Spare the Horror!
The snakes that belong to the lancehead family are responsible for almost 90% of all snakebite deaths in Brazil. The golden lancehead found on the Snake Island has a venom which is 3 to 5 times stronger, than that of the mainland snakes. Imagine how fast it will kill humans!
An island paints a picture of paradise in everyone's minds. A lost land with beautiful trees and sunbathing and enjoying the nature is what we imagine. But, there are a few islands which will prove that looks can be deceiving! This particular island will invite you with its beautiful appearance but don't get fooled, because you'll be nearing death as you go closer. The Snake Island, also known as Ilha de Queimada Grande, is situated some miles away from São Paulo in Brazil. As the name suggests, this tiny island is full of snakes (almost 2,000 - 4,000).
Now you may say that there is nothing unusual in it. Let me tell you, this island is known to be deadly not only because of the venomous snakes, but also due to the density of their population. Scientists say that it has almost 1 - 3 snakes per square meter but some people of the mainland claim that there are 5 snakes per square meter. This itself is quite scary! Another scary fact is that the snake found here is the Golden Lancehead (Bothrops insularis), which is a highly venomous pit viper. The island has been isolated since the 1920s but there are some exceptions for scientists. Apart from that, the Brazilian Navy has an annual visit to keep the lighthouse in check.
There have been many scary stories about this island, but two of them are very famous and have scared people the most. One of the stories say that a fisherman went to the island in search of some bananas. He was bitten by the snakes but managed to get in his boat. The poison started working and he was dead in no time. His dead body was found in a pool of blood, on the floating boat. Half the body had melted flesh because of the powerful bites.
Another story says that there was a single family who lived on the island. It was the lighthouse keeper, his wife, and three children. One night, some snakes managed to get in their house and attacked the family. Everyone tried to get out but were killed by the snakes on the branches. It is said that they were the last inhabitants of this island.
About the Island
Image Courtesy: itanhaem.sp.gov.br
The island looks beautiful, covered in rainforests, and surrounded by the Atlantic sea. It is tiny and stretches for only 110 acres, and is located only a few miles away from Brazil. Apart from the snakes, it is totally isolated with only an automated lighthouse, which is maintained once a year. There are stories that say that there were some people who had managed to live on this island from 1909 - 1920.
It is said that the island broke off from the mainland when the sea levels rose, almost 11,000 years ago. The golden lancehead viper found here is said to be related to a species named 'B.jararaca'. It is said that one of their ancestors might have been stranded on the island, which evolved differently than the mainland cousins.
The name "Ilha de Queimada Grande" roughly translates as "the island of the slash-and-burn fire". In the past, people have tried to start a banana plantation on the island. The land was burnt that time and the plantation attempt failed. A portion of land was burnt, which is still growing into a thick forest, but the other parts are covered by thick rainforest.
It is considered so deadly that no person is allowed to go there without permission. If in any case, someone has to go, the Navy will drop them 100 m away from the shore. People have to paddle their own dinghies for the remaining way. There is one more rule that a doctor should always accompany any person who gets the permission to go there.
The only option to enter the island is by climbing a slippery, rocky slope, which takes you in the nesting grounds of many sea birds. There is no beach to this island. The challenge of climbing the rocky patch is that if you slip on a single step, you may fall prey to the snakes.
About the Snake
The golden lancehead has a distinct light, yellowish-brown color with some faint marks, and a distinct pointed head. The snakes are only 28 - 46 inches in length, but possess a very powerful and fast-acting poison. One bite will melt the flesh around it, which is useful because half of the prey is digested before it is swallowed. Even after immediate help, there are 3 - 7% chances of instant death in humans.
The venom of this snake is considered too strong, which might be a reason that no other species can live there. Maybe, it can kill any other snake or animal, also humans!
The snakes feed on the helpless, migratory birds that land on this island. Not only that, these snakes are also known to be cannibalistic in nature, which means that they might feed on each other. The strong, fast-acting venom is an evolution to stop the bitten birds from flying away. It can kill the birds instantly.
A pit viper hunts by sensing heat through the pits on the face. If you ever come in contact with these snakes, make sure that you don't freeze with fear. Standing still makes you look like a burner and a better target to prey on.
Golden Lancehead is a highly venomous pit viper which is only found on this island. Though it is found in abundance, it is marked as 'Critically Endangered' on the IUCN Red List. It is only found on such a small island and evidences show that there has been a reduction in their numbers. Some say that there are people who trap these snakes and illegally earn money in the pet trade. There are great chances of inbreeding, which indirectly is no use as a pure species. There have been some natural disasters like forest fires and diseases that may have affected the population. Basically, there are no natural predators so habitat destruction is the only reason. The accurate population is unknown but it is believed to be reducing.
Currently, many scientists are working their way out to make use of the venom. Research is being done on that.
Marcelo Duarte is a biologist who has visited this island, more than 20 times. He says that 5 snakes per square meter is an exaggerated tale, 1 snake per square meter is quite near to the reality. He also says, "But, you're never more than three feet away from death."