Snake Island: A Place That I Will Never Set Foot On

In this part of Canada the only snakes we have are harmless garter and green snakes. However, here in Manitoba we do have the Narcisse Snake Pits, see below. Although harmless, when I stumble upon a snake, I still jump and my heart rate goes up 50 percent. I can’t imagine being in a place infested with killer vipers.

Ilha da Queimada Grande, The Snake Island 

 

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Ilha da Queimada Grande, nicknamed Snake Island, is a 430,000-square-meter island located about 33 km off the coast of the state of São Paulo, Brazil. The island is home to a variety of snakes including an endemic species called the Golden Lancehead Viper (Bothrops insularis), which is one of the most venomous snakes in the world. According to a 2015 estimate, there are between two and four thousand snakes on the island, which equates to an average of one snake per 75 square meters over the entire island. Exaggerated claims suggest there are as many as five snakes per square km. Local folklore is also filled with stories of horrible deaths suffered by those who wandered onto the shores including that of a fisherman who landed onto the island in search of bananas, and the family of a lighthouse keeper who lived there.

 

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Hope this guy has heavy boots and Kevlar pants.

Officially, there never has been any report of a human being bitten by the golden lancehead viper, so the toxicity of its venom on humans couldn’t be tested, but other lanceheads are responsible for more human morbidity and deaths than any other group of snakes in either North or South America. A bite from a lancehead carries a seven percent chance of death, and even with treatment, victims still have a three percent chance of dying. Death usually results from intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, hemorrhage in the brain and severe necrosis of muscular tissue. The venom actually melts flesh and tissue making it easier for the snake to digest. Tests have found that the venom of the golden lancehead viper is the fastest acting in the genus Bothrops.

The snakes on Queimada Grande were originally the same species as those on the mainland, when the island and the mainland were a connected landmass. Between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago when the sea level rose, Queimada Grande was isolated from mainland Brazil and the snake population was marooned. With no small mammals to hunt, the snakes adapted to life to the trees because their main source of food were the birds that passed over the island on their migration. The islanders learned to hold it high in the trees by the tail, and pluck birds who rested on the branches. Their venom also evolved to become five times more potent as that of their brethren on mainland. This was required to kill the birds faster, otherwise they would fly away. When there are no passing birds, they filled themselves with lizards, centipedes, slugs and frogs.

The island is currently off-limits to human, and the Brazilian government strictly controls who visits the island and when. Visitors are mostly biologists and researchers, who are granted special permission to visit the island in order to study the golden lanceheads. The Brazilian navy does make an annual stop on the island for maintenance of the lighthouse, which, since the 1920s, has been automated.

Despite the dangers, wildlife smugglers sneak into the island to trap the golden lanceheads which fetch a high price in the black market.

 

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Mean looking SOB

 

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Family photo

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Bush whacker

 

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This is one badass serpent

The Narcisse Snake Pits are located 6 km north of the rural settlement of Narcisse in the province of Manitoba in Canada. Fifty kilometres north of Winnipeg. These pits harbour the largest concentration of Red-sided Garter Snakes in the world. During winter, the snakes hibernate inside subterranean caverns formed by the area’s water-worn limestone bedrock. Shortly after the snow melts in late April and early May, tens of thousands of these snakes slip out of their limestone dens and hang out on the surface of the ground performing their mating rituals in great tangled heaps.

 

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The male snakes are usually the first to awaken from the long winter hibernation and reach the surface where they wait patiently for the females to come out. As the females slither out of the caves, the males pounce on the helpless females eager to mate with them. As many as 50 or more males attack a single female forming a writhing, moving “mating ball” of snakes. These massive snake balls are everywhere – on ledges, tree limbs, on plants and on the ground. Some mating balls slowly roll down rocks like tangled balls of twine. Professor Mason, a professor of zoology from Oregon State University estimated that there were 35,000 snakes at one pit alone and more than 250,000 in the general area.

There are four active snake dens at the Narcisse Wildlife Management Area. The dens are connected by a three-kilometer self-guiding interpretive trail. Tourists come from all over the world to view this spectacle from observation platforms built next to the dens, as do many scientists to study these non-venomous creatures.

The population of red-sided garter snakes around Narcisse was roughly 70,000 until terrible weather in 1999 killed tens of thousands of them before they could reach their winter dens. This tragedy triggered concern about the snakes’ biannual migratory path, which cuts right across Highway 17. Every year, ten thousand snakes trying to get to or from their winter dens had been crushed under the wheels of vehicles. This had not been a problem before, because the vast population compensated for the losses. After the winter of 1999, however, the population of garter snakes was dangerously low, causing Manitoba Hydro and volunteers to intervene.

Foot-high snow fences were built to force snakes into 15-cm tunnels that went under Highway 17. Since some snakes still managed to squeeze under the fence and onto the road, signs were put up during the migratory season urging motorists to slow down to avoid accidentally driving over snakes. These measures worked, and now less than a thousand snakes per season are killed on the highway.

 

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Even though I live near this place, I’m never going anywhere even close to those pits.

 

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