The mysterious island is known as Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as“Snake Island”. Ilha da Queimada Grande. People are strictly forbidden from visiting the ‘Snake Island’ off the Brazilian coast. The island is untouched by human developers for a very good reason. Researchers estimate that on the island live between one and five snakes per square meter.
The snakes on Queimada Grande, however, are a unique species of pit viper, the golden lancehead. The lanceheads can grow to be over a foot-and-a-half long and It is estimated that there are over 2,000 to 4,000 Golden Lancehead vipers on the island of Ilha da Queimada Grande.
The Golden Lancehead viper is known as one of the deadliest snakes in the world. These vipers’ venom can kill a person in under an hour and they possess a powerful fast-acting venom that melts the flesh around their bites.
Numerous local legends tell of the horrible fates that awaited those who wandered onto the shores of “Snake Island.” Rumor 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.
According to Business Insider, the story is that pirates buried their treasure on the island and to keep it safe, they put the venomous snakes on the island, so no one could take it.
In reality, the vipers’ presence is the result of rising sea levels – a less exciting origin story than paranoid pirates to be sure, but still interesting. Snake Island used to be part of Brazil’s mainland, but when sea levels rose over 10,000 years ago, it separated the landmass and turned it into an island.
Snakes that were stranded on the island were able to multiply rapidly, since there were no ground-level predators on the island.There weren’t many ground-level prey animals either.
Golden lancehead venom is extra-powerful because the snakes eat mostly migrating birds that use Ilha da Queimada Grande as a stopover. The snakes strike their prey and wait for the toxins to take effect — but the venom has to be super fast-acting so the birds don’t fly away before the snakes have a chance to feast on them. Golden lancehead venom contains a comprehensive cocktail of toxins: neurotoxins (which affect the nervous system), hemotoxins (which target the blood), bungarotoxins (which paralyze the muscles) and cytotoxins (which annihilate cells). The golden lancehead basically incapacitates its prey while melting the prey’s flesh in order to make it easier to swallow.
There are no fatality statistics of the golden lanceheads (since the only area they inhabit is cut off from the public), however someone bitten by a regular lancehead faces a seven percent chance of death if untreated. Treatment does not even guarantee a lancehead bite victim will be saved: there is still a 3 percent mortality rate.
Scientists have said that the venom of the Golden Lancehead can be used to make medicine.A study done has shown that the venom can be used for pharmaceutical purposes, giving more of a reason to study the snakes and see if their venom can help, as the Golden Lancehead’s venom has already shown promise in helping with heart disease, circulation and blood clots.
Snake venom from other species has also shown potential as an anti-cancer drug.
Researchers aren’t the only ones with a vested interest in the snakes on Snake Island.Because of black market demand by scientists and animal collectors, wildlife smugglers, known as biopirates, have been known to visit Ilha da Queimada Grande, too. They trap the snakes and sell them through illegal channels—a single golden lanceheads can go for anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000.