Facts about St. Lucian snakes including the rarest in the world

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Facts about St. Lucian snakes including the rarest in the world

PRESS RELEASE – Did you know that our beautiful island is home to four snakes?

 How many of them do you know or have seen?  I am sure by the time you are done reading this article you will have a better understanding of how these wonderfully created creatures fit into our environment.  Co-existence with our not so cuddly friends would be a step in the right direction.

The four snakes that inhabit this land all bear the name of our country Saint Lucia.    The Saint Lucia Fer de Lance, Saint Lucia Boa, Saint Lucia Racer and the Saint Lucia Thread snake are all endemic species; which means they can only occur naturally here.  They have been here for eons but the law protects only The Saint Lucia Boa, Saint Lucia Racer and Saint Lucia Thread snake, so it is illegal to kill them.  The more informed you are about them the more your fears will be allayed.unnamed-8

 

Saint Lucia Viper, Saint Lucia Fer de Lance (Bothrops caribbaeus) and Serpent are all names given to the only poisonous snake on island.  They are predominantly found along the western communities of Anse La Raye, Canaries, Millet and the eastern communities of Dennery and Praslin.  They may occur in other places by means of flooding, being transported unknowingly on a vehicle or in search of food.  Though the Fer de Lance is not one of the protected species, it is illegal to kill them within the forest reserve.  The full potential of this species have not been explored; we have yet to know the medicinal values of the venom.  The color of the skin varies from yellow, light grey, dark grey but the head is the same triangular or lance shape.  Their diet includes small birds and mammals not humans so do not be too alarmed.unnamed-10

 A bite from this snake can be prevented; remain vigilant in areas prone to occurrence, wear protective gear as in boots and snake chaps when venturing out.  In case of a bite, stay calm and get to the Victoria Hospital (VH) as soon as possible to be treated with the anti-venom available there. If possible, call ahead so that VH can prepare for your arrival.  DO NOT interfere with the bite in any way. Do not suck on it or bandage it as this may make the situation worse. Most persons make a 100 per cent recovery if they are treated within three hours or less.unnamed-9

 

Locally called Tete Chien, the Saint Lucia Boa (Boa orophias) grows bigger than the Viper making it the biggest snake in St. Lucia.  It can grow up to a length of 14ft and can bear up to 70 live young.  This non-venomous snake can be found almost everywhere.  It feeds on small birds and mammals such as rats and could be seen most of the times on fruit trees where those animals frequent.  The boa enjoys basking in the sun especially after rain when its body temperature needs regulating.  Unlike the viper with no distinct markings, the boa has a black crossbar pattern which runs along its body.  The young are light brown in color, which intensifies to dark brown as they grow.  The local name Tete Chien was as a result of its head having a resemblance of a dog which enables it to capture its prey quite effectively.  The prey is then suffocated using its strong body muscles and swallowed entirely.

Photo from ARKive of the Saint Lucia racer (Liophis ornatus) - http://www.arkive.org/saint-lucia-racer/liophis-ornatus/image-G53253.html
Photo from ARKive of the Saint Lucia racer (Liophis ornatus) – http://www.arkive.org/saint-lucia-racer/liophis-ornatus/image-G53253.html

The world’s rarest snake and most elusive, found only on the larger offshore island Maria Major off the coast of Vieux Fort; is the Saint Lucia Racer (Erythrolamprus ornatus). This snake is believed to have been wiped off the mainland due to heavy predation from the introduced mongoose.  The numbers are very low with an estimation of less than 100 individuals.  Our forefathers may have known this snake as the Couresse when it roamed in numbers.  Light brown to dark brown in color, these non-poisonous creatures can grow no more than 4ft long and feeds primarily on lizards.  Ongoing surveys and conservation strategies to help this species increase in numbers could take years but all hope is not lost as only a few months ago to our good fortune, a juvenile was spotted. We are to be careful though as they are critically endangered and since their numbers and home is so small, sadly one catastrophe could wipe them out completely from the face of the earth. This would be a great loss to us indeed, so do not go on the islet without permission from Forestry of the St. Lucia National Trust because your actions can annihilate a very rare species.

It is often regarded as a strange looking worm with a forked tongue found in soil by many who take it to the Forestry Department to be identified.  The worm snake or thread snake (Tetracheilostoma bruilei)  is the second smallest snake found in the world.  They thrive on ants and termites, dark brown in color and non-poisonous. A harmless snake which help improve soil aeration.

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Our snakes all serve a purpose in the environment and a tolerance for them should exist.  The venom produced by the Fer de Lance could be the cure for an illness that we have been battling for many years, while the Boa could be effective in reducing the rat population.  The Racer continues to keep researchers interested and some willing to assist financially in the conservation efforts.   So, with this information, what will you do the next time you encounter a snake?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. I don't like the description of snakes as "not so cuddly." I think they're very cute and cuddly. Because of health reasons, I don't get to travel much, but when my friends travel I always ask them, if they should happen to encounter any snakes, to take some pictures.

    It's true about venom being a potential source for new medicines. Several drugs already in use come from snake venom (besides antivenom, that is!), or were discovered as a result of research on venoms. The best known of these are the ACE inhibitors, a very important and widely used type of drugs for high blood pressure. Between multitudes of little-known plants (fungi, numerous herbs, etc.), animals that produce venoms (e.g., many snakes and several lizards; a couple of species of frogs and salamanders; spiders and scorpions; insects like bees, wasps, and some ants; and a variety of marine life (e.g., many fishes (the stingray, for examine), some marine algaes, the blue-ringed octopus, the Portuguese man o' war, cone snails) and a few amphibians (many frogs, toads and salamanders), as well as numerous forms of marine life (e.g. anemones, corals, a number of planktonic species), and of course, toxin-producing bacteria,
    nature is a massive little-tapped source of pharmaceutical potential.

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  2. Good information but hope is not the DSH maria islands investment that forced this to come out. Reactionary.

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    • This is information that is important

      It is not rational to be afraid of snakes. Unlike some predators, venomous snakes do not view humans as potential prey: there have been incidents where big cats, e.g., lost their fear of humans and ended up having to be put down because they had started killing people.

      The only snakes that are even physically capable of eating a human (our shoulders are too wide for most of them) are the four "giant" species (which are all non-venomous constrictors). Of these, the Reticulated Python, native to SE Asia, is the only one that has ever done so, although you could count on your fingers the number of times this has actually happened.

      The venomous snake that is a danger is not the one you see but the one you don't see. If you happen upon a venomous snake, or a snake you think might be venomous, the safest thing to do is to stay away from the snake. If the snake is in a place where you have legitimate cause to be concerned that its presence might endanger others who might not be aware of its presence, you can usually call local Reptile Rescue, or or the appropriate government organisation, which will relocate the snake safely. Most venomous snakebite incidents in developed countries (even Australia, where 80% of the snake species have venom that is dangerous to humans) are not the result of an accident (like, stepping on a snake that you didn't know was there), but the result of the snake defending itself against deliberate aggression by the human. Alcohol is often involved.

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    • It can't go ahead, surely? It would be another nail in Mother Nature's coffin ?

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      • Sorry darling. You have not convinced me but I am happy to live and let live so long as they stay away from me and mine. Xx

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  3. Very informative. I hope those who did not pay attention in school read and understand the importance of these species. Thank you Jeannette/Forestry Department.

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