World’s Deadliest Island — Ilha da Queimada Grande (Snake Island)

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2 min readJul 10, 2020

Snake Island may not have human habitats, but what earned the island its name is its resident snake population that is of incredibly high density. It is estimated that for every one meter squared, there lives at least one snake.

The mysterious island is also known as Ilha da Queimada Grande, and it is in fact so dangerous to set foot there that Brazil has made it illegal for anyone to visit. The danger on the island comes in the form of the golden lancehead snakes — a species of pit viper and one of the deadliest serpents in the world.

Home to an estimated 4,000 venomous lancehead vipers, this is considered one of the worlds’ deadliest islands.

The lancehead genus of snakes is responsible for 90 percent of Brazilian snakebite-related fatalities. The golden lanceheads that occupy Snake Island grow to well over half a meter long, and they possess a powerful fast-acting venom that melts the flesh around their bites.

Since the island vipers had no prey but birds, they evolved to have extra-potent venom so that they could almost immediately kill any bird. Local birds are too savvy to be caught by the many predators that inhabit Ilha da Queimada Grande and the snakes instead rely on birds who visit the island to rest as food.

Rumour has it a hapless fisherman landed onto the island in search of bananas — only to be discovered days later in his boat, dead in a pool of blood, with snake bites on his body. From 1909 to the 1920s, a few people did live on the island, in order to run its lighthouse. But according to another local tale, the last lighthouse keeper, along with his entire family, died when a cadre of snakes slithered into his home through the windows.

The other story is of the final lighthouse operator and his family. One night, a handful of snakes enter through a window and attack the man, his wife, and their three children. In a desperate gambit to escape, they flee towards their boat, but they are bitten by snakes on branches overhead.

Visiting the island is illegal, immensely risky, and requires permission from the Brazilian navy. Anti-venom is located in São Paulo‘s Butantã Institute, 150 kilometers away, so a bite can be fatal. The institute has golden lanceheads for milking and research purposes so they can be seen up close and personal there, yet with a welcome, safety glass in between.

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