The World’s 7 Most Amazing Snake Islands

In 2013 we’ll all be living in the Year of the Snake according to Chinese astrology. If that makes some folks nervous, imagine living full-time on an island of snakes! These 7 amazing snake islands aren’t all crawling with legless, fork-tongued, venomous reptiles but each one has earned its serpentine sobriquet.

Ilha de Queimada Grande, Brazil

Ilha de Queimada Grande is a rugged island located in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of the Brazilian state of São Paulo. The 430,000 square meter (110-acre) “Snake Island” is currently uninhabited though the remains of a lighthouse attest to a human presence in the past. Manning the lighthouse must have been a mighty stressful job as the island is literally covered with snakes – around one for every square yard of the island.

The snakes aren’t just any garden-variety serpents, either: three of the four documented snake species on Ilha de Queimada Grande are venomous pit vipers. King of the hill is (Bothrops insularis), the Golden Lancehead, one of the deadliest snakes on Earth. Because these snakes prey on birds instead of mammals, their venom has evolved to become up to five times more poisonous than that of its mainland relatives. We’re guessing the island’s lighthouse keepers didn’t go out much.

St. Thomas Island, Bulgaria

St. Thomas (St. Toma, or Zmiyski ostrov) isn’t a very big island – just 0.012 square kilometers or 2.97 acres – but it stands out for a number of reasons. One is the abundance of fish-eating Grey Water Snakes in the waters surrounding the island, which over time has resulted in the island being referred to as Snake Island.

Another distinguishing feature of St. Thomas is the vegetation: the ground is covered in wild cacti. Yes indeed, cacti, on a Bulgarian island in the Black Sea. In 1933 and for reasons he didn’t care to disclose, Bulgaria’s former Tsar Boris III ordered that wild cacti be imported from from Bratislava, Slovakia, and planted on the island. Since then the cacti have thrived and today it’s the only place in Bulgaria where wild cacti can be found.

Pulau Kalampunian Damit, Malaysia

Pulau Tiga Park off the coast of Sabah in Malaysia is made up of three islands. The largest, Pulau Tiga, is the original “Survivor Island” from the popular reality TV show’s premier season. The smallest of the three, Pulau Kalampunian Damit or Snake Island, is where the local venomous Sea Snakes go to mate. We think Survivor’s producers made the right choice though perhaps a little too close for comfort. The Banded Sea Kraits (Laticauda colubrina) that frequent Pulau Kalampunian Damit are relatively timid as poisonous snakes go, rarely biting people unless they’re provoked or accidentally stepped on. One should take care to do neither as their venom is estimated to be 3 to 4 times more potent than that of cobras.

Serpent Island, Ukraine

Serpent Island (also known as Snake Island or Ostriv Zmiinyi) is a small island made of volcanic rock situated in the Black Sea off the coasts of Romania and the Ukraine. The 0.17 square kilometer (0.066 square mile) island boasts a population of roughly one hundred concentrated in the village of Bile, though there is no natural source of fresh water on the island.

Serpent Island was known to the ancient Greeks and it’s been claimed by Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Romania and the Ukraine over the past 200 years. A 2009 ruling by the ICJ (International Court of Justice) confirmed the island belonged to Ukraine but is to be considered to be a “rock”, not an “island” and therefore not a basis for extending Ukraine’s exclusive undersea economic zone. As for snakes themselves, there’s no mention of them being prominent on the island.

Shedao Island, China

Shedao Island, located off China’s Liaoning peninsula near the city of Dalian, may be receiving more tourists this coming year since 2013 will be the Year of the Snake according to the Chinese horoscope. Then again, maybe not: the island is home to a distinct species of venomous snake, the Shedao Island Pit Viper (Gloydius shedaoensis). As with other island serpents, this species has evolved a more potent venom in order to catch its main food source, seabirds.

Jumping in the air is recommended only on the beach – since the Shedao Island Pit Viper preys on birds you sure don’t want to look like one. In addition, the snakes are often found in trees where they ambush their prey, so pray you don’t leap into the line of fire!

Golem Grad

Golem Grad means “Big City” in the Macedonian language, which is odd because the currently uninhabited island never hosted any settlement larger than a monastic village. It’s also known as Snake Island and there’s no questions there – the 20-hectare island is pretty much crawling with snakes… literally. maybe that’s why the monks gave up the ghost half a century ago.

Golem Grad is located in Lake Prespa and although the national borders of Albania, Greece, and the Republic of Macedonia all run through the lake, Golem Grad itself is not in dispute. The island has been open to tourists since August of 2008 and hobbyists will enjoy viewing the ruins of Roman houses and ruined churches. Mind the snakes, though.

Snake Island, Boston, USA

One of the more well-known Snake Islands is comfortably (or uncomfortably, depending on one’s point of view) close to home for Americans: Snake Island, smack dab in the middle of Boston Harbor. Also known as Bare Island, the 3 acre (12,000 square meter) island only rises 10 feet above sea level at it’s highest point. Interestingly, the island features a lagoon that is partially drained and refilled by the tides.

Snake Island is included in the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area and now that it’s officially uninhabited, the island has become an important breeding and nesting refuge for migratory birds. No need to worry about snakes, though, there aren’t many to speak of. Snake Island got its name from the long, serpentine sand bars sculpted by storms and tidal action that trail out from the island.

Don’t believe the hype, snakes aren’t slimy, vicious, overly aggressive or predatory when it comes to people – leave them be and they’ll be quite happy to return the favor. Moreover, these legless creatures are natural wonders and visiting an island where they’re the main attraction is an eco-vacation to be envied… just don’t see Snake Island, the movie, before you book your tickets.

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