SNAKE IS­LAND

BRAZIL, AT­LANTIC OCEAN

iD magazine - - Current Events -

DEADLY ROCKS

About 20 miles off the coast of Brazil lies an is­land called Ilha da Queimada Grande, which is home to thou­sands of golden lance­head vipers: ag­gres­sive ven­omous snakes that can be up to 3 feet long (small photo).

WHERE CAN A SIN­GLE STEP BE FA­TAL?

He and his fam­ily had been warned… But one evening the air in the light­house had just got­ten too stuffy. Once the light­house keeper and his wife put their three chil­dren to bed, he opened the win­dow so at least a lit­tle of the At­lantic wind could flow into the build­ing. A fa­tal mis­take. A few hours later sev­eral snakes slither through the win­dow and sneak into the beds of the five in­hab­i­tants— and bite them. Awak­ened by th­ese painful bites, the fam­ily flees into the open air in a panic. But the snakes are ev­ery­where, slith­er­ing out from the bushes and even fall­ing out of the trees. All five of the fam­ily mem­bers die be­fore reach­ing the beach. They’re not the first to lose their lives here. Queimada Grande, lo­cated 20 miles off the coast of the Brazil­ian main­land, is home to the golden lance­head viper— a very deadly species of snake. Lance­head venom is five times stronger than the venom of the other Brazil­ian snake species. Up to five of th­ese snakes live on ev­ery square me­ter of the is­land, and ex­perts think there may be 4,000 of them in to­tal. They are the undis­puted rulers of “Snake Is­land.” But how did this dom­i­nance come about? More than 10,000 years ago the is­land was still con­nected to the Brazil­ian main­land. Ris­ing sea lev­els had cut off part of the coast, and the res­i­dent snakes re­mained on the is­land. In­stead of grad­u­ally dy­ing out they were able to adapt to the re­al­i­ties of the is­land by mul­ti­ply­ing rapidly and de­vel­op­ing venom deadly enough to kill mi­grat­ing birds in sec­onds. Tres­pass­ing on this is­land is strictly pro­hib­ited, and only two groups of peo­ple are al­lowed to risk the po­ten­tially fa­tal voy­age: re­searchers with a spe­cial per­mit and the Brazil­ian navy, mem­bers of which must take an an­nual trip to the is­land to ser­vice the light­house (which has been au­to­mated since the death of the last keeper).

24.4879° S 46.6742° W

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