Whether you are planning a trip to Belize, lounging in the Bahamas, exploring Trinidad and Tobago, or are just an ophiophilist, this is everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the snakes of this area.
There are more than 200 species of snakes in the Caribbean, most are non-venomous, but some can be dangerous. The most famous snakes of the area are constrictors, the Jamaican boa, the Puerto Rican boa, the green anaconda, the venomous Fer-de-lance, and the Southern American bushmaster.
In this article, I will explore the venomous and non-venomous snakes of the Caribbean area in detail. I’ll also reveal where you can find the rarest snake in the world and the smallest one. Let’s start!
What Should You Know About Snakes in the Caribbean?
The Caribbean is home to a host of snakes—both endemic and some species that found their way to these divine islands.
In addition to the natural enemies of snakes in the Caribbean, human actions almost destroyed the native snake population. In 1872, they introduced the small Indian mongoose as rodent control. However, the mongooses had no established predators and decimated the local snake populations.
Today, the situation is somewhat better, and the number of snakes has increased, but most are not dangerous to humans. Here are the ones you are most likely to meet:
Fer-De-Lance (Bothrops asper)
Fer-de-lance, also known as Martinican pit viper and Martinique lancehead, is a highly venomous pit viper whose name means “iron of the lance.”
Fer-de-lance is a brown, black, and grey ambush predator that measures up to 5 to 6.5 ft (1.5 to 2 m) long. Their diet consists of the following:
- Other snakes
It produces venom with clotting toxins and causes bleeding, swelling, and muscle damage. It injects around 0.0037 ounces (105 mg) of poison in a single bite, although the most obtained by milking it for serum production was 0.0109 ounces (310 mg).
It is responsible for about 20 to 30 bites a year, with a death rate of 7 to 9% for people who don’t receive antivenom. The fatal dose of Fer-de-lances venom for a human is 0.0017 ounces (50 mg).
Southern American Bushmaster (Lachesis muta)
The Southern American bushmaster or Atlantic bushmaster is a highly venomous pit viper found in the islands of Trinidad. These reddish-brown snakes with distinct diamond-shaped markings on their back usually have a dark stripe extending from their eyes to the corners of their mouth.
They can grow from 6.56 to 11.81 ft (2 to 3.6 m) and prefer temperatures up to 75.2°F (24°C) and altitudes under 3280 ft (1000 m). The Southern American bushmaster is the second longest venomous snake in the world, right after Ophiophagus hannah or King cobra.
This snake hunts at night and eats:
It injects from 0.007 to 0.014 ounces (200 to 400 mg) of venom in a single bite making it one of the deadliest vipers in the world. The Bushmasters’ venom has a long list of toxic effects, including being:
The bite causes pain, swelling, blistering, and necrosis in combination with Lachesis Syndrome. If not treated, death occurs within 45 minutes. This snake is responsible for 4.5 to 7.5% of all bites in its habitat.
Puerto Rican Boa (Chilabothrus inornatus)
The Puerto Rican boa, or yellow tree boa, is a large-sized nonvenomous constrictor with a dark brown or grey coloring, growing from 3.3 to 6.6 ft (1 to 2 m).
It eats small mammals, and their favorite technique for catching fast-flying bats is to curl their tail around a branch near the mouth of a cave and grab the bats when they swarm in the evenings.
They have strong muscles to squeeze their prey to death, then swallow their meal whole.
Jamaican Boa (Epicrates subflavus)
Jamaican boa or yellow snake is an endangered boa constrictor that is endemic to Jamaica, meaning it doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.
It can weigh up to 11 pounds (5 kg) and grow between 5 to 7.5 ft (1.5 to 2.3 m). It’s not dangerous to humans as it is not venomous. Jamaican boa is the largest terrestrial predator in Jamaica—it is also nocturnal and has a diet that consists of bats, birds, and rodents.
Because they eat rats, Jamaican boas are beloved by the locals.
Green Anaconda (Eunectes murinus)
The green anaconda, known as the giant anaconda, common water boa, or sucuri, is one of the most sizable snakes in the world. It’s a nonaggressive, heavyset boa that can grow from 20 to 30 feet (6 to 9 m) with a diameter of 12 inches (30.5 cm) and can weigh up to 550 pounds (250 kg).
Due to their massive weight, they are not elegant on land, but they make up for it with their sleek movement through the water. Since their nasal openings and eyes lie on the top of their head, they are a deadly predator made for haunting the waters of Trinidad and Tobago.
Their diet consists of giant turtles, wild boars, and birds that they coil around until the prey asphyxiates.
False Coral Snake (Erythrolamprus)
The false coral snake is a part of the colubrid snake family. It is brightly colored and has ring patterns on its body, mimicking venomous coral snakes.
Unlike coral snakes, they are not dangerous to humans and have a mild venom used to feed on frogs, lizards, and other snakes.
They are easily distinguished from coral snakes by their eyes, which are 3 to 6 times larger than the preocular scales surrounding them.
Dominican Blind Snake (Antillotyphlops dominicanus)
The Dominican blind snake is a small 1.2 ft (385 mm) blind snake endemic to the island of Dominica. Blind snakes adapted to feeding beneath the earth, sacrificing their sight for life underground. Thus, you won’t often see these snakes as they are nonvenomous burrowers that eat termites and ants.
The Endangered Species of Caribbean Snakes
Saint Vincent Blacksnake (Chironius Vincenti)
Saint Vincent blacksnake, or Saint Vincent coachwhip, is a mildly venomous snake from the family of Colubridae. It grows to about 5 ft (1.52 m) and feeds on little frogs and small species of lizards.
Its preferred habitat is in the forest, at elevations of 902 to 1969 ft (275 to 600 m). Experts considered this snake extinct until 2003—when scientists rediscovered it. It is on the list of endangered species designated as Critically Endangered (CR).
Antiguan Racer (Alsophis antiguae)
The Antiguan racer is one of the rarest snakes in the world. It is so rare that experts have erroneously declared extinct not once—but twice! About 1,100 snakes remain in the wild on Bird Island, a small island off the coast of Antigua.
Antiguan racer is harmless to humans—its only defense is the musky smell it emits when scared or cornered. It eats primarily Antiguan ground lizards and is an ambush predator that spends much of its time buried in the leaves. In fact, the racer’s name is slightly ironic as it’s a relatively sedentary, slow-moving snake!
With the efforts of the Fauna & Flora organization, the number of Antiguan racers is growing slowly but steadily.
Aruba Island Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus unicolor)
The Aruba rattlesnake is an endemic unicolored viper from the island of Aruba. It has a fascinating coloring that varies from grey to pink, depending on the color of its surroundings.
Unfortunately, it’s critically endangered, with only about 250 grown snakes left because of human destruction of their territory.
Santa Lucia Racer (Liophis ornatus)
The Santa Lucia Racer is the most endangered snake species on Earth. With only around 20 adults, it is the rarest snake in existence. It is a small nonvenomous brown ornate ground snake that the artificially introduced mongooses almost decimated.
It can grow up to 3 ft (1 m) and has a diet of small local lizards. You will only find this snake on a small nine-hectare island named Maria Major.
The Caribbean Is Home to the World’s Smallest Snake
The Barbados thread snake (Tetracheilostoma carlae)
The smallest snake species in the world hails from the Caribbean island of Barbados, with the length of adult specimens of this new species being only 3.9 inches (10 cm).
The Barbados thread snake is a burrower that feeds on termites and insect larvae, but we know almost nothing about its behavior.
The discovery of this, the world’s smallest snake, confirms the diversity of the ecological system of Caribbeans and one of the primary environmental principles: it seems the islands are home to the smallest and most sizable snakes in the world.
Out of the many snake species we find in the Caribbean, most are not dangerous to humans. In fact, we are mostly the ones who are harmful to them.
If you run into a snake, don’t panic and slowly move away. Avoid unwarranted movements like taking pictures for Instagram, and don’t try to touch or pick it up.
Give the snake its space and peace, and find your own with a nice cocktail and a good story to tell your friends when you return home.