What types of venomous snakes live in French Guiana?
Due to the variety of habitats in French Guiana, there are dozens of different snakes you might see. While many species are not harmful to humans, you must be careful because some types are INCREDIBLY venomous and highly dangerous. Some snakes can even cause death if the bite is not treated quickly.
In the article below, I have listed some of the most common venomous snakes you might encounter in French Guiana. For each species, you will find out how to identify that snake correctly, along with pictures and interesting facts!
*If you come across any of these species, PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB! Venomous snakes are dangerous animals and should be left alone. The more you agitate them, the more likely you could get bitten. DO NOT RELY ON THIS ARTICLE to correctly identify a snake that has recently bitten you. If you have recently been bitten, GO DIRECTLY to the nearest hospital to get help and to determine if the snake is venomous.*
4 Venomous Snakes in French Guiana:
- Bothrops atrox
Also known as Common Lancehead, Barba Amarilla
- Adults can grow 75-125 cm (30-49 in) in length.
- Look for a series of trapezoids across the body.
- Coloration is usually olive, gray, or brown. They have light-colored bellies, commonly white or cream.
- These snakes have golden irises and black tongues.
The venomous Fer-de-lance is responsible for most of the snake bites in French Guiana.
So, it’s best to tread carefully if you find yourself in the Amazon region. While these snakes live primarily in dense forests, they also wander into coffee plantations when hunting.
As with other pit vipers, the Fer-de-lance has heat sensors below its eyes to track prey. They easily devour smaller prey like frogs and tarantulas. However, when it comes to larger prey, these snakes bite and then let go. The venom eventually kills the animal while the snake tracks it down to consume it.
This snake isn’t only dangerous to its prey, either. A bite from this venomous snake targets the circulatory system and can cause serious internal bleeding in humans. Interestingly, the younger snakes have faster-acting venom. Either way, you should seek medical attention quickly if you get bitten by this aggressive species.
#2. Mountain Keelback
- Helicops angulatus
Also known as Brown-banded Watersnake, Water Mapepire
- Adults grow to a maximum length of 78 cm (31 inches).
- Their eyes and nostrils are situated at the top of their heads.
- These snakes tend to be olive or grayish brown. Dark, jagged bands cover their bodies.
The Mountain Keelback is one of the slowest venomous snakes in French Guiana!
These sluggish travelers only move about a few meters each day. If you want to find one in action (or non-action, because of their slow speed), look in the freshwater bodies of the Amazon basin.
Because of its slow-moving nature, this species prefers to ambush unsuspecting prey. At night, Mountain Keelbacks lie in wait for unlucky animals swimming by. Smaller fish, frogs, and tadpoles are all on the menu. However, sometimes they are the unlucky ones as they are common prey for herons and larger snakes.
Mountain Keelbacks are only mildly venomous. However, they can be very irritable when disturbed. In defense, they will coil into an S position before lunging into a bite. They can’t kill you, but their bites are still quite painful. Hands off!
#3. South American Bushmaster
- Lachesis muta
Also known as Atlantic Forest Bushmaster, Mapepire Zanana
- Adults are 200-250 cm (79-98 in) long.
- They have broad heads.
- Their coloring can be yellowish, tan, or gray-brown.
- Look out for a scaly diamond pattern and a pale-colored underside.
True to its name, the South American Bushmaster loves to hide in the bushes and undergrowth of forests with frequent rain. This stealthy snake lurks near animal trails, waiting to ambush rodents, birds, and other smaller reptiles.
Bushmasters are solitary creatures. In fact, they are so elusive that herpetologists are still arguing about how dangerous they are. When they’re not hunting, these pit vipers rest in hollow logs and small burrows. So, don’t go peeking inside unless you’re prepared to come across one!
Loud rustling among fallen leaves can indicate the presence of a South American Bushmaster. They usually try to escape if disturbed but stay cautious nonetheless! Most researchers agree that they’re highly venomous. Untreated bites are thought to be potent enough to kill.
#4. False Water Cobra
- Hydrodynastes gigas
Also known as False Cobra, Brazilian Smooth Snake, South American Water Cobra
- Adults are typically 200 cm (79 in) long but occasionally up to 300 cm (118 in).
- They can flatten their necks and other sections of their bodies.
- Typical coloration is olive or brown, patterned with dark spots and bands. Undersides are lighter in color.
False Water Cobras favor the high humidity of forests and marshlands. Here, they are highly alert hunters preying on fish and amphibians in the daytime. Take note of how unpredictable these snakes can be. Some individuals are mild-mannered, while others can be quite aggressive. To be safe, it’s best to observe this species from a distance.
As their name suggests, False Water Cobras aren’t true cobras. They can, however, puff up their neck and flatten the skin to mimic a cobra’s hood. You can tell them apart because False Water Cobras can’t raise their forebodies off the ground as real cobras do.
False Water Cobras are unique because their fangs don’t hold a large amount of venom. As a result, they must repeatedly chew on their prey to incapacitate it. Consequently, bites on humans are usually not serious since we can get away before this happens. Symptoms may include swelling and bouts of muscle paralysis, so it’s still important to see a doctor.
Check out these guides to other animals found in French Guiana!
Which of these venomous snakes have you seen before in French Guiana?
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