Ilha da Queimada Grande, Brazil

Ilha da Queimada Grande

Fantasy Island? Not so much!

Oh it is a common fantasy.  Many persons dream of retiring to, or just visiting a small tropical island where they can get away from it all, and just enjoy the beauty that nature has to offer in such places.  If someone ever landed here dreaming such dreams, on the island of Ilha da Queimada Grande, they surely died that very day, and likely in a very awful, horrifying, and exceedingly traumatic way.

This island is no fantasy island, it is a death trap.  A place quarantined by the navy of Brazil, the nation that the island belongs to.  A biologist was said to have said that there, on the Ilha da Queimada Grande, one is NEVER more than three foot from death.  Once upon a time there were dreams of making the island into a banana plantation.  In fact, the name "queimada" refers to the clearing of land for agriculture.  I'd imagine no one who attempted to even begin with it there lasted long at all. Specifically, the word "queimada" means "burned," in Portuguese.  The island could simply be called "the great burned island."  It's not burned, however, as the land was never cleared for bananas; and it very likely never will be. 

What IS the problem?  Oh not much.  Just the highest density of venomous pit vipers in the world, that's all.

Bothrops insularis, The Golden Lancehead Viper

Bothrops insularis, The Golden Lancehead Viper

The Golden Lancehead Viper, Bothrops insularis

In Latin, the name "Bothrops," which is the genus of several species of terribly nasty snakes, means "pit face."  The genus Bothrops is all about pit vipers, and these are all American pit vipers, just not the kind of pit vipers that present themselves on the rare occasion inside the United States of America.  In places in Mexico, however, one could become so unlucky as to run into the Bothrops asper.  Don't get me wrong, the American rattlesnakes are deadly snakes for sure, and a water moccasin can also very much kill you dead; but it's just plain fact these South American pit vipers, well, they make ours look kinda weak.

If you look at the head of the golden fer de lance snake pictured up above, you can see he, she, or it has a decidedly upturned nose.  The upturned nose, and the  large head are hallmarks of the Bothrops genus.  Of course the other hallmark of these snakes is the deadly venom.  The Bothrops genus of snake is responsible for more snakebite fatalities than any other kinds of snakes in the Americas.

Now all that talk about the golden fer de lance, and the great burnt island up above is all true.  This is one super deadly snake.  The thing is, no human is KNOWN to have ever been bitten by one.  In other words, there is no record of it.  Of all the many genus Bothrops snakebite fatalities that happen per year in the Americas, the most of them are due to either the much larger Bothrops asper, or the Bothrops atrox

Why is it these golden fer de lance vipers have no known human victims?  Well, simply put, they are highly endangered snakes, in fact, they pretty much ONLY live on the great burnt island.  Back to the idea of making a banana farm out of the place; terrific idea, but it would wipe out an endangered species.  Brazil is already into that, with their hideous Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, if and when it is built, it will destroy several hundred species of fish, and nobody even really knows what all else.

So anyway, where exactly is this great burned island full of snakes?  I wish to avoid the place.

Great question, the island is located a few hundred miles South of Rio de Janeiro, but is only fifteen to twenty miles off the coast from Sao Paolo.  No one is allowed there at all outside of approved scientist and military persons.  No one on a small boat should ever worry about accidentally visiting the island, a bunch of men with guns in a big boat will surely let you know about how you're not supposed to be there, before you ever got there.

So dude, everyone knows there must have been a lighthouse and a lighthouse keeper on the island once, Brazil couldn't have just had let ships run the risk of running into the small rocky snake filled place!

Absolutely right.  Legend has it there was a lighthouse keeper and his family who lived on the great burned island once, and they ran from the place, fleeing as fast as they could when the snakes came in through their home's windows.  Their bodies were found later on by Navy personnel who'd came to deliver them supplies.  Yes, I recognize this bit of trivia contradicts what was said earlier about there being no record of anyone bitten by these snakes. That information was gleaned from Wikipedia, here's a source for the story of the lighthouse[1].

There is another unconfirmed story about a fisherman who stopped once to quickly go pick some bananas.  He was bitten, and made it back to his boat.  His body was found bloodless, he'd bled out completely.  I suppose no conclusive autopsies were done on either the fisherman, or the lighthouse keeper's family; perhaps the corpses were too old, or the venom biodegraded to where such obvious causes of death can't be absolutely proved.  These golden lanceheads only grow to be about two feet long, and this is small when compared to other Bothrops genus snakes such as the Bothrops asper, but even the small ones can inject enough venom to kill two large adults in each bite.  Thanks for reading, and stay the hell away from the great burned island of Brazil.

The Golden Lancehead, Ready To Strike

Bothrops insularis