Guam has a problem—a snake problem.
Since its accidental introduction 70 years ago, the brown tree snake has wreaked havoc on the Pacific island nation and the native species that live there. Having originally evolved without these kinds of predators to worry about, many of Guam’s native bird species have been gobbled up by the ever-growing snake population. The notorious nocturnal predator is also responsible for a decline in lizard and even fruit bat colonies.
To the brown tree snake, the island is an all-you-can-eat buffet. But to researchers, ecologists, and anyone wanting to protect the endangered species there, these snake invaders are bad news.
To make matters even more complicated, brown tree snakes can do more than just slide and slither … they can climb!
This snake's long and slender body can tense up to grip tightly around trees, which allows it to hunt high in the tropical rainforest canopy to snack on birds. With this ability, the snakes have even caused power outages and electrical damage by scaling up poles and crawling over the electrical lines!
Though the species is not dangerous to humans, its venom sure packs a punch for the small critters it eats as prey. In an effort to save the island’s remaining birds, researchers have placed bird nest boxes at the very top of smooth metal poles. Surely an unclimbable obstacle for the brown tree snake, right?
Well, not so much …
Researchers were stunned to see that snakes scaled up the metal pole with a never-before-seen climbing technique, using a process called 'lasso locomotion'.
The snakes were observed looping themselves tightly around the metal pole, tying their tail around their body for support. By creating a 'lasso' shape, they were able to propel themselves upwards by squeezing certain muscles, eventually wiggling their way to the top to snatch their prey.
This type of movement has never been observed in snakes, and it’s pretty impressive to watch! Check it out:
So far, it’s unclear if there are any other species of snake that can lasso themselves up trees. Interestingly enough outside of Guam, the brown tree snake has not been observed doing this, so indeed it is a peculiar adaptation.
As cool as this phenomenon is though, many efforts are still in place to eliminate this invasive species from the island altogether. It's hard enough already to protect endangered species!