Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Working hazards in Venezuela, besides chavista government agencies

Working in Yaracuy is not without risks.  Although now the crime rate per capita has nothing to envy from other areas of the country, it is also the coastal area state reputed to having the largest variety of snakes (the abundant rain in the Sierra de Aroa and Sorte, I have been told).  Here at work, near some fallow land, we routinely kill mapanares and assorted cuaimas.  But today it was a first, in a storage room not even 100 feet from my desk we killed this coral snake, about 40 cm long.  Now, from Wikipedia I cannot tell for sure if it is a dangerous type of Coral, the most lethal species in Venezuela.  But when you go to a storage area and start moving stuff around and see yourself in front of that the reflex is "kill" even though that unfortunate snake might be good for you as your local predator of vermin (it specializes among other things in snake and lizard eggs).

I had given the order to try to avoid killing snakes whenever possible besides the mapanares easily recognizable by the local and more dangerous in fact than a coral who would have great difficulty in biting you due to its small size.  The mapanare can get you through your pants if necessary and can be as big as 6 feet whereas the coral would need to bite you on your ear lobe or the skin flap between your fingers, your nostril or something thin like that.

Still, the idea that coral snake could be crawling next to my desk....  Though I should not be surprised: two weeks ago at home I had to push outside with my broom a small tarantula.  It was small maybe but already big enough to make a mess if I had tried to squish it roach like.  Not to mention that by the time my sandal had landed on its spot she could have jumped away and land on my feet, for example...  Rats are less of a problem: my terrier has taken good care of three of them this year.


  1. Anonymous12:55 AM

    My father found a coral snake, or at least a coral-looking snake in our yard on the Costa Oriental del Lago. We used to play barefoot in the yard, it was too close to the house, and we had a dog; therefore, he didn't take the time to check the bands and see whether it was poisonous. Taqui-muerto.

  2. Anonymous12:55 AM

    Red on yellow, kill a fellow,
    Red on black, venome lack.

    To clarify this rhyme, replace "on" with "between". The red band comes "between" two yellow bands on the Coral Snake.

  3. Boludo Tejano12:59 AM

    With a coral snake, it is best to err on the side of caution, especially if you are working in the area. It does not look like this coral snake mimic, Erthrolampus aesculapii, as photographed at the Central Suriname Nature Reserve.

    When I was walking with friends on a forest trail in Guatemala, a coral snake crossed the trail several feet in front of me. We did nothing: no harm, no foul. The people I was with were born and raised in the area and had identified the snake as such, so I doubt it was a mimic, such as Pliocercus elapoides as is found nearby in Rio Negro, Honduras. Had they been doing some work off the trail- there were coffee plants interspersed interspersed in the forest- I doubt they would have had a live and let live attitude about the coral snake.

    Here is a tale of someone handling a Texas Coral Snake. A real TX Boludo ? Not if you know what you are doing, I guess. Which I wouldn’t. Which is why I wouldn’t do what he did.

    FWIW, here are coral snake mimics from Google Images.

    Your rat-killing terrier reminds me of another terrier of days gone by. A nonagenarian family friend wrote a combined family history and autobiography, which he finished several months before he died. [As the last survivor of twelve siblings who made it to adulthood, he saw the need to expand his autobiography.] And I quote:

    ”Beauty, the family’s little fox terrier, set her own woodchuck agenda for the summer. She dutifully and proudly dropped her catch of the day at the barn, abut one a day from June to September.”
    The book also includes a photo of Beauty, who died over 80 years ago.

    Kepler's blog has good wildlife postings.

  4. Anonymous1:18 AM

    Per your photo.
    Its almost like a King snake (non poisonous), except the tip of its nose is white. The coral is related to the cobra.
    In the south of EEUU it is usual that when red is against black its harmless.

  5. In the USA, the rhyme is

    "Red touch yellow, kill a fellow

    Red touch black, friend of Jack"

    The snake in this pic is red touch black.

  6. Anonymous1:59 AM

    Chill out Daniel. Celebrate biodiversity. I use a flashlight when going into the campus car park at night because of the Fer de lance and occasional rattler. Up in the research station an endemic species of rather large scorpion can drop on you from the roof, kissing bugs laden with Chagas pay visits, and all the wasps and bees you can imagine are everywhere. Wouldn´t have it any other way.

  7. last anonymous

    i am not nervous

    had i been the one discovering the snake i probably woudl not have killed if an easy exit was available for it to escape fast. in spite of my natural fear for snakes i have learned long ago that they can be useful to control other pests. it is up to you to make enough noise to warn them of your arrival and give them time to flee the scene.

    the most dangerous times are early in the morning when they have not properly warmed up and are still sluggish. slow to escape but still fast enough to bite you if needed.

    however there is something about mapanares. they do tend NOT to avoid humans, standing their ground. much more dangerous than a coral snake!

  8. Roger2:39 AM

    My Venezuelan favorite are the poison frogs. http://onlythemost.blogspot.com/2008/03/poison-dart-frogs-most-poisonous.html I took a shower with some at Las Cristinas Mine!
    They just hang on the walls looking at you. Just don't lick them!

  9. Anonymous4:11 AM

    Thankfully, in spite of tramping all over Venezuela I have yet to see a snake in the wild there. Hope it stays that way as the place definitely has some very nasty ones.

    Never even heard of mapanares before but they sound unpleasent. In fact, they sound like a good reason to just vacation in Alaska where there are no reptiles.


  10. 1979 Boat People5:05 AM

    I heard that South East Asia area, especially the Australia, has the black sea snake that is 10 times more poisonous than the Cobra.

    Is that true?

  11. I am surprised Ow never saw a mapanare if he says he was a lot in nature...hm, but then he did not see other dangerous things in Venezuela for quite some time :-p

    Mapanares abound in every warm area of Venezuela.

    Alexander von Humboldt mentions mapanares in his diaries from time to time, even if after a while it was more like "and there was one under my hammock"

    Bothrops atrox is the name. Atrocious derives from that adjective.
    I would find them very frequent in my house's garden and twice in the house, in spite of all the measures we were taught to apply to prevent that from happening.
    We lived at the border of the forest.
    We would usually try to put them in a bag and throw them up the mountain but that was often not possible.
    Snakes usually attack humans only if they feel cornered. The mapanare is a notorious exception to that: it is very agresive. They can also swing their body incredibly fast and strike at distances and speeds you would not suspect. There are a couple of snakes that imitate the look of the mapanare, as is the case with the cobra.

    Beware specially if you are walking in a tropical forest after a fire has struck: there are homeless snakes galore then.

  12. Anonymous4:35 PM

    Tranquilo, lo mató, muy bien, malo es, veale el color, rojo rojito, tanto rojo es malo. Uno menos La Maga Lee

  13. Daniel, What are the English names for mapanares and cuaimas?

  14. Mapanares are fer de lance

    Cuaimas are poisonous snakes

  15. i think might have been a MILK snake, false corals...


  16. Yes, but there are several snakes called fer de lance.

    Mapanare es de las que mata.



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