Friday, 6 February 2015

My first snake in South America

As well as all the birds that I have seen on my foreign travels, I have also seen lots of animals. One of the most interesting encounters happened in Ecuador, in the Amazon when I was 8 years old. 

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, Amazon, Ecuador
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

A Young Birder's view on snakes

We were staying the Napo Wildlife Centre, a lodge situated in the remote Ecuadorian Amazon.  From there, we took a trip to an uninhabited tidal island in the middle of the Napo River, looking for birds.  We went there by boat and were at least four hours from the nearest town and a long way even from our lodge.  We went there with our guide Andres Vasquez and a local Amazonian Guide.  

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Napo Wildlife Centre, Amazon, Ecuador
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

When we go birding abroad, we always wear walking boots, which we were doing that day.  The boots were protection from snake bites, but we had not seen any during our trip to Ecuador.

We had a really good morning’s birding on the island seeing lots of new birds and were on our way back to the boat, walking along a raised sandy path through the forest.  Mum was walking ahead with the guides and I was walking a little way behind, alongside Dad.  

A young birder's first snake

As I was walking along, I suddenly saw a snake on the ground that I had to do a little hop, jump and a skip to my right to avoid standing on it before carrying on.  After 10-15 seconds I said to Dad calmly “sorry about that (my little jump), but the snake made me jump”.

Fer de Lance
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Dad thought “OMG! What snake?” He did not want to scare me, but went back to where the snake had been but by then, it was nowhere to be seen.

I explained that the snake had been lying across the path and I had not seen it until the last minute.  As I took a step forward, my foot landed 5-6 inches from the snake.  It responded by rearing up it’s head and hissing at me aggressively for a few seconds.  This resulted in my hop, jump and skip away from the hissing snake.  I assumed that everyone else had all seen the snake as it was on the path.  For some reason I was not frightened of the snake as it did not occur to me that it might be poisonous.  No one said anything to me about the snake or that it might be poisonous, as they did not want to spoil the rest of the trip for me and to be honest they probably thought it was a harmless swamp snake, which you get loads of in the Amazon.

Fer de Lance snake

That evening at dinner, I asked our guide Andres if he would help me identify my snake.  I then gave him an extremely detailed description of a one metre long snake which was too wide to get one hand around, impressing everyone with my attention to detail for what it looked like and how it behaved.  I said that it had made a lasting impression on me and that I had a really good long view of the snake.  Andres listened quietly, then told me that he did not know what it type of snake it was and told me to go to the lodge library and get the snake field guide book.  As soon as I had left the table, Andres exclaimed that based on my fantastically detailed description he knew exactly what snake it was; there was no doubt that it was a Fer De Lance, the most dangerous snake in South America!  He said that he had only seen one once before and that it was the only snake that would have responded so aggressively.  

Boy bittern by a Fer de Lance snake and treated with only antibiotics

I then got back to the table with the snake book and after looking through all the photographs in the whole book, confirmed that the only one it could have been was a Fer De Lance.  Andres pointed out a few other photographs in the book to me, to try and persuade me that it might have been something else less dangerous, but none of them were my snake.  Neither of my parents or Andres told me that a Fer De Lance was extremely poisonous and very aggressive, making the combination of the two South America’s most dangerous snake.

Fer de Lance - The most dangerous snake in South America

The Fer De Lance snake is probably the most poisonous snake in South America and can be very aggressive, making it the most dangerous.  In Bolivia, in the Amazon, we saw one of these snakes.  However it was not that big as it was only 18” long, curled up under a fallen tree, ignoring us as we went past warily several times.  I managed to get photographs of this snake, whilst it lay recovering from a big meal.

Fer de Lance snake in Bolivian Amazon
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Fer de Lance snake in Bolivian Amazon
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Being from the UK, It’s hard to remember to look out for snakes.  In Colombia in 2012, during our first night walk through dense humid forests looking for owls, I noticed that our Guide, Avery Bartels, was using his torch to search around the ground as well the trees for owls.  I asked whether he was looking for owl pellets, so that we knew to look above at these points for owls.  However, I was brought back to the reality of South American birding when he said no, he was checking for snakes!

About the writer

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Scilly
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

Mya-Rose Craig is a 12 year old young birder, conservationist, writer and speaker.    She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world.  She has recently been listed with the singer songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people.  Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter


  1. Wonderfully mature account of an encounter which would no doubt leave most adults gibbering wrecks. I look forward to reading more blogs from you in the future. Its refreshing to know there are some youngsters out there who take an active interest it our environment and the natural world.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind comments. I have seen a few poisonous snakes now, but none as dangerous at the Fer De Lance! I think I was actually too young at the time to fully appreciate the danger I had been in.

  2. Thanks for this helpful post on a powerful snake that found on South America. As we are going Travel to Ecuador on coming holiday seasons, we will care about on this snake. We are already booked a touring guide for that through a touring company as "reachecuador".

    1. Adan, thank you for your comment. I'm sure you will have a brilliant time in Ecuador, it is an amazing country. Our guide had been based in the Amazon there for two years and had never seen a Fer De lance. I have seen 2 now and so I don't know if that makes me lucky or unlucky!


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