A-z - Animals

Snake Island: The True Story of the Most Snake-Infested Island on Earth

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  • Twenty miles off the coast of São Paulo in southeastern Brazil, there is a small uninhabited island called Ilha da Queimada Grande. It is called Snake Island.
  • Bothrups insularis , aka the golden spearhead viper, does not exist anywhere else in the world except Snake Island. However, it is related to the Fer-de-lance, the deadliest snake in the Americas.
  • The fatality rate from the golden spearhead's venom can be as high as 7% – especially in the event of a bite, where rescue is far away.

Ophidiophobia is the scientific term for snake phobia. The worst nightmare for a person with the disorder is suddenly finding themselves thrown into Snake Island. It's only natural to be afraid of these slithering, reptilian, and sometimes venomous creatures that kill tens of thousands of people around the world every year — even without a full-blown phobia. An island measuring just 430,000 m2 or 106 acres is densely populated with snakes, enough to inspire anyone's snake phobia. Today, we're looking at Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island in Brazil.

Snake Island is full of snakes, and they're not just baby pythons. The island is infested with venomous relatives of the Americas' deadliest snake, the Fer-de-lance. Learn the true story of the island as we explore its history and dispel the myths surrounding this tragic place.

Where is Snake Island?

Snake Island's truest snake-infested story on Earth 1
Meet the golden lancehead snake, a resident of Brazilian Snake Island.

© Miguelrangeljr/Creative Commons – Licensed

Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island, is a small island off the southeastern coast of Brazil. The land is part of the state of São Paulo and is notable for having several different terrains, including a small portion of tropical rainforest.

Brazil's Snake Island is about 20 miles off the coast of the mainland, far enough away that snakes can't reach the South American mainland. Given how venomous the snake is, this fact comes as a relief to many.

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The name of the island does not translate to Snake Island. Instead, it refers to an attempt to deforest the island by burning its vegetation. In the early 20th century , a massive forest fire began to clear the island's banana plantations. Of course, this all fell flat when the locals realized how deadly the island's inhabitants had become.

Interestingly, the island was once home to a lighthouse, which housed its caretakers, but is now maintained annually by the Brazilian Navy and operates automatically.

It's not hard to find legends about what happened to the last lighthouse keeper. It has been claimed that snakes from the island attacked them in unison, slipping through a window into their bedroom and killing the family before returning to their deaths in the forest. However, this may not be true.

What kind of snake lives on Snake Island?

Snake Island is the only place in the world where tuna heads appear

© Nayeryouakim / Creative Commons – Licensed

Ilha da Queimada Grande is home to the Bothrups insularis , also known as the tuna-headed viper. This snake is a close relative of the continent's deadliest snake, the Fer-de-lance. This snake is very noteworthy as it only exists on Snake Island. Nowhere else on earth can this animal be found.

The popular theory is that the species became stranded on the island after the end of the last ice age more than 11,000 years ago. Rising seas flooded the land connecting Snake Island to the mainland.

The golden tip is very distinct. The snake is light yellow and light brown in color, especially on its underside. Additionally, the snake shares the same distinctive head shape as Fer-de-lance, a long head with a pointed tip on its snout that resembles the blade of a spear.

Snakes are dangerous, but let's dissect the myths from the myths to the truth about this animal.

How Dangerous Are Golden Spearhead Snakes?

The golden lancehead snake is one of the most venomous snakes in South America. The mortality rate is believed to be as high as 3% for those who receive antivenom. If you do not receive any treatment, this number increases significantly, with a death rate as high as 7%. Even if the individual does not die, the body will be severely damaged.

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The venom of the golden spearhead is blood poisonous. This means it attacks red blood cells and can cause a variety of different bodily problems. If the tuna bites you, you will experience pain, internal bleeding, necrosis of muscle tissue, and possible bleeding in the brain.

However, no deaths from the bite have been recorded in modern records due to the Brazilian government banning people from visiting the island. This snake isn't one of the most venomous snakes in the world by any standards, but it's deadly enough to kill a human with ease.

If a person sneaks onto the island and is bitten, they are likely to face serious health problems. After all, they're about 90 miles from the nearest bottle of antivenom.

How many golden spearheads live on Snake Island?

Around 3,000 snakes are believed to live on Brazil's Snake Island

© Prefeitura Municipal de Itanhaém / Creative Commons – Licensed

Since so few people set foot on the island, and because it's known for its abundance of deadly snakes, you might think tuna rules Snake Island like the king of reptiles. But in fact, the future survival prospects of this rare snake are very uncertain.

The number of tuna heads on Snake Island is estimated to be only 2,400 to 2,900 snakes. Given that this is the only place on Earth where these snakes live, they are a critically endangered species of snake.

In the past, it was estimated that as many as 400,000 or more snakes lived on the island. People think that there is a snake for every square meter, but this is not the case. In short, there are not enough food resources on the island to sustain such a large population. In fact, there may never have been a single food source capable of supporting so many snakes in such a small area.

To make matters worse, deforestation on the mainland has not only destroyed large numbers of snakes and their habitat, but has also resulted in fewer birds migrating to the island. Snakes have more competition and less food is available for snakes. As a result, the population may decline.

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Another serious threat to golden spearheads is poaching. Scientific research and the black market pet trade have made these snakes extremely valuable. As a result, criminals attempting to capture and smuggle this rare snake can earn anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per specimen.

Instead, there may be one snake per 140 square meters. When you consider that the small spaces on the island are where the most snakes are, away from the rocky outcrops, there are still too many snakes for one to want to spend time on the land.

What do the snakes on Snake Island eat?

There are no animals on Snake Island—they have undoubtedly been wiped out by snakes. These snakes prey on unlucky migratory birds that stop on the island to rest. The snake waits in the tree for the bird to land — and produces a potent, fast-acting venom that kills the bird before it flies away.

To make matters worse, deforestation on the mainland has resulted in fewer birds migrating to the island, which is even worse for the isolated snake. Snakes have more competition and less food is available for snakes. As a result, the population may decline.

Can you visit Snake Island?

If you jumped through hoops as a researcher, you could visit Snake Island, but why would you?

© Ko biet / Creative Commons – Licensed

The Brazilian government has closed access to the island to protect humans and snakes. The Brazilian Navy restricts access to the island, but they visit the lighthouse every year for repairs.

Few researchers have been allowed to travel to the island. They have to have specific approval when they go and then they have to be accompanied by a qualified doctor.

Since the island's snakes are unique, government restrictions may not be enough to deter some criminals from coming to the area. Given the dangers involved in traveling to Snake Island, reports of "bio-pirates" visiting the island and acquiring snakes for researchers and collectors may be exaggerated or simply false.

In short, Ilha da Queimada Grande is a place that doesn't quite live up to legend. However, it is very dangerous and should not be anyone's destination. Going to the island without permission will not only face serious legal disputes, but they may die. The golden tip is best appreciated from a great distance, such as through a computer screen.


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