Wish You Were Here: Snake Island, Brazil

by Owen James Burke

Probably one of the few islands off Brazil that you’d never entertain the idea of visiting is Ilha da Queimada Grande, which means island of the big burn (Queimada is a Portuguese term used for slash-and-burn agriculture). Although perhaps slightly misleading, the island’s name is not far from the experience that a human might have upon setting foot on the island.

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First of all, the island is entirely protected by the Brazilian Government and only authorized scientific and military personnel are allowed to reach its rocky shores.

Ilha da Queimada Grande lies a few hundred miles south of Rio de Janeiro and about 15-20 miles offshore of Sao Paolo, and as romantically inviting as it may seem from the air, the island has aggregated such a golden lancehead snake population that there is one snake for every square meter of land, of which there are 43,000.

These pitvipers are a species of fer-de-lance, which are about two meters long, contain enough venom to kill two grown men at once, breed all throughout the year, and produce as many as 50 offspring at once.

The only people to ever occupy the island were a lighthouse keeper and his family, and the story of the last of which (not surprisingly) goes as following:

“The family ran in panic one night after snakes crawled in through their windows, so the story goes, and were bitten as they fled through the forest by vipers dangling from tree branches. Their bodies were found spread across the island when a navy vessel stopped to make a routine supply drop.”

the lighthouse at the top of the cliff

A story is also in circulation about a fisherman who once waded ashore to pick bananas. Bitten quite quickly, he managed to make it back to his boat, where he bled to death. His remains were later found with his blood completely drained out onto the deck.

Discussion of establishing a banana plantation on the island has long been in the works, but, again for obvious reasons, the plan has never come into fruition.

The snakes are at the top of the food chain and have few, if any, natural predators. In other words, the island is theirs to roam, making Ilha da Queimada Grande perhaps the deadliest place on earth for a human.

Unfortunately for the snakes, wildfires and inbreeding threaten the population, and it is uncertain whether or not one of the few great undisturbed snake populations will continue to thrive on the island. One thing is for certain though: the golden lanceheads will never have a hard time keeping any humanity at bay.

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*wiki, cracked, purpleskinky and bukisa, images by zoovirtualbrbioventura, pescapeixe and viarural*

Thanks Matt Nix!

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