Snake Island is the deadliest place on the planet

Logan Nye
Updated onMar 25, 2024 11:38 AM PDT
Reviewed byTessa Robinson
2 minute read
Navy photo


Snake Island has the highest concentration of venomous snakes in the world. Visitors are forbidden. But the Navy isn’t.

Ilha da Queimada Grande is an island off the coast of Brazil that is more commonly known as "Snake Island" (not to be confused by the infamous Ukrainian soldier's retort of, "Russian warship, go f*** yourself" while defending "the other" Ukrainian-held Snake Island). The British navy forbids visitors to the Brazilian island due to the extremely venomous snakes that live there. With 1-5 snakes per square meter, the island has the highest concentration of venomous snakes in the world. If you think your duty station sucks, imagine going TDY to Snake Island.

In this photo: about 1500-2000 snakes and a single lighthouse. Photo: flickr/Prefeitura Municipal Itanhaé

The golden lancehead is a pit viper species that lives only on the island. Its venom is up to five times more potent than normal pit vipers living in mainland Brazil.

YouTube/Vice screengrab

The snakes are described as moving landmines, but they actually spend most of their time in trees, hunting the migratory birds that are their primary food source. Researchers believe that the island was once connected to the mainland, but rising seas cut it off. The snakes then evolved their organ-liquefying venom so that their strikes would kill the birds before the birds flew away.

A lighthouse on the island used to be manned, but was automated in the 1920s. Local legend says the change was made after a family that tended the lighthouse in 1909 awoke to a snake crawling in through the window. The family attempted to flee but was attacked by snakes in tree branches and didn't make it.

Brazilian sailors and a Vice journalist begin their ascent from the shore to the snake island lighthouse during a maintenance mission. Photo: Youtube/VICE screengrab

For the few people who are allowed onto the island, the navy orders that a doctor be present in case an anti-venom needs to be administered. A researcher interviewed by Vice said it's still highly probable that the victim will die.

Despite the Navy's attempts to keep people away, smugglers visit the island and steal the snakes which then make their way to buyers around the world. Other bio-pirates (actual term) bribe researchers and Navy sailors to get snakes for them. The going rate for the snakes in 2023 was upwards of $30,000 each.

Researchers are allowed to remove the snakes legally in order to investigate potential applications for the venom. Certain compounds in it have shown promise as drugs for heart disease, blood clots, and cancer. As the native bird population dwindles due to deforestation, scientists are on a mission to reestablish the snakes in Sao Paulo.

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YouTube, Vice



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