What is Snake Island and Where is it Located?

Snake island is possibly the most dangerous place in the world. Situated on the coast of Brazil, the island officially called Ilha da Queimada Grande is two square kilometers piece of firm soil full of deadly snakes. Besides numerous serpents, it is encircled by sharks from the Atlantic ocean. According to Sao Paulo locals, only a few have dared to travel there on their own and even fever people have managed to survive it.

Map showing where is snake island - 90 miles east from Sao Paulo

Snake Island Position

Why Is Snake Island so Dangerous?

The name of the island says it all. This little chunk of earth is inhabited by more than 4000 snakes. With having two square kilometers of surface area, simple mathematics shows that there are approximately two snakes on every single square meter. Some estimations even claim that number to be five. This implies that not a single step can be made without risking to trample one of the creatures that could easily end our life as most of the snakes are highly venomous. Amongst the inhabitants of the island is a golden lancehead viper. It is one of the deadliest snakes in the world. Its poison could kill a grown human within an hour if there would be no antidote. However, the golden lancehead viper also contains ingredients that could be used for curing heart diseases and bloodstream problems. Besides scientists observe it as an ecologically unique place on the planet, locals have their way of perceiving the island. According to them, a hidden treasure is an answer behind the mystery of the snake island.

How Did Snakes Get on The Island?

A long time ago, snake island was part of the continent. At some point, the ocean level rose and cut the piece of earth from the mainland. Land mammals that stayed eventually died out. Snakes remained trapped having to hunt and eat nothing else but birds. This circumstance explains why and how did snakes become so poisonous.

Why Are the Snakes so Poisonous?

In order to survive, they had to develop both fast and efficient venom. With land animals, it wasn’t the case as snakes could wait before the poison starts to take effect. They would follow their prey and feast upon its collapse. Birds were a whole different story. If they would choose to fly off the island before venom aking effect, they would fall in the water where snakes couldn’t reach them. That would mean starvation. Eventually, evolution did its job. Gold vipers went so far in their pursuit of survival that their poison achieved the ability to kill a bird almost instantaneously.

Golden Lancehead Bite

Golden lancehead crawling through the sand of Snake Island 90 miles south from Sao Paulo

Golden lancehead crawling through the sand of Snake Island 90 miles south from Sao Paulo.

Golden lancehead’s bite is one of the most venomous bites in the world. After being injected with poison, even with the antidote, there is a high possibility that an average human would die. The nature of venom is very specific. It burns through flesh and causes man to bleed to death. The effects of lancehead venom include local pain and swelling, nausea and vomiting. In addition to this, blood blisters, bruising, blood in the vomit and urine, intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, brain hemorrhage as well as severe necrosis of muscular tissue are also very likely to follow. Luckily, the golden lancehead can be found on no other place in the world but the snake island. As for their way of living, most of the time they spend seeking shelter or lurking from the trees. There, on the branches, they wait for birds to land down. Golden lanceheads are small in size. They tend to grow between 70 and 120 cm. Their skin is the yellowish-brown ground color which, when combined with small size, makes them very hard to spot.

People Who Visit the Snake Island

Lighthouse on the top of the snake island maintained by Brazilian navy.

Lighthouse on the top of the snake island maintained by the Brazilian navy.

Due to all these facts, the Brazilian government made the island of the limits for the general population. In order to go there, people need special permissions which are rarely issued and most of the time reserved for the scientific research teams. Besides them, the Brazilian navy has to visit the island from time to time in order to keep the automated lighthouse on its top working. Yet there are people besides scientists and authorities that find the island suitable for their needs.

Smugglers on the Snake Island

Animal smugglers as well as biopirates used this island to facilitate their illicit dealings. Many illegal productions regarding pharmacy are taking place all over the jungles of Brazil. Snake Island was no exception until scientists and environmentalists started fighting for the protection of the island. Butantan institute had a prominent role in this movement.

Why is Snake Island so Important to Scientists?

From the time after world war two, Butantan institute had a leading role in developing biopharmaceuticals from snake venom. Its researches have been directly connected with the Brazilian economy as many plantation workers used to get bit by snakes. Butantan products significantly lowered the death rate of misfortunate people. Today, the institute is focused on golden lancehead’s venom. As it was already stated, it contains substances useful in treating heart diseases and circulation problems. However, according to claims of leading Butantan researches, these features are what was acknowledged by only scratching the surface of the topic. The venom of golden lanceheads could prove to be of immeasurable value for things we didn’t even start to comprehend at the moment. Due to these facts, the Butantan institute considers protecting the natural integrity of the island for a high priority.

Biopirates Effect on the Island

After acknowledging the potential value of golden lanceheads it is easy to understand why the island is the target of so many animal smugglers. On the black market, a single golden viper is worth from $10 000 to $30 000. Most of the time, natives are acquirers for the buyers from other continents. Allegedly, the greatest demand comes from the U.S. and Europe. Illicit dealings of animal smugglers have halved the number of snakes on the island. This means that the golden lancehead’s existence is seriously jeopardized. With the extinction of the specie, cures for numerous diseases could be lost for good which is why Butantan institute is putting a lot of pressure on the government to act and protect the island as much as possible.

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