Species. Prepared by Thomas H. Fritts National Ecology Research Center, U.S. Department of the Interior Fish & Wildlife Service.

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