Expensive Exotics: Snakes in Hawaii
Last month a juvenile ornate tree snake (Chrysopelea ornate) was captured by military personnel near the airfield at Hickam Air Force Base. Inspectors from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture were notified and took custody of the foot-long snake. Ornate tree snakes are mildly venomous and are related to the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis), which has devastated the ecosystem in Guam and threatens the environment and economy of Hawaii.
Snakes are not native to Hawaii and have the potential to invoke more than just fear in visitors and residents. The arrival and establishment of snakes could have hefty economic consequences to the state in terms of control costs and damages. Co-director of UHERO’s Project Environment, Dr. Kimberly Burnett, studied the potential economic outcome of a brown tree snake invasion in Hawaii as part of her Ph.D. dissertation. Depending on assumptions regarding control methods and population growth upon arrival, the snake could easily cost Hawaii $200-$300 million in management and damages including power outages, lost bird species and medical expenses related to snakebites. That's about equal to half the value of all the crops produced in Hawaii in 2011. For more on the economic consequences of invasive species in Hawaii, visit UHERO’s Project Environment.
Photo credit flying snake: Dr. Allen Allison, Bishop Museum
Photo credit brown tree snake: Kimberly Burnett, UHERO