Brazil is often presented as a country of records. Everything takes on an unexpected and disproportionate dimension. A Brazilian island was named the most dangerous island in the world by the Smithonian mag snake-infested-island-deadliest-place-brazil.
Located 40 nautical miles from the Paulist seaside resort of Itanhaem, Queimada Grande Island is home to a surprising density of Jararaca Ilhoa (bothrops insularis or lachetis insularis), known by French-speaking herpetologists as the golden spearhead. More than 5,000 potentially lethal venom snakes await visitors.
Beyond the exceptional density of bothrops insularis, it is their remarkable adaptation to their environment that is the subject of interest for researchers at the Brazilian Institute for Butantan Serum Research. This subspecies has indeed developed an extremely powerful venom to prevent the only prey available on the island, seabirds, from escaping them after being bitten. The island of Queimada Grande was isolated from the mainland by a sea-level rise 11,000 years ago. Since then, the island’s bothrops have had to become partly arboreal in order to approach birds. The increasing power of the venom, after a long process of evolution, will allow them to survive. The birds are struck by lightning on site after being bitten and do not fall into the sea in a final survival reflex. Closed to any visit, controlled by the Brazilian Navy, only herpetologists from the Butantan Institute of Sao Paulo have access to the island to carry out their serological research. In medicine, venom molecules have increasingly important applications in cardiology. A miracle cure for high blood pressure has emerged from the work of researchers at this institute. For these reasons and because some collectors are willing to put a price on it, traffickers venture out on the island to capture snakes that they can sell for $20 or $30,000, at the risk of endangering a species whose interest is immense for medicine and understanding the evolution of species.