I don’t like snakes. There is something about the way they look and move that gives me the creeps, even when I know they are members of a harmless variety. Apparently fear of snakes (and spiders) is a primeval instinct shared by many species that may have never encountered a snake before and yet recoil when they see one for the first time. On the other hand, I have no fear of spiders, though I know people who are terrified of them, so I am not a total coward.
So it was no surprise that someone decided that a film based on the idea of being trapped in a combined space in which a large number of snakes were running loose would be a surefire scare fest and so Snakes on a Plane (2006) was born. I did not, of course, go to see the film but I did hear about the famous line uttered by Samuel L. Jackson who plays an FBI agent assigned to protect a witness on a long distance flight on which someone has released deadly snakes in the cabin in order to kill the witness. (Language advisory)
But the idea of snakes hitchhiking on planes is not fiction.
A team of international scientists has discovered why brown tree snakes have become one of the most successful invasive species.
The research team, led by University of Queensland scientists, has been studying why a type of cat-eyed snake has been so effective at devastating native bird populations on the island of Guam.
Associate Professor Bryan Fry from UQ’s School of Biological Sciences said the takeover began when the brown tree snake was introduced on the Pacific island during World War II.
“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,” he said.
Cat-eyed snakes evolved in Africa and rapidly spread across the Indian subcontinent, throughout South-East Asia and to Australia, with the team finding the snake’s toxin type was responsible for its explosive natural spread.
“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 said.
“The United States government is still flying military planes from Guam to Hawaii and the snakes continue to hitchhike.
“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.
One more reason, if you needed it, to dislike air travel.