The 8 Most Dangerous Snakes of Belize
There’s a reason travel agents, writers and experienced tourists advise bringing a pair of sturdy boots when packing for a Belize vacation, and that recommendation has nothing to do with fashion sensibilities or style. No visit to this easy-to-reach nation would be complete without at least one jungle trek and even if you know nothing about herpetology, you know that avoiding snakebites is a goal you want to accomplish.
Belize is home to lots of snakes and while the debate rages about whether the species list is 56+ (as some scientists claim) or that number is an exaggeration put forth by the snakes themselves, knowledgeable people know that a majority of these slithering serpents are more annoying than they are dangerous.
But cut these belly crawlers some slack. Snakes help balance Belize’s food web, serve as a natural form of pest control and they are happy to cannibalize each other, so you don’t have to be lunch. Agreed: They’re not going to win popularity contests, but since many of them have been around longer than you have, a little respect, please.
1. Central American Coral Snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus). You can call this snake by either of its official names, but if you run into what herpetologists call a “mild-tempered” snake, you’ll notice that their attack style is unique. Rather than using fangs to strike at threats like Cleopatra’s asp, Corals employ a chewing motion and sustain it long enough to inject toxic venom into its victim. Capable of reaching 45-inches in length, this snake’s colorful yellow, black and red bands make it easy to spot on forest and jungle floors.
2. Maya Coral Snake (Micrurus hippocrepis). A close relative of the aforementioned Central American Coral, the Maya version is even more beautiful, but it can be harder to spot despite its vivid colors. These are sneaky creatures that are most active at night when they slither along forest floors feeding on other snakes. They don’t seek out people, but don’t try to catch one or you’ll wind up on the front page of myriad Belize newspapers. A powerful Maya “snake dynasty” ruled Belize 1300 years ago and perhaps these colorful snakes are a legacy the Maya left behind.
3. Eyelash Viper (Bothriechis schlegelii). No matter how curious you happen to be, it’s never a good idea to try and spot the eyelashes on this non-aggressive snake that will nevertheless not be hesitant to spray you with venom. Normally found in Belize trees, these snakes are nocturnal hunters and their color patterns are a mix of camouflage shades like olive green, brown and yellow, so they blend in nicely with surroundings. Yes, there are two eyelash-like scales over each eye, but you’re best relying upon photos to verify that.
4. Fer de Lance (Tommy Goff; Yellowjaw)(Bothrops asper). Frequently called the most-feared snake in Central America, this menacing creature delivers a fast-acting venom. Aggressive and fearless, Fer de Lance are hard to see and harder to detect, using the element of surprise to attack. While victims whose bites are attended to immediately likely survive, this snake is still responsible for a majority of snake bite deaths, say herpetologists who understand this creature’s confrontational nature.
5. Hognose Viper (Rhino viper) (Porthidium nasutum). Like the Eyelash viper, this snake also gets its name from a distinct feature, but in this case, it’s an upturned snout reminiscent of noses found on pigs, boars and hogs. Unlike Corals, coloration is less vivid but nonetheless distinctive enough to spot with its dark body and cream-colored strip. Short (no more than 18-inches in length) but mighty, this viper incapacitates prey by injecting a hemotoxic venom that is strong enough to kill.
6. Jumping Viper (Atropoides nummifer). Like the Hognose viper, the scales on this snake’s body are earthy and dark, featuring blotches of dark brown, grey and black throughout the body, but never on the head. They feed on frogs, rodents and lizards at night and early morning, but by the time they hide under forest floor debris, they are truly camouflaged. If you encounter one you could fall victim to a strong hemotoxic venom requiring immediate medical attention. Where did the name come from? We have no clue. They don’t jump, but you likely will if you run into one.
7. Mexican Moccasin (Cantil) (Agkistrodon bilineatus bilineatus). Proclaimed a species with a “reputation for having a nasty disposition and being extremely dangerous” by Wikipedia contributors, this shy snake’s thick, dark body is studded with thin white banding. The more distinct the banding on these snakes, the younger the snake. They are rarely are longer than 24-inches. Mexican Moccasins coil up and vibrate their tails when threatened. A bite delivers a fast-acting hemotoxic venom that incapacitates victims fairly quickly so consider yourself forewarned.
8. Neotropical rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus terrificus). This species has the distinct advantage of being the only rattlesnake indigenous to Belize. Found most often in swamps and marshes, their attack can be fatal as a result of disbursing a powerful neurotoxin venom that causes respiratory failure fairly quickly if there is no medical intervention. Be especially careful if you find yourself in marshy, swampy areas.
Please be cautious
Since Belize’s pristine topography offers sanctuary to all sorts of benign and dangerous snakes, the best advice you can take is to avoid all creepy crawlers so you don’t fall victim to their venomous toxins. Familiarize yourself with guidelines that tell you what to do and how to behave if you are bitten. This simple Centers for Disease Control guide can help.
As an additional note, Forbes Magazine published an insightful article about snake behavior written by an expert on the subject. Scientists discovered a significant increase in rattlesnake and pit viper snakebites at the end of rainy seasons. Keep that in mind when you visit and don’t forget to bring heavy shoes, long pants and socks so your forest and jungle wildlife encounters are beautiful rather than scary.
Photo credit: Wikipedia