Ilha de Queimada Grande (Snake Island)
Nicknamed Snake Island, is a 430,000-square-metre (110-acre) island off the coast of the state of Sao Paolo, Brazil. It is home to a species of fer-de-lance, the Golden Lancehead (Bothrops insularis), which is one of the most venomous snakes in the world; local legend claims that there are five snakes to every square metre, while a documentary on the Discovery Channel says that in some places there are as many as one snake per square metre. The Golden Lancehead is the only species of snake on the island, yet is considered in danger of extinction since it has no other habitat, and might be wiped out by wildfire. Plans to build a banana plantation on the island fizzled, and, for a long time, the island’s only inhabitant was a lighthouse keeper. Currently, the Brazilian Navy bans civilians from the island, though scientists sometimes receive waivers.
Locals in the coastal towns near Queimada Grande love to recount two grisly tales of death on the island. In one, a fisherman unwittingly wanders onto the island to pick bananas. Naturally, he is bitten. He manages to return to his boat, where he promptly succumbs to the snake’s venom. He is found some time later on the boat deck in a great pool of blood.
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.
Marcelo Duarte, a biologist who has visited Snake Island over twenty times, says that the locals’ claim of one to five snakes per square meter is an exaggeration, though perhaps not by much. One snake per square meter is more like it. Not that that should ease one’s mind: At one snake per meter, you’re never more than three feet away from death.