Steven Doig/Getty Images
Andrea Romano
September 28, 2018

Samuel L. Jackson isn’t the only one who hates seeing snakes on a plane. Most of the time, these slithery reptiles end up getting on aircraft thanks to human intervention, but there’s one breed that seems to be getting airborne all on its own.

How comforting to hear.

According to scientists at the University of Queensland, the brown tree snake hitchhiked to the island of Guam via airplane, resulting in it settling, breeding and consequently devastating the bird population there.

The snake’s travel patterns were published in a study in the Journal of Molecular Evolution, which investigated species that had a unique venom also found in the brown tree snake. The venom is relatively harmless to humans, but 100 times more toxic to birds. The study, while tracking the existence of the venom, concluded the “explosive” spread was due to the snake’s ability to stow away on World War II military planes in Australia.

“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,” said Associate Professor Bryan Fry from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences in a statement on the University website. “The snakes’ impact was so devastating, it now ranks among the worst pests of all time.”

The snakes were able to hitchhike by slithering up the plane's landing gear. It’s good to know they’re not exactly slithering through the airport and into the first class cabin. But it’s not fun to think about snakes being smart enough to just hop on any old plane just to find their next meal without our help.

“For the last 80 years or so, for the brown tree snake at least, this biological advantage has been aided by the introduction of air travel,” Dr. Fry added.

And it’s not just Guam that the snakes have infiltrated. They’re also attempting to hop over to Hawaii. 

“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,” said Dr. Fry.

Stopping the spread is no easy task. Dr. Fry told Mashable that one option would be to completely halt all air travel from Hawaii to Guam and vice versa, but obviously that is not a viable solution. Another option is to use dogs to detect the stowaways.

Either way, we'd rather the snakes just stay on the ground. 

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