Warning all people with ophidiophobia (an abnormal fear of snakes): This article may cause your skin to crawl. This island in Brazil is no place to visit, even if you’re not deathly afraid of snakes. Less than 100 miles away from Sao Paulo, Brazil, is Snake Island, or Ilha de Queimada Grande in Portuguese.
The island is infested with snakes and is home to one of the deadliest snakes in the world, the golden lancehead viper. Home to an estimated 4,000 venomous lancehead vipers, this is considered one of the worlds' deadliest islands.
What’s With All The Snakes?
There’s definitely folklore surrounding how the snakes made it to the island, like the story of pirates dropping snakes off there to protect their precious gold, but these are all local tales. The island actually turned into the deadly snake-inhabited place it is today around 11,000 years ago according to Smithsonian.
“Sea levels rose enough to isolate Ilha da Queimada Grande from mainland Brazil, causing the species of snakes that lived on the island -- thought to most likely be jararaca snakes -- to evolve on a different path than their mainland brethren.”
This island has been untouched by human developers and the snake population has gone wild. Due to the snakes not having any predators on the island, reproduction is easy and rapid. It has been estimated that between one and five snakes can be found per square meter on the island.
However, an Atlas Obscura piece on the island quoted biologist Marcelo Duarte, who has visited the island over 20 times. Locals told him that one to five snakes per square meter may be over exaggerated. The population is more likely at the lower end of the range, hovering around one snake per square meter. They’re still deadly, however. According to Atlas Obscura, “You’re never more than three feet away from death.”
A Victim Of The Venom?
Maybe you’re wondering just how venomous these snakes are. Well, the lancehead viper has evolved to have extremely potent venom that is “three to five times stronger than any mainland snake’s -- capable of killing most prey (and melting human flesh) almost instantly,” according to Smithsonian.
“Ninety percent of snake bites in Brazil come from lancehead snakes” according to the Smithsonian piece on Snake Island. The venom from one of these snakes can kill someone in under an hour.
One of the two horrid stories of death on the island involved a fisherman.
According to Atlas Obscura, “A fisherman unwittingly wanders onto the island to pick bananas. Naturally, he is bitten. He manages to return to his boat, where he promptly succumbs to the snake’s venom. He is found sometime later on the boat deck in a great pool of blood.”
Look To The Lighthouse
The lighthouse on the island is now automated by the Brazilian navy services. In the 1920s, the lighthouse was run by a man and his family who stayed on the island for the sole purpose of deterring people from coming ashore. This is where the second of the two horrible stories of Snake Island deaths begins.
Also from Atlas Obscura: “One night, a handful of snakes enter through a window and attack the man, his wife, and their three children. In a desperate gambit to escape, they flee towards their boat, but they are bitten by snakes on branches overhead.”
For obvious reasons, the lighthouse has remained off-limits ever since.
Who Still Goes To The Island?
We’re sure Snake Island isn’t on your list of places to visit, and with good reason. In case you ever wondered about who actually would visit, however, the Brazilian government controls who can disembark on the snake-covered Ilha da Queimada Grande.
Typically only scientists are permitted on the island. A doctor is required to accompany any visitors in case there are any potentially deadly encounters with the island’s native population.
In an interview, Duarte told Vice, “We are just scratching this universe of possibilities of venoms,” and while the snakes are terrifying, venom has shown the possibility of being able to help with heart disease, circulation, and blood clots.
The lancehead viper has been classified as critically endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. The main reason for this is because of the habitat destruction that has happened on the island. It may seem like a grand idea to just get rid of the snakes, eliminating threats to humans in the area and allowing for more usable land. This thought has crossed the minds of others. According to reporting by Snake Facts, “In the past, fires were deliberately started on the island in an attempt to eradicate the snakes so it could be used for agriculture.
Snake Facts goes on: “To maintain the lighthouse on the island, the Brazilian Navy has also contributed to habitat destruction by the removal of vegetation. The species was also plagued by over-harvesting from scientists.”
With Ilha da Queimada Grande being such a small spot, and the sole place where these snakes live in the wild, only a limited population can thrive. The snakes have become inbred, which leads to some being born with both male and female parts. This produces sterile snakes, meaning the species has been experiencing difficulty repopulating healthfully.
In addition to scientists who venture to Snake Island under the auspices of the Brazilian government, wildlife smugglers have also been known to visit the island to trap the rare snakes and sell them illegally. A golden lancehead viper can sell for $10,000 to $30,000.
Are you squirming with terror yet? No worries, luckily there are still safe and beautiful islands that you can travel to right off the coast of Brazil. In fact, Ilha Bela, which translates to beautiful island, is a popular island off the coast of Sao Paolo where you can enjoy clear water and breathtaking beaches!
After more (but less dangerous) creepy crawlies? Go inside the Insectarium: Montreal’s crazy, creepy, cool attraction.