Snakes a’plenty  

National Geographic Film Crew
Meets The Golden Killer!

We were on the uninhabited mysterious Brazilian island of Queimada Grande to make a film about some incredibly venomous snakes. With our crew were scientists from Instituto Butantan, a huge venom-research facility in Sao Paulo.

I’d long wished for a trip to a deserted island—a place where I could look for miles around and see just about nothing. No humanity, no cities, only the Atlantic Ocean forever.

I got my wish, mostly. (There were a few fishing boats around, and if the day was clear I could see another island in the distance.) But we really had come to one of the most rugged places I’ve ever been.

Our boat could only come within about 150 meters (164 yards) of the island. We had to take an inflatable dinghy the rest of the way, then scramble up a sheer, rocky slope which I heard described as“slippery as snot” and which was coated with potentially hand-slicing barnacles. No beach at all on Queimada Grande.

And when we hiked up steep and bushy trails populated by nesting seabirds, we know that if we tripped, it could have been the last mistake we’d make. Thousands of deadly snakes, called golden lanceheads, were lying in wait for their next victims. I could only hope they preferred birds over people.

I’d been looking forward to camping on the island for four days, but it was hard to constantly remember that I could never let down my guard—no leaning on trees when I’m tired, no sitting on stumps after a grueling hike, no anything without examining the area first.

“There’s one right next to you—MOVE!” yelled herpetologist Brady Barr on our first long day. So what did I do? I froze. Bad idea.

Right next to me was one of the most venomous snakes in the world. It was a golden lancehead, a species that lives on Queimada Grande and nowhere else in the world.

The biggest reason the island is so deserted is that these snakes cover the island. Experts say there’s one golden lancehead here per square meter (1.2 square yards). Each golden lancehead’s venom is five times more potent that of its closest relative, the fer-de-lance, responsible for most snakebite deaths in South America.

“Which side is he on, which side, which side?” I shrieked, while I stood there, feet frozen with fear. “Just move!” Brady bellowed.

In a split second Beto, a crewmember, pulled me backward. I finally saw my would-be assassin. It was a small snake, no more than a foot (0.3 meter) long. But as I watch its lancelike head pulling back after its thwarted attempt to bite me in the waist, I realized I’d never come so close to death.

I had actually aided the camouflaged snake in its assault, just by standing there. The golden lancehead is a pit viper, so it hunts by sensing heat through little pits in the side of its face. By standing still I had made myself like a little burner, and a better target.

The whole crew faced the same danger I faced each minute we were there. We’re grateful that the remarkable images and information we gathered were worth the risk.

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