Look Out for These Poisonous Snakes in Central America

The dense rainforest is a haven for the scaly and the slithery

Eyelash Viper Bothriechis schlegelii, in Costa Rica
R. Andrew Odum/Getty Images

Those who are savvy on the geography of Central America know the region is home to a lush rainforest. With its tropical climate comes a slew of wildlife you won't find anywhere else in the world, including a few reptile species that are unique to the jungle. Some of those are poisonous snakes that you should be aware of during your next trip to Central America.

This so-called subcontinent at the southern tip of North America is composed of seven countries, all bustling with tourism. Belize, ​Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama are not only places where you'll find tons of travelers exploring destinations large and small, but also destinations where you might come across snakes you've probably never seen.

Costa Rica alone has 135 snake species. Out of these, 17 varieties are venomous members of the coral and viper families. Not every snake in Central America is poisonous, though, so no need to fear. Rather, learn which ones could pose a threat to your jungle adventures so that when you see one coiled up in the wild, you can admire it while taking the proper precautions at the same time.

Coral Snakes

Coral snakes are perhaps the easiest to recognize as they're typically an arrangement of black, red, yellow, or white. The Central American coral snake (Micrurus nigrocinctus) is a venomous elapid snake with smooth scales, a round head, and black pupils. These snakes are nocturnal and typically found in dark, wet areas in the rainforest. Their venom can be strong enough to create neuromuscular dysfunction, so try not to turn over too many logs.

Vipers

Vipers are less ostentatious but can be even more dangerous than the coral snake. All are venomous and you can identify them by their stocky bodies and short tails. They all have long fangs and a triangular head, too. To push venom into their prey, viper snakes strike with their fangs. The bright-yellow Eyelash Viper is nocturnal and easily recognized by the two scales resembling lashes above its eyes.

Central American Bushmasters

Speaking of vipers, the Central American Bushmaster is reportedly the longest pit viper in the world. Unlike other vipers, the Bushmaster has a round, flat head and a diamond pattern that runs along its body. These snakes have a deadly bite, so beware of them lingering around water sources.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snakes

This one might actually be as scary as it looks. The yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platura) is highly venomous, but also a rare find, considering it spends most of its time out at sea. You'll see the bright-yellow belly of this creature coming if he happens to approach you while you're swimming. And if he does bite—which is rare, National Geographic says—he probably won't sink his teeth in far enough for the venom to reach deadly levels.

Fer-de-Lance

Known by the locals as "Yellowjaw" or "Tommy Goff," the Fer-de-Lance can be particularly aggressive. In fact, this snake is responsible for the majority of human snake bites in Belize. Although fast-acting, rarely is its venom deadly.

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