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Snake Plague: Guam's Invasive Snakes Are Destroying The Ecosystem

Mar 13, 2017 11:12 AM EDT

In case you did not know yet, Guam has a snake problem, and it is getting worse each day.

While the bird-eating snake, also known as the brown tree snakes (Boiga irregularishas), already eliminated many bird species in the area, a new study revealed that it is also destroying the Pacific island's forests.

According to the research, which was recently published in the journal, Nature Communications, the growth of new trees on the island may have fallen by up to 92 percent because of the absence of birds in the island.

To find out the extent of damage that these snakes are causing, Haldre Rogers from the University of Colorado and his team placed "seeding baskets" on the area.

More than half of the trees in Guam are fruit-bearing. Birds who feed on these trees usually distribute the seeds in their droppings.

Results showed that less than 10 percent of the seeds made it beyond the immediate vicinity of their parent tree.

"Aside from fruit bats, which are also nearly extinct on Guam, nothing else can disperse seeds," Rogers told BBC. "If you get rid of the birds and bats, there's nothing to replace them."

The absence of bird has reduced the abundance of trees in the island.

Science Alert noted that these snakes have damaged electrical systems worth $4.5 million over the past seven years. They are so dense in the area that there are approximately 5,000 individuals per square kilometer (or 13,000 per square mile). Guam has an area of 544 square kilometers (210 square miles), and it is estimated that the island is now home to around two million of these snakes.

Because they prey on birds and their eggs, by the mid-1980s, 10 of the 12 bird species native to Guam had vanished.

In recent years, the US Department of Agriculture has engaged in some measures to eliminate the invasive brown snakes in Guam; one of which is parachuting thousands of dead mice laced with paracetamol, which is known toxic to them.

Meanwhile, there was no confirmation from experts yet whether the "rodent commando program" was effective.

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