If the mere mention of snakes makes you uneasy, you might want to skip this post. If you’re a bird enthusiast, you might also find this story unsettling. Today, we delve into the enigma of small islands off the Brazilian coast, where isolation and evolution have produced an almost perfect bioweapon—a snake capable of luring its avian prey into a false sense of security before delivering a venom so potent it could allegedly dissolve human flesh. Welcome to the islands of Queimada Grande, better known as Snake Island.

A Forbidden Paradise

Located 35 kilometers off the coast of Itanhaém, not far from São Paulo, Brazil, Queimada Grande and its smaller sibling, Queimada Pequena, form a part of an ecologically relevant area under the supervision of the Butantan Institute, an organization dedicated to medical and pharmaceutical research. The surrounding waters are crystal clear, inviting divers to explore marine life, including barracudas, basking sharks, flying fish, stingrays, and turtles, alongside two wrecked merchant ships.

The island’s terrain is challenging, with no beaches or coves to facilitate landing. Rocky platforms covered in silt make disembarking difficult. If you manage to get ashore, you would be greeted by 430 square kilometers of lush Atlantic Forest, home to a rich biodiversity, including a flowering plant called Basoa apicata, now extinct on the mainland but surviving on this island.

The Menacing Residents

Queimada Grande is teeming with snakes—about 15,000 of them. Most belong to the harmless, non-venomous species Dipsas albifrons, or Sage’s snail eater, which feasts on snails. The real stars of this island, however, are the golden lancehead pit vipers (Bothrops insularis), one of the most venomous snakes on the planet. Local fishermen, aware of the danger, used to set the island’s vegetation on fire to scare the snakes away, giving the island its name (Queimada means “burned” in Portuguese).

These golden lanceheads are responsible for the island’s deadly reputation. Legends abound of pirates releasing snakes to guard their treasure and tales of lighthouse keepers and fishermen meeting gruesome ends after snake encounters. However, these stories are largely myths.

The Truth Behind the Venom

Contrary to sensationalized reports, there are no confirmed human fatalities from golden lancehead bites. The Butantan Institute has conducted extensive research on these snakes, revealing fascinating details about their venom. Studies suggest that their venom has evolved to be exceptionally potent against birds, their primary prey, killing them swiftly before they can escape.

Research indicates that the venom’s toxicity, while formidable, is not necessarily more potent than that of their mainland relatives, the Bothrops jararaca. Nonetheless, the venom can cause severe symptoms, including kidney failure, muscle necrosis, brain hemorrhage, and internal bleeding.

Conservation and Scientific Value

Despite their fearsome reputation, golden lanceheads are critically endangered. The island’s isolation has led to inbreeding, habitat destruction from invasive plant species, and illegal removal of snakes by biopirates. The Butantan Institute’s research aims to protect this unique species, investigating their venom for potential medical applications, such as anticoagulants and other pharmaceuticals.

Efforts to conserve the species include innovative techniques for preserving genetic diversity, such as the short-term cold storage of semen samples for artificial insemination. These measures are vital for ensuring the survival of this extraordinary snake.


Q: How dangerous is Snake Island?

A: While the golden lancehead’s venom is highly potent, there are no recorded human fatalities. The island’s inaccessibility and visitor ban reduce the risk of encounters.

Q: Can the venom of the golden lancehead dissolve human flesh?

A: The venom is extremely toxic and can cause severe symptoms, but the idea of it dissolving flesh is an exaggeration. It can cause significant tissue damage, however.

Q: Why is Snake Island off-limits to visitors?

A: To protect both humans and the snakes. The island’s ecosystem is fragile, and unauthorized visits could harm the snake population and the habitat.

Q: What is the Butantan Institute’s role in Snake Island’s ecosystem?

A: The Butantan Institute conducts research on the island’s snakes, exploring their venom’s properties and working on conservation efforts to protect the endangered golden lancehead.

Q: Are there any successful conservation efforts for the golden lancehead?

A: Yes, conservation efforts include habitat preservation, research on assisted reproductive technologies, and measures to prevent illegal removal of the snakes.


Snake Island is a place shrouded in mystery and legend, yet its true story is one of scientific intrigue and conservation. The sensationalist tales of a deadly paradise mask the reality of a fragile ecosystem that needs protection. By understanding and preserving the unique biodiversity of Queimada Grande, we can unlock potential medical breakthroughs and safeguard this remarkable species for future generations.

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By Ryan Hite

Ryan Hite is an American author, content creator, podcaster, and media personality. He was born on February 3, 1993, in Colorado and spent his childhood in Conifer, Colorado. He moved to Littleton in 2000 and spent the remainder of his schooling years in the city. Upon graduation from Chatfield Senior High School in 2011, he attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. He graduated from the university in 2015 after studying Urban Planning, Business Administration, and Religious Studies. He spent more time in Colorado in the insurance, real estate, and healthcare industries. In 2019, he moved to Las Vegas, NV, where he continued to work in healthcare, insurance, and took his foray into media full time in 2021. His first exposure to the media industry came as a result of the experiences he had in his mid to late teens and early twenties. In 2013, he was compelled to collect a set of stories from his personal experiences and various other writings that he has had. His first book, a 365,000-word epic, Through Minds Eyes, was published in collaboration with Balboa Press. That initial book launched a media explosion. He learned all that he could about creating websites, marketing his published works, and would even contemplate the publication of other works as well. This book also inspired him to create his philosophy, his life work, that still influences the values that he holds in his life. Upon graduating college, he had many books published, blogs and other informative websites uploaded, and would embark on his continued exploration of the world of marketing, sales, and becoming an influencer. Of course, that did not come without challenges that would come his way. His trial-and-error approach of marketing himself and making himself known guided him through his years as a real estate agent, an insurance agent, and would eventually create a marketing plan from scratch with a healthcare startup. The pandemic did not initially create too many challenges to the status quo. Working from home did not affect the quality of his life. However, a series of circumstances such as continued website problems, social media shutdowns, and unemployment, caused him to pause everything between late 2020 and mid-2021. It was another period of loss of momentum and purpose for his life as he tried to navigate the world, as many people may have felt at that time. He attempted to find purpose in insurance again, resulting in failure. There was one thing that sparked his curiosity and would propel him to rediscover the thing that was gone from his life for so long. In 2021, he started his journey by taking on a full-time job in the digital media industry, an industry that he is still a part of today. It was at this point that he would also shut down the rest of the media that he had going at the time. In 2023, he announced that he would be embarking on what has become known as PROJECT30. This initiative will result in the reformation of websites, the reinvigoration of social media accounts, the creation of a Youtube channel and associated podcast, the creation of music, and the continued rediscovery of his creative potential. Unlike past projects, the purpose of this would not expound on the musings of a philosophy, the dissemination of useless news and articles, or the numerous attempts to be someone that he was not. This project is going to be about his authentic self. There are many ways to follow him as he embarks on this journey. Most of all, he wants everyone to be entertained, informed, and, in some ways, maybe a little inspired about the flourishing of the creativity that lies within the mind and soul of Ryan.

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