An international research team led by University of Queensland scientists has discovered how brown tree snakes, native to Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, invaded the island of Guam and devastated its native bird populations. The scientists say a similar fate threatens the Hawaiian Islands.
In the study published in the Journal of Molecular Evolution, the team discovered that brown tree snakes invaded Guam by sneaking aboard airplanes during World War II. The snake’s venom, though not dangerous to humans, is extremely toxic to birds.
“The snake hitchhiked on troop carriers from the Australian region and has since driven multiple native bird species into extinction, with only three species now found on the island,” Bryan Fry, one of the researchers, said in a statement.
The same thing could happen in Hawaii, where the United States continues to fly military planes from Guam and the snakes continue to hitchhike, according to Fry.
“They’re regularly intercepted in the Hawaii airports, so if these direct flights are allowed to continue, it’s only a matter of time until they get to Hawaii and wipe out the birds like they did on Guam,” he said. —J.B.