The First iNat Observation of a Rare Brazilian Viper - Observation of the Week, 1/12/21

Our Observation of the Day is the first Alcatrazes Lancehead (Araraca-das-alcatrazes) posted to iNat! Seen in Brazil by @diegojsantana.

Fittingly for someone who watched frogs and snakes while on fishing trips as a child, Diego Santana is currently a professor at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul in Campo Grande, Brazil, where he works on the systemics and biogeography of reptiles and amphibians. Last November, he found himself on the Alcatrazes Islands, off the coast of Brazil, assisting researchers from the Butantan Institute, a large producer of immunobiological and biopharmaceutical compounds. The researchers were studying snake venom evolution and asked for Diego's assistance in finding and wrangling the island’s endemic viper species.

“We saw nine individuals in four days there and collected their venom, marked each individual with a microchip, and released them back to nature,” says Diego.

The island is beautiful, and to know that we were the only humans there with these incredible animals was an awesome sensation. We also observed two threatened frog species, which are also endemic to the island (Ololygon alcatraz [Scinax alcatraz on iNat] and Cycloramphus faustoi).

Alcatrazes lanceheads are known only from one island in the archipelago, Ilha Alcatrazes, which measures about 1.35 square km in area. The islands were previously attached to the mainland, and it is believed Alcatrazes lanceheads evolved from Bothrops jararaca snakes stranded there after the islands were cut off from the continent by rising oceans. Alcatrazes lanceheads are smaller than their mainland counterparts and feed primarily on centipedes and frogs as no rodents live on the island. Research shows that their venom is not particularly potent in mice, suggesting they have evolved to specialize in their resident non-mammalian prey. 

In the past, Ilha Alcatrazes was used for target practice by the Brazilian Navy but that’s no longer the case and Diego tells me “the island is within a conservation unit, is monitored constantly, and  access is granted only for research purposes (and it's not easy to get a license).”

Diego (above, assisting with a viper on Ilha Alcatrazes) says he heard about iNat from some friends and joined a few weeks ago and has been uploading photos from his archives as well as providing ID help on South American reptile and amphibian observations. “I really enjoy it and is one of my favorites hobbies now,” he tells me.

Photo of Diego by Pedro Peloso. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

Diego heads the Mapinguari Lab, check it out!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, January 12, 2021 21:55



A gorgeous photo of a beautiful endemic species of snake -- nice work Diego!

Posted by susanhewitt 11 days ago (Flag)

Amazing observation! Great photo as well, I love how it shows the snake's habitat!

Posted by thegeckogirl 11 days ago (Flag)

So good to know the island is protected but accessible to researchers! THANK YOU for sharing the photo!

Posted by ingrid_kaatz 10 days ago (Flag)

Such a beautiful snake! Thanks for sharing!

Posted by lisa_bennett 10 days ago (Flag)

@diegojsantana Way to go! Thank you for sharing!

Posted by myles678 10 days ago (Flag)

For the ones curious about other endangered animals from Alcatrazes, see my last observation on Scinax alcatraz

Posted by diegojsantana 10 days ago (Flag)

Congrats! Thanks for the lovely photo!

Posted by bookworm86 10 days ago (Flag)

Nice work!

Posted by cthawley 10 days ago (Flag)

Thank you for sharing this rare beauty with us Diego!

Posted by rubyrosenfield 10 days ago (Flag)

Thanks for putting up such a rare and amazing creature. Hope to see other great finds from you

Posted by chrisleearm 9 days ago (Flag)

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