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Off Limits: The land Where Snakes Rule


The Ilha Queimada Grande. This island located off the southeastern shores of Brazil and nicknamed Snake Island, doesn’t bear that nickname for no reason.

Quite small in size, uninhabited and bearing a lighthouse to warn sailors away, the Ilha Queimada Grande which was once part of the Brazilian mainland, has what is no doubt, the largest concentration of venomous snakes.

Brazilian lore has it the snakes were brought by pirates to protect their treasure.

Actually, rising sea levels created this island by submerging the land adjoining it to the main land, in the process cutting it off and … gasp … trapping snakes on the island.

Ilha de Queimada (Image: JOAO MARCOS ROSA /NITRO)

Once trapped the snakes learned to adapt to their environment, get and stay on top of the food chain, and multiply like crazy. Yes, snakes on the beach sand, snakes on the rocks, snakes in the trees, snakes under the trees, snakes hidden under the fallen leaves, snakes in the lighthouse …

And oh, that lighthouse. It was constructed in 1909 but the family operating it was found dead in the 1920s. Snakes! Snakes! The lighthouse is now automated.

The Ilha Queimada Grande is about 430,000 square metres in area. It is said that the island is home to just as many snakes – one snake per square metre! If all the snakes were spread evenly on the available land, there would be no space for any creature to stand without being in range for a snakebite.

But that’s no news. As it stands already, you’ll most likely come near or startle a snake every few steps if you’re brave or crazy enough to venture there.

The number of snakes on the island is disputed and the population of 430,000 is believed by some to be an overestimation. But one thing is certain – the number of snakes and the toxicity of their venom compelled the Brazilian Navy to close the island to the public. Only the navy and approved researchers visit it on rare occasions.

The Golden Lancehead viper (Image: zoopets)

Among the tangles of venomous snakes inhabiting Snake Island is the golden lancehead (Bothrops insularis), a venomous pit viper that is considered critically endangered and which cannot be found anywhere else.

Oh look! A venomous cannibalistic viper protected for being critically endangered.

Who cares?

Well, at least they are isolated where they need to be and off limits.


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