• Brown tree snake. (Photo: Gordon H. Rodda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikimedia)

Just west of the Mariana Trench, an invasive snake is breaking into new territory. The brown tree snake, which has already led many native bird species to extinction on Guam, was recently found in a mouse-baited trap on Rota in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“This prompted an immediate response by collaborators in the region,” said Adam Knox, who alongside Sylvan Igisomar is managing the ground operation in Rota for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

Brown tree snakes, which are native to places such as Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, are not only capable of wiping out birds but can also climb and have caused millions of dollars in power outages in Guam by shorting out power lines.

“There is also health concerns as these snakes have also been documented biting little children,” said Knox.

The dead snake, approximately one metre in length, was sent to Guam for necropsy and then transferred to Colorado for further analysis.

The male snake had no contents in its stomach and was underweight for its length, said Knox, suggesting that indicates a fairly recent arrival for the snake in such a prey-rich environment and not part of an incipient population.

The snakes are most active during the night when their prey (birds) are resting. It is believed the snakes may have made their way over as accidental stow away on cargo vessels, possibly during the Second World War.

“Night searches have commenced since September 4 and will remain ongoing throughout the coming months,” said Knox. “CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) originally had 46 snake traps around the island and we added another 200.”

While biologists and researchers search for them, the public is being told to be careful and kill the snake before calling authorities because it can disappear within seconds.