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Look but don’t touch: the eyelash viper

April 8, 2015

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We found this little fellow curled against a tree in Tortuguero, a serpent no bigger than your typical garter snake. Its orange skin looked bright and cheery. Indeed, Bothriechis schlegelii is basically harmless – unless you lean in too close, and then its bite can be deadly.

The eyelash viper is one of the most venomous snakes in Costa Rica. Local naturalists are fond of saying that most Costa Rican spiders won’t hurt you, but don’t mess with the snakes. Farmers routinely lose their dogs and cats to snake bites, and varieties like the coral and green vine snakes can inject a powerful toxin.

Of course most of these snakes will do anything they can to avoid you, and they won’t get hostile unless they feel threatened. (Or you step on one by accident.) If you are bitten, just stay calm and get yourself to the nearest hospital – antivenins can treat almost any venom out there.

But the soundest advice, when interacting with any wild animal, is: look but don’t touch. Most visitors to Costa Rica know this already. The less wildlife has to interact with people, the better – which is why they invented telephoto lenses.

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