The Biggest and Most Deadly Snakes of the Americas
The largest poisonous snake of the Americas:
The largest poisonous snake of the Americas is the bushmaster (Lachisis muta muta) that lives in Central America, South America and Trinidad. This large snake has a fierce temperament and is one of the few snakes in the world that will actually go on the attack. It is equipped with the second-longest fangs of any snake in the world that is only exceeded by the Gaboon Viper of Central and South Africa. It has a very potent hemotoxic venom that affects the bloodstream, causing damage to the red blood cells, degeneration of the internal organs and causes extensive tissue damage at the point of the bite. The snake will strike several times in the course of an attack.
The snake's habitat is usually the deep jungles that are found where it lives. Its food is small rodents, birds, insects and other snakes. Being nocturnal in nature, the snake is particularly dangerous to humans because they can blunder onto it in the dark. The snake lays 8 to 12 eggs in the spring of the year. So deadly is their venom that even juvenile snakes are capable of delivering a fatal bite to humans.
Raymond Ditmars (1879 – 1942), the world-famous herpetologist who was based at the Bronx zoo and wrote several books about snakes and reptiles, describes an extremely harrowing experience that he had one evening at the zoo with a newly-arrived bushmaster that he was trying to put into a pen in the snake house. The snake had just arrived from South America in a large canvas bag that was thoroughly tied shut with several knotted cords. He describes this episode in the book “Snakes of the World.”
After he had untied the cords that were holding the bag shut and stepped back from the bag, the bushmaster came crawling out, looking for trouble. He immediately went on the attack, crowding in upon Ditmars.
Ditmars describes what happened next: this huge snake that had a pinkish cast about it just kept coming out, coil after coil, from the bag; it seemed forever. As soon as he saw Ditmars he started coming for him. The snake was so fast that he was barely able to ward the it off with the snake hook that he had to guide him into his pen. If he had not been equipped with the snake book, he didn't doubt that the snake would have bitten him. He finally steered the snake into its pen and closed the gate.
Although the Bushmaster is the largest poisonous snake in the western hemisphere, it is not the most poisonous; that distinction belongs to a cousin of the family, the Golden Lancehead of the genus Bothrops, which lives on a small island off the coast of Brazil. This snake normally feeds on birds. Its extremely potent poison is so its dinner doesn't fly off before the snake can catch the bird. What makes this snake especially dangerous is that its habitat is not only on the ground, but in shrubs and trees too.
The snake's bite is especially dangerous because it is a very fast acting hemotoxic, where the victim literally bleeds to death after being bitten. One of the victims was a fisherman who had landed on the island without knowing of the snakes. He was found later in a blood-drenched boat where he had bled to death as the result of a snakebite.
The Brazilian government established a lighthouse on the small island, Ilha de Queimada, several years ago, but so many lighthouse keepers were killed by this snake that the Brazilian government had to give up the idea of maintaining a manned lighthouse on the island. In one instance a lighthouse keeper and his entire family were wiped out in one night attack--in their sleep--by this snake.
This particular island is now off-limits to everybody with the exception of scientists who are studying the snake and other wildlife found on the island. Even these scientists can't spend a night on the island; they have to leave before sunset.