Brown Treesnake Rapid Response Team Deployed to Saipan after Two Snake Sightings

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Two recent reports of two brown treesnakes on Saipan is prompting federal and state officials to urge citizens of Hawaii, Guam and other Pacific Islands to report any sightings of these invasive snakes to authorities. Snakes can be reported by calling (671) 777-HISS or (670) 28-SNAKE.

SAIPAN – Two recent reports of two brown treesnakes on Saipan is prompting federal and state officials to urge citizens of Hawaii, Guam and other Pacific Islands to report any sightings of these invasive snakes to authorities. Snakes can be reported by calling (671) 777-HISS or (670) 28-SNAKE.

Biologist Francesca Erickson records data after checking brown treesnake traps next to the Saipan International Airport.
Biologist Francesca Erickson records data after checking brown treesnake traps next to the Saipan International Airport. USGS and other state, federal, and local partners are working together to help prevent these snakes from invading Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

A brown treesnake was recently reported near the Saipan International Airport runway. Another snake — or possibly the same one — was sighted in the village of Dandan in December, in proximity to the snake reported near the airport.

Because of these reports, the Brown Treesnake Rapid Response Team (RRT) has been deployed to Saipan to continue a coordinated search effort for the next three or more weeks. The team is led by the United States Geological Survey and is made up of Guam-based biologists and regional cooperators from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who have specific training in finding and capturing these invasive snakes. The team is coordinated by USGS biologist Adam Knox, a brown treesnake expert based on Guam.

The 12 to 15 team members are conducting intensive trapping efforts and surveys to determine if the sightings are indicative of an established brown treesnake population on the island or not. Because the snakes are most active at night, the team is focusing on night surveys using high-powered headlamps to search for snakes along fences, residential properties and forest canopies near where the snake sightings occurred. The team is also setting up mouse-baited traps in the focus area.

Knox noted that such exhaustive searching and trapping are needed because brown treesnakes, if present on Saipan, would likely be at low densities when compared to Guam, and because snakes are generally very difficult to detect in forested habitats. On Guam, the snake has been responsible for the disappearance of most of the island’s native forest bird species and bats. It has also caused frequent disruptions of electrical power, preyed on domestic fowl and pets, and had human health consequences due to its mildly venomous bite.

“It is important to remain vigilant and immediately report any sightings of snakes on any of the islands in the Northern Marianas,” said Knox. “Early detection and immediate control are essential to prevent invasion and establishment of this species. If these snakes were to evade detection and capture on Sapian or other Pacific islands, a snake population could rapidly increase in size due to the abundance of prey species present on the island.”

Close up photo of juvenile brown treesnake on branch.
Juvenile brown treesnake.

Scientists with the USGS Brown Treesnake Project conduct research on this snake species, including control tool development and testing, ecological impacts, and early detection methods. The Brown Treesnake Project partners include DOI Office of Insular Affairs, USDA National Wildlife Research Center and Wildlife Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and State and Island governments.

USGS holds Brown Treesnake Rapid Response Team training courses on Guam throughout the year to develop the skills needed to effectively respond to snake sightings in island environments. Training covers snake capture and handling, search image development at night, response logistics, search area and trapping layout and a host of other practical skill sets.

For more information visit https://www.fort.usgs.gov/branch/100

 

Two biologists hodling a brown tree snake while giving an outreach presentation
Biologist Mike Hogan (left) and USGS biologist Adam Knox (right) give an outreach presentation with a sterilized (invasive) brown treesnake at Southern High School, Sapian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.