Archive for February, 2015

Hello, and welcome back to Horrific Animals of the World, which sadly has not been updated for a while due to to utterly unforeseeable circumstances that were totally beyond my control.

Yes, I forgot. If you depend on this blog for a simulation of actual human companionship, then I’m very sorry.

Anyway, I hope you all had a good Christmas, filled with fun, friends, family, food and, possibly, fire, depending on whether or not you spent your Christmas on a remote, Scottish island which worships a dark and forbidden monolith. But isn’t that the real spirit of Christmas? Getting together, eating together, and of course capturing the Outsider lured to the Island together? Materialism is all very well and good, but all the presents in the world cannot compare to the simple joy of spending time together at Christmas.

“The Monolith Sees All and Knows All” and “Casting Unknowable Shadows Over Our Souls” are just two of my favourite carols. Imagecredit – photographyblackwhite.com

Anyway, talking (possibly) about remote islands which may or may not appear on official maps, today we are going to discuss Bothrops insularis.

No, that isn’t the name of the island. The island is called Ilha da Queimada Grande, which is in Brazil. Its name means, according to the online translator I just ran that name through, ‘Burned the Big Island’, or, slightly less literally, the Big Burned Island. Or perhaps the Great Charred Island. Or something along those lines, anyway.

And already, its starting to sound slightly ominous, isn’t it? You don’t make a daytrip to the Forbidden Zone, you don’t backpack across the City of Shades, and it is probably a bad idea to take a boat to any place which overtly refers to the fact that it is, in fact, charred.

But a flyover of the island makes it all look rather lovely. So why is it, apparently, blocked off by the Brazilian navy to all but a few specially chosen scientists? One possible explanation is that scientists have used their grant money to bribe the navy, so they can hold decadent, luxurious parties with rum, hookers and cocaine (otherwise known as a ‘Conferences’) on a lovely beach.

There is absolutely nothing suspicious about that deserted lighthouse. Imagecredit: Wikimedia

The more likely explanation, though, is that the island is – literally – crawling with Bothrops insularis, also known as the Golden Lancehead Viper.

If you are reading this on the aforementioned island, there is an actual snake blocking your view of this snake right now. Imagecredit: Wikimedia

B. insularis is a member of the Crotalinae, better known as the Pit Vipers. Pit Vipers have, as their name suggest, strange ‘pits’ on either side of their heads between the eyes and the nostrils. These ‘Pits’ actually function as, basically, infra-red detectors – in effect, they can ‘see’ heat, much as our eyes can see light. This, of course, allows the Pit Vipers to hunt in almost total darkness. These are extremely sensitive – the organs are capable of detecting differences in temperature as little as 0.1 degrees centigrade.

This is probably not a good time to mention that the Crotalinae include, amongst others, rattlenakes and lanceheads. The latter group of snakes (properly called Bothrops) is found in Central and South America – the largest being over two metres long. The female of Borthrops asper, for instance, can be over eight feet long. B. asper is also described as ‘excitable’, ‘fast moving’, ‘irritable’ and ‘frequently found within human dwelling’; none of which are words you want to here associated with ‘giant, venomous snake which can hunt in the dark’. It is also rather venomous; a bite can lead to uncontrollable bleeding, flesh around the wound dying and heart problems.

The venom of most Crotalinae species includes relatively few neurotoxins, unlike the venoms of a lot of other animals. Instead, it mostly consists of various proteinases, including haemotoxins and myotoxins. These substances cause various tissues – including blood and muscle – to break apart, leading to all manner of rather horrible effects. In the wild, these snakes will often bite their prey and then track it, waiting for it to expire from shock, blood loss, haemorrhaging, or paralysis. However, the effect of these bites, although very severe, are often localised to the immediate site of the bite. However, the flesh around the bite can be so badly affected that amputation is often the best remedy, and people have suffered long term ill effects from a bite, including, oddly, memory loss – although that may become more understandable once you realise most people prefer not to recall snake attacks.

What an angry Bothrops Asper can do to you. Imagecredit: wikimedia

The Golden Lancehead is a member of this family of snakes, and is often said to be the most venomous of all of them. This snake is only found on the aforementioned Great Burned Island Which Is Also Full of Awful Snakes Which Is Actually, Come to Think Of It, More Important Information Than Saying The Island Is Burned When It Actually Is Not* (as I have decided, just now, to call it) but what it lacks for in range (the island itself is barely 43 hectares in size) it more than makes up for in numbers – some have suggested there could be as many as 40,000 exceedingly venomous snakes on this one island.

* or Grande Holocausto Island, que também é cheio de terríveis serpentes que é na verdade, se pensarmos bem, Mais Informações Importantes de se dizer que a ilha é queimado quando, na verdade, ele não é, in Portuguese. Possibly.

As the name suggests, the Golden Lancehead is a nice yellow-brown colour – which, as has been established before, it never a good sign in nature. Darker brown patches or bands allow the snake to more easily camouflage itself in undergrowth. The snake gives birth to live young, and they can grow to be as long as a metre long. They can be found in both trees and on the ground, and suddenly it makes sense why there are no large mammals on this island. The snakes are believed to feed mostly on birds, which could explain why their venom is so powerful. Since these snakes have not, oh thank you God and All the Saints in Heaven, learned to fly (yet) their bite has to be able to bring down prey rather quickly. Thus, as well as containing the previously mentioned toxins that basically melt the flesh right off your bones, the venom is also neurotoxic. Weirdly, although there are plenty of local stories about people getting bitten by these snakes, there are no actual cases on record. If you were to get bitten, excruciating pain, vomiting of blood, internal bleeding, tissue necrosis and organ failure would be just some of the symptoms you’d experience -a long with probable paralysis and a quite high chance of death.

Bothrops insularis, seen here both before and after viciously attacking someone.

Weirdly, despite the fact that this snake can see in the dark and is extremely venomous, it is listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ – because it is only found on The Inaccurately Named Burned Island Which Is Actually Just Full of Terrifying Snakes So I Guess It is Not All Bad (or O erroneamente chamado holocausto island que é na verdade apenas cheio de terríveis serpentes, então eu acho que não é mau de todo, according to the first online translator I stumbled across). So if anything happened to this island, pretty much the entire species would be destroyed. Also, because 40,000 is actually quite a small number, inbreeding is quite common, leading to all the problems associated with that. Snakes with both male and female reproductive parts are also common; possibly, again, due to inbreeding.

In fairness, it is really hard to tell with snakes. I think this one is both a female and called Robert.

So there you have it. An island, sealed off by the Brazilian navy writhing with tens of thousands of incredibly venomous and possibly transsexual snakes, with a bite capable of making your flesh melt off your bones.

On the plus side, it probably has a nice beach. So why not go there for a lovely Valentine’s day awayday? Book a flight now, and by tomorrow you can be sunning with your lover on a beach which, assuming you have very poor eyesight, may appear to be utterly free of snakes.

As well as that most important feature of a date: plausible deniability if the breakup ends somewhat more terminally than usual.

DO NOT RELY ON THIS BLOG FOR DATING ADVICE.

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