Ophidiophobia is the abnormal fear of snakes. According to a Gallup poll, 51% of adults have a fear of snakes and I am one of the 51%. For people like us, an island filled with snakes can be a nightmare. The island off the coast of Sao Paolo is home to more than 4,000 of the world’s deadliest snakes that pluck birds out of the sky and kill them with a venom that can melt human flesh. In fact, the island which is locally known as the Forbidden Rock is deemed so dangerous that visiting it has been banned by the Brazilian government.
There’s about one deadly snake per square foot on it.
Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as Snake Island is located 20 miles (32 km) off the coast of Sao Paolo, Brazil. Before the Brazilian government decided to ban anyone from visiting this dangerous island, many have foolishly ventured there in the past. The island is a piece of land 4.6 million square feet (430,000 square metres) in size. Legend has it that the last fisherman who went too close to its shores was found days later, adrift in his boat, lifeless.
It’s the only place on Earth where Bothrops insularis, also known as the golden lancehead viper, is known to inhabit.
Locals in Brazil believe that the snakes were intentionally put there by pirates hoping to protect their gold. In reality, the island’s dense population of snakes evolved over thousands of years – without human intervention. Scientists say that 11,000 years ago, the sea levels rose high enough to isolate Ilha da Queimada Grande from mainland Brazil.
Since the isolation, the snakes that ended up stranded had no ground level predators. This allowed them to reproduce at a fast rate. The only thing they had to change was the way they hunted. Instead of hunting on the ground, the snakes prey on migratory birds.
The Golden lancehead is a highly venomous pit viper species endemic to the Queimada Grande island. These snakes grow to an average length of 28 inches (70 cm) but it’s known to reach 46 inches (118 cm) in maximum length.
Often, snakes stalk their prey, bite and wait for the venom to do its work before tracking the prey down again. The golden lancehead vipers on the other hand can’t track birds they bite. This caused them to evolve and develop venom that is five times more potent than any kind of mainland snakes. The venom is capable of killing any human, bird or animal almost instantly (and melting human flesh).
Because of the danger this island possesses, the Brazilian Government strictly controls visits. Even if there was no restriction by the government, it is doubtful that the island would be safe enough to visit. It is estimated that there’s a snake for every square meter in some spots of the island. Once the Golden Lanceheads venom enters a victims body, they have a mortality rate of 7%. Even with proper treatment and anti-venom, they still have a t3% chance of dying.
The snakes venom is so potent that it can cause kidney failure, necrosis of muscular tissue, brain hemorrhaging and intestinal bleeding. Only a handful of scientists and biologists are allowed to visit the island to examine and study them. Even the experts are required to have a doctor present on all legally sanctioned visits.
Although the snake island is uninhabited now, people used to live there for a short period up to until the late 1920’s when, according to legend, the local lighthouse keeper and his family were killed by vipers that slithered in through the windows. Since then the lighthouse has been automated but the Brazilian Navy makes an annual visit to the lighthouse for maintenance.
Lancehead snakes, which are the golden lanceheads’ mainland cousins, are responsible for 90% of all snake bites in Brazil. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to visit a place where a painful death lurks every few feet. Even with all the threats surrounding them, there are people who call themselves biopirates (wildlife smugglers) who risk their lives to sneak into the island and trap the Golden Lancehead Vipers. Because of the demand by scientists and animal collectors, this is a profitable business for them.
The biopirates use illegal channels to smuggle and sell these deadly snakes anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000. This has a negative impact on the island’s reptile life and vegetation. The pirates carry diseases that are unfamiliar to the isolated environment.
Scientists estimate that more than 50% of life has been diminished within the past 15 years. The snakes are currently listed as critically endangered. Although deadly, the vipers’ potent venom has been found to show potential in helping combat heart problems.