New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2011) 35(2): 174- 181

Canine detection of free-ranging brown treesnakes on Guam

Research Article
Julie A. Savidge 1,*
James W. Stanford 2
Robert N. Reed 2
Ginger R. Haddock 3
Amy A. Yackel Adams 3
  1. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, U.S.A.
  2. U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center, 2150 Centre Avenue, Building C, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, U.S.A
  3. ASRC Management Services under contract to U.S. Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center, 2150 Centre Avenue, Building C, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, U.S.A.
*  Corresponding author

We investigated canine teams (dogs and their handlers) on Guam as a potential tool for finding invasive brown treesnakes (Boiga irregularis) in the wild. Canine teams searched a 40 × 40 m forested area for a snake that had consumed a dead mouse containing a radio-transmitter. To avoid tainting the target or target area with human scent, no snake was handled or closely approached prior to searches. Trials were conducted during the morning when these nocturnal snakes were usually hidden in refugia. A radiotracker knew the snake's location, but dog handlers and search navigators did not. Of 85 trials conducted over four months, the two canine teams had an average success rate of 35% of correctly defining an area ≤ 5 × 5 m that contained the transmittered snake; the team with more experience prior to the trials had a success rate of 44% compared with 26% for the less experienced team. Canine teams also found 11 shed skins from wild snakes. Although dogs alerted outside the vicinity of transmittered snakes, only one wild, non-transmittered snake was found during the trials, possibly reflecting the difficulty humans have in locating non-transmittered brown treesnakes in refugia. We evaluated success at finding snakes as a function of canine team, number of prior trials (i.e. experience gained during the trials), recent canine success at finding a target snake, various environmental conditions, snake perch height, and snake characteristics (snout-vent length and sex). Success rate increased over the course of the trials. Canine team success also increased with increasing average humidity and decreased with increasing average wind speed. Our results suggest dogs could be useful at detecting brown treesnakes in refugia, particularly when compared to daytime visual searches by humans, but techniques are needed to help humans find and extract snakes once a dog has alerted.