Herp Queries: Snake Island Brazil
Question: Does a small island exist in the Amazon that’s got so many deadly snakes that you can’t even walk without getting bitten?
Jose Palaez, Raymondville, Texas
Answer: Surely, you’re referring to the small island of Quiemada Grande (a.k.a. Snake Island), located about 100 miles off the lower east coast of Brazil. It’s not in the Amazon River, but rather, in the Atlantic Ocean. Bothrops insularis is the one endemic snake species living there, and its venom is considered particularly virulent. The “facts” spewed by popular TV shows generally end with that statement.
The golden lancehead pit viper is native to Quiemada Grande, aka Snake Island.
In a drive to raise sensationalism to new heights, the ratings-driven mass media need to entice potential viewers with a “hook.” Echoing the claim of a preposterously high concentration of deadly serpents is one way to grab the public’s attention. The estimates of so many snakes existing there—as many as one per square meter (roughly one snake per every square yard) of land on the approximately 100-acre island—is so ridiculous as to be laughable to anyone with half a brain. But few television viewers critically analyze the information they’re fed. They are so busy and removed from nature that they consume and accept the junk served up as factual, never questioning the source because the information seemingly comes from a reputable network.
The reality is that Quiemada Grande is simply a remote island with one type of snake on it that has adapted to the extreme conditions to survive there. Birds are the viper’s primary prey, so a semi-arboreal lifestyle is a necessity. That kind of prey must also be incapacitated quickly upon being bitten, before it can fly off and not be found. This probably contributed to the evolution of the snake’s highly toxic venom. Check the video below for a documentary on Snake Island but beware the occasional foul language.
The Brazilian navy oversees the island and its unmanned lighthouse. Special permission must be acquired to visit, and this is apparently granted sparingly and only to legitimate researchers.
Bill Love photographs herps in nature, writes and lectures. He assists his wife, Kathy, with her business, CornUtopia, and via his company, Blue Chameleon Ventures, leads nature tours to view herps in Madagascar.