I get this a lot... "How often do you see snakes on the hikes?" Simply put, not often. Maybe 1 out of 6 hikes will we see some variant of serpent. Usually a cat-eyed snake or road guarder. We get the boas or tiger rat snakes occasionally too. However, rarely do we see the venomous snakes. It is a treat to be able to witness one of the viperids in the wild. Their incredible crypsis and stone cold motionless demeanor render them unseen mostly. The color and pattern of coral snakes and unusual ocean habitat of sea snakes are most worthy, but there is something deeply sinister about the pit vipers that stoke a primal fear when encountered. Noted tropical biologist, E.O. Wilson, believes humans have retained an innate sense of snake presence having evolved from areas (African and Asian continents) rich with venomous snakes. I tend to agree having experienced precognitive awareness to nearby serpents on more than a few occasions. On the other hand, I have also been unwittingly within striking distance of at least 8 Fer-de-Lance snakes over the last 2 decades, though the beast warned me of its location with unmistakable body movement. Never have I been bitten by a venomous snake and I wish to keep that record intact.
So, after the oft spoken question to snake encounters was asked by my client on a recent tree climbing tour, I was in the midst of explaining how we walk by more than we see. Sure enough, as if on cue, a man 3 deep in line asks if that snake 2 meters off trail is venomous. I quickly ran back to the spot and was overjoyed to see an eyelash or, palm viper (Bothriechis schlegelii) stretched out on a large, dead branch. Its mottled colors of dull greens, browns and reds matching perfectly with the wood of the branch. I also noted the swollen abdomen and surmised it having recently eaten an anole lizard or possibly, gravid with young. While I would have liked to bring this specimen back to my display terrarium, I wasn’t willing to stress it if, in fact, it was carrying young. However, I did want a better view and carefully extracted it from its perch with a sturdy stick. The characteristic ocular scale, or eyelash, used to deflect branches from the eye was evident as well as the very swollen venom glands. Realizing the potency of the myo and haemotoxins- drop for drop, more toxic to humans than the other Bothriechis and Bothrops genus- I gently returned our exciting find to the same log and carried on knowing I probably won’t see another snake for the next week, mas o’ menos.