Approximately 90 miles away from Sao Paolo, Brazil is the Ilha de Queimada Grande or the “Snake Island”.
No human being can step a foot on this chunk of land off the coast of Brazil for one simple reason.
It is deadly.
Locals in Sao Paolo tell stories of people who have ventured onto snake island and never returned. Legend says a group of pirates brought the deadly snakes to the island to protect a treasure of gold.
However they got there, today snake island has the most extreme concentration of venomous snakes on earth. It is home to thousands of them.
One of the most famous is the bathrops insularis, also known as the golden lancehead. Let’s take a closer look at this magnificent serpent.
Table of Contents
- 1 Golden Lancehead (Bathrops Insularis)
- 2 What Is A Golden Lancehead?
- 3 What Does A Golden Lancehead Look Like?
- 4 How Does The Golden Lancehead Behave And Hunt Prey?
- 5 How Dangerous Are Golden Lanceheads?
- 6 Interesting Facts About The Golden Lancehead
Golden Lancehead (Bathrops Insularis)
There is a tale of a family that once lived in the lighthouse of the island during the early 1920s. The family oversaw the operation of the lighthouse to help guide ships sailing to and from South America.
The local community of Sao Paolo claims that not long after the family settled on the island, a tragic incident befell them.
Snakes found their way inside the family’s house by slithering through a window one night. The snakes bit all the family members and they died shortly after.
Rescue workers from the government ventured onto the island to look for the family, but they never returned. They likely met the same fate.
Whether there’s truth in local legends or not, one thing is for sure; people lived on the island during the early 1920s. The Brazilian navy closed the island to the public in the late 1920s. Trained navy personnel and a group of scientists conduct an annual trek.
That is the only time humans can set foot on the island. They tune up the lighthouse on the island and perform research. They study how they can use the snake’s venom in biopharmaceuticals.
The island is also a significant laboratory for scientists, researchers, and biochemists. They acquired special permission from the government to visit the island to study snake venom. The researchers capture and study the snakes, and measure and weigh each snake they capture.
They inject the snakes with a tracking serum to monitor them long-term. Afterward, they release them and send them back into the wild.
What Is A Golden Lancehead?
The golden lancehead is a venomous pit viper species. Their venom is three to five times more potent than any of the mainland snakes and contains a toxin can melt a human flesh to make it easier for the predator to ingest its prey.
Luckily for us, the only known home of the golden lancehead is Snake Island.
No humans inhabit the island, so the likelihood of encountering the snake and having our flesh melted off is unlikely. In fact, there are no officially documented cases.
Their habitat is a tropical or subtropical moist forest which consists of several kinds of habitats, including but not limited to, forests, clearings, and shrubs.
The climate is very mild, and the temperature never falls below 64 degrees Fahrenheit or climbs above 78 degrees Fahrenheit.
Golden lanceheads only reside in the island of Queimada Grande. The island is only about 43 hectares, which makes these snakes critically endangered.
What Does A Golden Lancehead Look Like?
Even though the chances of coming across a golden lancehead are low, it is important to know what they look like. An average lancehead grows to an approximate length of 28 inches, but they can grow as large as 46 inches in length.
This snake’s color pattern consists of triangular and quadrangular patches, that can be wide or constricted, and alternating or opposite.
The patterns spread across the snake’s body which is pale yellowish in color. The snake’s belly is a mixture of pale cream and yellow.
Unlike most snakes, the golden lancehead doesn’t have distinguishing stripes on its belly. When in captivity, they often turn a darker shade.
The golden lancehead has a longer tail than the bathrops jararaca (commonly known as jararaca), which is the golden lancehead’s closest relative.
There are many lancehead species and they are all referred to by the common name “lancehead.” The term refers to the well-defined and distinctive nose formation of all the bothrops genus snakes. These snakes have an elongated nose that comes to a point at the tip.
How Does The Golden Lancehead Behave And Hunt Prey?
The golden lancehead is most likely to hunt in a tree, since there are no ground-level animals they could prey on.
This snake usually targets perching birds, but it also consumes lizards and can even resort to cannibalism. Unlike other venomous snakes that tend to strike, release, and then track their prey, golden lanceheads keep their prey in their mouth once they have envenomated it.
Researchers have observed other lancehead species wagging their tails to attract prey, but the golden lancehead does not exhibit this kind of behavior.
However, considering the presence of potential prey susceptible to caudal luring, and the opportunistic nature of the golden lanceheads, it would not be surprising for them to eventually adopt this behavior.
New-born golden lanceheads and juvenile snakes usually hunt invertebrates. The situation changes when the weather is unfavorable or if they have ingested prey. In these case, golden lanceheads usually hide under a rock for shelter.
How Dangerous Are Golden Lanceheads?
The golden lancehead is a very venomous snake, but there is no recorded bite from this snake as they inhabit an area which human beings don’t. Any victims that have fallen prey to these snakes most likely never make it to a hospital to be officially recorded a s a victim..
That explains why there is no official documentation of any cases. However, other lancehead species are accountable for more human deaths than any other snake in both North and South America.
Chemical analysis of the golden lancehead’s venom suggests it is the fastest acting among all lancehead species. If a golden lancehead bites you, the fatality rate is up to 7% without medication. Generally, victims die within an hour.
If you receive medication, the mortality rate goes down to 3%. Even if you ingest anti-venom right away, there’s still a chance you could die.
The effects of lancehead venom include blood blisters, nausea and vomiting, blood in the vomit and urine, kidney failure, brain hemorrhage, pain and swelling, bruising, intestinal bleeding and severe necrosis of muscular tissue.
The golden lancehead possesses a hemotoxic venom that softens the flesh and dissolves tissue to help it digest prey.
Interesting Facts About The Golden Lancehead
- Mating season happens between August and September. Sexually mature golden lanceheads mate in the ground or in the trees.
- A newborn golden lancehead is about the size of an average Jararaca, which is about 10 inches in length.
- During breeding, they can produce between 2 to 10 live young. Due to interbreeding, some of them are born with both male and female parts and are unable to breed.
- There have been several research studies trying to find out where the snakes came from. It turned out that 11,000 years ago the island’s land mass was once attached to the mainland. Eventually, rising sea levels separated the island from the coast. The snakes were stuck on the island since it separated from the mainland. They have multiplied rapidly because there are no known predators on the island to prey on the snakes and eat them. The snakes that rule the island.
- There aren’t many animals on the island for the snakes to prey on either. But the snakes have an advantage, because they can hang on a tree branch and catch a bird. Their venom is capable of instantly immobilizing and killing birds. Migratory birds use the island as a pit stop for their long journey. Many never leave. The snakes on the island mostly rely on birds for consumption.
Recent Updates About The Golden Lancehead
Have you ever wondered if one of the most venomous snakes in the world can be as beneficial as it is dangerous?
Research on the snake’s venom has shown that it has the possibility to be a cure for heart disease. It could also help maintain healthy circulation and blood clots. Snake venom from other species has also shown the potential for curing cancer.
Good news for us, but bad news for Bathrops Insularis.
The IUCN Red List classified golden lanceheads as critically endangered. This is due to several reasons.
The main reason and the main threat to the animal is habitat destruction. Another threat to the future of this species is the relatively high occurrence of “intersexes”. This refers to the snakes that are born with both male and female sexual parts that are incapable of reproduction.
The final reason is demand.
Scientists and animal collectors are willing to purchase golden lanceheads at a very high price. Some wildlife smugglers have illegally snuck into the island to catch some species. A single golden lancehead costs between 10,000 USD to 30,000 USD on the black market, depending on its size and health.
Since the black-market demand has risen, the population of snakes in Snake Island has decreased by 15% in the last 15 years. That is why it is now critically endangered.
For more interesting snake facts, follow that link.