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South America's most venomous snakes

Though Latin America does not have any of the world most venomous snakes, it has many more venomous species than North America. Bites from these snakes are a worse medical problem in South and Central America than in the US. In Costa Rica, for instance, the annual number of hospital admissions because of snake bites is 22.4 per 100,000 inhabitants: a far cry compared to North American standards.

The most venomous snakes in Central and South America are either coral snakes or members of the pit vipers family.


These are fixed-fang venomous snakes. The fangs are permanently erect and each fang has a hollow passage along the length of the whole tooth for the venom.
They are usually diurnal and have slender bodies.


Approximately 60 species of venomous coral snakes exist in Central and South America, with the greatest variety occurring from Mexico to northern South America. Guyana, for instance, is home to 6 of them, and Panama to 11, many of them very small.

Coral Snakes are usually red with black bands bordered by white (or yellow) at intervals, yet not all Coral Snakes are tricolor. The eyes of the venomous tricolor Corals are very small, in contrast with the larger eyes of the nonpoisonous tricolor false corals.

Coral snakes are generally not very aggressive snakes, but it would, however, be very dangerous to step on one inadvertently, especially with bare feet. The venom of all coral snakes is strongly neurotoxic, it affects the nervous system and can cause respiratory paralysis and suffocation. These venoms are among the most potent found in snakes, yet the venom yield per animal is less than that of most vipers or pit vipers. In Mexico Coral Snakes are known as the "20-minute snakes," for the victim is supposed to be dead 20 minutes after being bitten by one. Corals being burrowing snakes though, few accidents are actually caused by them.

- Aquatic Coral Snake or Himeralli (Micrurus surinamensis)

The Himeralli is found throughout the Amazon including the Guianas, Brazil, Bolivia. It is also called the coral "venenosa" in Bolivia, and the "boichumbeguacu" in Brazil.
This species is one of the most famous South American coral snakes, and one of the biggest too (80 to 100 cm).
The Himeralli is a very good swimmer, and spends most of its life in slow-moving bodies of water that have dense vegetation.

The Aquatic Coral Snake is just one of many species of coral snakes found in Central and South America:
- Guyana Blackback Coral Snake (Leptomicrurus collaris): northern South America.
- Andes/Andean Blackback Coral Snake (Leptomicrurus narduccii)
- Allen's Coral Snake (Micrurus alleni): eastern Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
- Micrurus altirostris: Brazil, Uruguay, and northeastern Argentina.
- Regal Coral Snake (Micrurus ancoralis): southeastern Panama, western Colombia, and western Ecuador
- Annellated Coral Snake (Micrurus annellatus): southeastern Ecuador, eastern Peru, Bolivia, and western Brazil.
- Black-headed Coral Snake (Micrurus averyi)
- Micrurus bernadi: Mexico.
- Ecuadorian Coral Snake (Micrurus bocourti): western Ecuador to northern Colombia,
- Bogert's Coral Snake (Micrurus bogerti): Oaxaca.
- Brown's Coral Snake (Micrurus browni): Quintana Roo to Honduras.
- Micrurus camilae: Colombia.
- Catamayo Coral Snake (Micrurus catamayensis): Ecuador.
- Clark's Coral Snake (Micrurus clarki): southeastern Costa Rica to western Colombia.
- Painted Coral Snake (Micrurus corallinus)
- Brazilian Coral Snake (Micrurus decoratus)
- Micrurus diana
- Variable Coral Snake (Micrurus diastema)
- Pygmy Coral Snake (Micrurus dissoleucus)
- West Mexican Coral Snake (Micrurus distans)
- Micrurus dumerilii
- Elegant Coral Snake (Micrurus elegans)
- Oaxacan Coral Snake (Micrurus ephippifer)
- Slender Coral Snake (Micrurus filiformis)
- Southern Coral Snake (Micrurus frontalis): Brazil to northeastern Argentina.
- Bolivian Coral Snake (Micrurus frontifasciatus)
- Hemprich's Coral Snake (Micrurus hemprichii)
- Mayan Coral Snake (Micrurus hippocrepis)
- Caatinga Coral Snake (Micrurus ibiboboca)
- Venezuela Coral Snake (Micrurus isozonus)
- Langsdorff's Coral Snake (Micrurus langsdorffi)
- Balsan Coral Snake (Micrurus laticollaris)
- Broad-ringed Coral Snake (Micrurus latifasciatus)
- South American Coral Snake (Micrurus lemniscatus): most of low lying areas of South America.
- Tuxtlan Coral Snake (Micrurus limbatus)
- Speckled Coral Snake (Micrurus margaritiferus)
- Micrurus medemi
- Mertens' Coral Snake (Micrurus mertensi)
- Redtail Coral Snake (Micrurus mipartitus)
- Many-banded Coral Snake (Micrurus multifasciatus)
- Cauca Coral Snake (Micrurus multiscutatus)
- Cloud Forest Coral Snake (Micrurus nebularis)
- Central American Coral Snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus): Yucatan and Chiapas to Colombia as well as western Caribbean islands
- Micrurus pacaraimae
- Micrurus pachecogili
- Micrurus paraensis
- Peruvian Coral Snake (Micrurus peruvianus)
- Peters' Coral Snake (Micrurus petersi)
- Nayarit Coral Snake (Micrurus proximans)
- Carib Coral Snake (Micrurus psyches)
- Putumayo Coral Snake (Micrurus putumayensis)
- Micrurus pyrrhocryptus
- Micrurus remotus
- Micrurus renjifoi
- Roatan Coral Snake (Micrurus ruatanus)
- Santander Coral Snake (Micrurus sangilensis)
- Micrurus scutiventris
- Micrurus silviae
- Amazon Coral Snake (Micrurus spixii)
- Micrurus spurelli
- Steindachner's Coral Snake Micrurus steindachneri)
- Panamanian Coral Snake (Micrurus stewarti)
- Stuart's Coral Snake (Micrurus stuarti)
- Micrurus tamaulipensis: Sierra Madre Oriental in Tamaulipas.
- Micrurus tricolor
- Desert Coral Snake (Micrurus tschudii)


Most snakes in the Colubridae are non-venomous, though some colubrids inject - a rather mild - venom through fixed-fangs set in the rear of the mouth.


These are hinged-fanged venomous snakes. Their fangs are designed to be very long so they can penetrate deeply yet be stored against the roof of the mouth when not in use. Vipers generally have a distinctive heavy body, a short tail, and a triangularly shaped head. Like their North America counterparts, Latin America Vipers belong to the Pit Viper sub-group.

- Bushmaster (Lachesis muta)

This snake occurs in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad, Guyana and Brazil. It is known as the "surucucu" in Brazil, and the "shushupe", the "mapana", the "verrugosa" (warty one) or the "cascabela muta" (silent rattle snake) in other countries. The Bushmaster is aptly named in English and particularly in Latin - as the "silent bringer of death."

It is the largest venomous snake in the New World and the second largest in the world after the King Cobra- it often exceeds 6.5 ft ot 2 m in length and a specimen was even recorded measuring 14 ft or 4.2 m!

The Bushmaster has the reputation of being extremely aggressive. Luckily, it is not common anywhere in its range: it usually lives in remote dense jungles and is largely nocturnal so that bites are actually rare. Bites are, however extremely serious and fatal if medical aid is not immediately available. Its venom is a powerful haemotoxin and can be injected very deep thanks to long fangs - 3.8 centimeters in large specimens. It affects soft tissues in their prey.

Bushmasters lay 10 to 14 eggs, which hatch into young snakes that immediately disappear underground, where they frequent the burrows of the rodents, living on their young. Once they are too large to maneuver effectively in the burrows - when they have practically reached adult size- , they become terrestrial.

The bushmaster does not do well in captivity, invariably dying in a short time. Therefore it is seldom found in any zoo

- Guyanese Parrot Snake or Two-striped Forest Pit Viper (Bothriopsis bilineatus)

Also known as "vibora loro" or "cobra papagaio" this small forest pit viper found in Guyana is an arboreal species with a prehensile tail.

- Fer-de-Lance or Labarria (Bothrops atrox)

This snake is found in southern Mexico, and throughout Central and South America and the Caribean islands. Its name means "Lance head" in French and it is also known as the "jararaca" in Brazil, "equis", and "jergon" in Ecuador and Peru, the "terciopelo" (velvet skin), the "barba amarilla" (yellow beard) elsewhere.
This thick bodied lowland rain forest species occurs near waterways and is very common in agricultural and urban areas where it often enters houses in search of rodents.

Along with its closely related species the Fer-de-Lance snake is very dangerous to man and is responsible for many deaths, partly because it tends to live near humans. It has an irritable disposition and strikes with very little provocation and so fast that the eye can hardly follow it, although its striking range is very short (6 to 10 inches). It is said that the mongoose which invariably masters the cobra, has only a 50-50 chance with the Fer-de-lance.

The Fer-de-Lance has a mostly haemotoxic venom, which causes much painful, massive tissue destruction, and profuse internal bleeding.

In the plantations, though, the "equis" has come to be regarded as a benefactor of man, because of its controlling effect on the rodent population.

The females give birth to some 45 to 70 live youngsters per litter. These newly born are very aggressive and just as dangerous as their parents, for competition for the moths and insects they feed on is fierce between themselves and their venom concentrated. Furthermore, because they have a hard time feeding, they are more likely to be still still active in bushes and grass after sunup, a time when most vipers seek cover.

- Hog-Nosed Vipers

In Central America, the Bothrops lansbergii can be found on the Pacific side, while the Bothrops nasutus occurs on the Atlantic side. Their common names in Panama are "patoca" or "tamaga".
These small snakes -12 to 18 inches - are true pit vipers, definitely poisonous, and not related generically to their harmless namesake in the United States.

As ground snakes of the savanna rather than of the forest, they are less apt to strike than the Fer-de-lance, and few bites have been reported by these species.

- Eyelash Pit Viper or Horned Palm Viper (Bothrops schlegeli)

This small rather stocky tree viper can be found in southern Mexico, throughout Central America, as well as in Columbia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. It is also called Sleeping Gough, or "bocaraca", "toboba de pestamas", "oropel".

It can easily be identified by the several spiny scales it has over each eye.

This arboreal snake has a prehensile tail and seldom comes to the ground. It feels more secure in low-hanging trees and bushes where it looks for tree frogs and birds. Common in palm trees and cacao plantations, it is sometimes encountered in the felling of trees and bushes.

The Eyelash Pit Viper has an irritable disposition and strikes with little provocation. It is a dangerous species because most of its bites occur on the upper extremities.
Its venom is haemotoxic and spells instant death to birds. In humans, it causes severe tissue damage and deaths have occurred -though not frequently - from the bite of this snake.

- Other species of tree vipers of Central America include: Bothrops lateralis and Bothrops nigroviridis, both living at altitudes ranging from 4.000 to 6.000 feet (1300 to 2000 m).

- Jumping Viper (Bothrops nummifer)

Jumping Vipers can be found in southern Mexico and in Central America: Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama. Locally they are known as "timbo" and "mano-de-piedra" (stone fist). They inhabit rain forests, but also plantations, wooded hillsides and rocky elevated places.

This chiefly nocturnal snake comes out in the early evening hours to feed on lizards, rodents, and frogs. It likes to hide under fallen logs and piles of leaves which makes it difficult to see.

As its name implies, the Jumping Viper can strike with force as this short powerful snake actually leaves the ground and may even stir up a cloud of dust. Its venom is haemotoxic. People have died from the bites inflicted by large Jumping Vipers.

- Godman's Viper

A small - 18 to 22 inches in length - thick ground viper of Central America. It can be found as high as 4,000 feet - 1300 meters - of elevation.
Natives say it seldom strikes a person, and there are indeed no records of bites.

- Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus)

This species can be found from Mexico to Uruguay. It is known as the "cascabel" in Spanish and "boicininga" in Portuguese.
This "fat" rattlesnake can measure up to 4.5 feet - 1.5 meters - . It occurs in dry habitats such as the Rupununi savannas in Guyana.
Like all rattlesnake, it has a rattle on the tail, which are, actually, modified scales used as a warning, and perhaps as a lure for prey.
Older and larger adults of this species also have a very distinctive dorsal ridge.

The Neotropical Rattlesnake is responsible for many bites on humans.
Its venom is unusual for a viper in that it is haemorrhagig as well as neurotoxic and acts both on tissues and on the nervous system.

In the dry tablelands of the Bocas del Toro region, in Panama, the Neotropical Rattlesnake is zealously protected by the native Indians for whom this snake is both a religious symbol and an economic asset. Indeed, the Indians use this rattlesnake's venom mixed with liver paste to tip their hunting arrows and spears. No white intruder is allowed to enter their domain or to molest their snakes.

- Tropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus terrificus)

This rattlesnake occurs in southern Mexico, throughout Central America, and from Brazil to Argentina. It is found in sandy places, plantations, and dry hillsides.

This viper is known for is irritable disposition and is considered extremely dangerous for it strikes with little - use of its rattle - or no warning at all. The Tropical Rattlesnake's venom is highly toxic and contains neurotoxic and haemotoxic components that paralyze the central nervous system and cause great damage to tissue.

Venomous snakes - poisonous snakes
Venomous Snakes of Guyana
The Venomous Snakes of Panama
Snake Envenomation, Coral