Of the more than 135 species of snakes in Central America, only 17 varieties are venomous. These snakes are members of the Viper, Coral or Sea snake families. There are also 2 venomous lizards, the Gila Monster and Mexican beaded lizard, found in Mexico.
The deadliest snake is the Pelagic or yellow-bellied sea snake. It is about 32 inches long and is yellow with a wide dark stripe along its back. It is found in abundance in the Pacific Ocean. The fangs on this snake are frontally located and deliver a highly neurotoxic venom. Its venom yield is low and is not aggressive unless it is caught. However, due to the small size of its mouth it is quite difficult for the sea snake to bite humans.
The most dangerous snake in Central America is the fer-de-lance, a member of the pit vipers. It causes more human deaths than any other snake in the Americas. On average it injects 150mg of venom in one bite. The lethal dose for humans is 50 mg. The fer-de-lance is found in lowland wet forest areas, along stream edges and ditches, and around areas of human habitation. They are mainly ground living, but are able to swim and climb. Typically they flee when disturbed, but can defend itself vigorously.
The largest pit viper in the world, the Bushmaster, is also a highly venomous snake. It is a greatly feared snake whose name in Latin is translated "Brings Silent Death". It is capable of multiple bite strikes injecting large amounts of venom. The Bushmaster is huge, about 9 feet in length, with a triangular shaped head. The triangular head is one of nature's warning signs that a snake is venomous and potentially deadly. This viper lives in remote, heavily forested tropical jungles. It can aggressively attack humans, but rarely occurs due to the Bushmaster's nocturnal nature.
Other venomous vipers include the tropical rattlesnake or Cascabel. It lives in low elevation dry areas on the ground or in rock crevices. It is similar to the Eastern Diamondback and can be quite deadly. The Jumping Viper, or Mano de Piedra, is thick and stocky and able to launch itself and strike at a distance. Also of some concern are the green tree snakes which like to live in banana trees. Since they are nearly impossible to see, this snake tends to bite unsuspecting banana workers.
The final group of venomous snakes is the coral snake. They are small (about 3 feet) with brightly colored bands of black, red, yellow or white. Their venom contains a very powerful neurotoxin. Even though the viper's venom is quite potent, their small fangs near the back of the mouth make it difficult to bite humans.
The Gila monster and Mexican beaded lizard both live in the Mexican desert. They are similar in appearance with stout bodies of black and pink blotches or bands and bead like scales. The Mexican beaded lizard is darker and larger at about 30 inches long while the Gila monster is 20 inches long. They have a strong bite with grooved teeth that deliver venom, a nerve poison, from glands in the lower jaw.
Even though these reptiles seem to be a dangerous nuisance, they play an important role in nature. They are nature's rodent control service, keeping a healthy balance of life in the wild.