1. In the article “Island of the Snakes” there is a captivating story about brown tree snakes and the fact that these seemingly harmless snakes have literally invaded the entire ecosystem in Guam. The article begins with an early morning call from someone in Saipan, 200 kilometers away from Guam, because a brown tree snake was seen on the runway at the international airport. Then it details the history of how the brown tree snake arrived in Guam in the 1940s, aboard planes that were shipping materials as the U.S. began building up troops in the Pacific to fight the Japanese in World War II.
The article continues with a very detailed background of the brown tree snake, including the fact that it is actually indigenous to Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately, when the snakes arrived in Guam they were far from their natural predators – possibly lizards pigs – and able to reproduce all year long, due to the climate. After that, things rapidly declined, with the brown tree snakes eating the bird populations, which dropped significantly by the 1970s. Because there were no birds to eat spiders, by 1987 the forest was suddenly filled with cobwebs. Finally, after years of research and a great deal of convincing, people understood that the hidden culprit for all these issues was: a little brown tree snake from Papua New Guinea.
As the article continues, the valiant efforts of researchers, dogs, and even hunters to find and trap or poison the snakes. With all these people working together, by 1993 more than 150,000 snakes had been trapped and killed, including many small ones that had to be caught by hand because the young snakes did not like mice – and geckos were too expensive. Interesting details about specific circumstances that increased the effectiveness of the researchers’ and hunters’ attempts at catching and trapping snakes included moonless nights, and calm nights with no breeze or fluttering leaves, which are both helpful.
Currently, the USDA is attempting to drop poisoned (dead) mice onto treetops so only brown tree snakes have access to them, protecting the animal population on the forest floor. So far, the tests of this method have been very successful, so there are plans to expand the toxic mice air drops to a larger area. Although the huge island of Guam is a large, rough terrain to attempt such a huge undertaking, over time, the researchers and scientists are confident they will be successful.
2. The brown tree snake is actually native to Papua New Guinea, but it has now endangered the entire ecosystem of Guam for more than 60 years.
The brown tree snake made its way from Papua New Guinea to Guam on planes that were delivering supplies for the U.S. buildup of troops in the Pacific during the 1940s, so the troops could fight the Japanese from the Pacific front. Although it is certain that the U.S. did not intend for the brown tree snakes to make their way to Guam on planes filled with supplies, the truth is that snakes can go anywhere they find their way into.
The factors that made the brown tree snake a particularly good invader to the new habitat of Guam were numerous. First, the climate in Guam allowed the brown tree snake to reproduce year-round, uninterrupted. Second, once the brown tree snake left Papua New Guinea, it left behind its natural predators – believed to be the huge monitor lizards and feral pigs roaming the island. Finally, there were plenty of birds on Guam, which the brown tree snakes immediately began invading.
As a result, by the 1970s, the bird population had already dropped significantly, leading to the overabundance of spiders, which gladly began to decorate the entire forest with their thick, intricate cobwebs.
3. To me, the most interesting things in the article were all of the different methods the researchers, scientists, and hunters used in order to try and combat this newly invasive species. I especially found it interesting that the brown tree snake, which seems like such a tiny, insignificant reptile, so easily evaded all the different types of methods employed by the researchers and scientists from the very beginning. Sometimes, the methods seemed silly – like using Jack Russell terriers – but other times, the ideas used were pretty smart, like dropping the poisoned mice bodies into the tops of the trees so only the brown tree snakes would eat them and be affected by them.
It seems fascinating that a little snake, which accidentally ended up in a few planes over 60 years ago, still continues to evade the efforts of scientists, researchers, hunters, traps, poisons, and dogs. Obviously, when a species ‘invades’ an area where it doesn’t belong, the results can be devastating and very long-lasting, despite all the best efforts of man, beast, and machine.
4. Another article I found on an aspect of this research is quite similar to the brown tree snake. An article entitled “Kudzu Bug – Invasive Pest Coming to Arkansas and the Impact on Soybeans” by Gus Lorenz, Professor of Extension Entomology at the University of Arkansas discussed the extremely invasive kudzu bug’s ongoing migration from state to state. The kudzu vine is something that the south and southeast regions have dealt with for several decades, nearly choking the life out of the area flora and sometimes even destroying manmade architecture in the process. So, when the kudzu bug was discovered in Georgia in 2009, scientists began to think the solution for the pesky kudzu vine had finally been found (by accident).
Unfortunately, as any solution usually does, the reason for celebration quickly dissipated because the bug began eating and damaging other things, such as the soybean crops. According to the article, the kudzu bug has already made its way from Georgia to Virginia, North and South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama, with plans of moving into Tennessee and Mississippi. Obviously, as the title of the article suggests, the kudzu bug is also making its way to Arkansas – and the soybean crops.
There are specific details in the article regarding how the kudzu bug actually destroys crops, with a special emphasis on the soybean plants. Although the bugs don’t actually “eat away” at the plants themselves, the kudzu bug seems to leech the precious moisture needed by the plants. Adding insult to injury, the kudzu bug secretions also stay on the plant stalks, near the root, leading to the plants’ inability to absorb nutrients and flourish. This eventually leads to soybean crops that produce soybeans with less beans in the ‘pods’, which leads to less cash-producing results for those who rely on the crops for their livelihood.
Regardless of how terrible the kudzu bug is for soybeans, the article is careful to remind that the bug is not only a danger to soybean crops, but can be invasive and damaging in any crops that are similar in biology and physiology. Whenever a crop has the moisture and nutrients the kudzu bug prefers, the chances increase for the bug to invade the new (or different) crops. This is why it is vital to track the kudzu bug, study its habits and patterns, and attempt to contain or eradicate it.
Unfortunately, once the kudzu bug is found, the damage to crops can sometimes be noticed as quickly as one season later. Although scientists are currently researching the best pesticides to control this bug, the side effects on soybean crops are sometimes quite damaging and those chemicals that are less damaging to the crops are not as effective for controlling the bug. This means that research and testing is ongoing, and that although scientists are hopeful, they also remain realistic.
Lorenz, Gus. “Kudzu Bug – Invasive Pest Coming to Arkansas and the Impact on Soybeans.” University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Research & Extension. Web.