The most Venomous Reptiles of Central America

Central America is a wonderful place to visit because of its beauty, rich culture and history. Many people like to go hiking and exploring in its tropical rainforests, mountains, and ruins. The strip of land that is Central America is also full of fascinating wildlife. This wildlife includes venomous creatures such as snakes and the Mexican Beaded Lizard.

Nature gives us all kinds of creatures of the air, water and land. Some animals living on land or sea carry defense weapons. These include venomous snakes and even a lizard or two. The abundance of reptiles in Central America is a huge draw for nature buffs. When people cross paths with these creatures, it is good to know which are venomous and be able to recognize them.

Poisonous reptilian populations carry two types of poison: hemotoxins and neurotoxins. Hemotoxins cause a break down of red blood cells, hemorrhage, and tissue destruction. Symptoms may include nausea, disorientation, and headache that may be delayed for several days. Neurotoxins act on nerve cells disrupting their ability to pass on information to the body. These toxins can cause rapid loss of muscle control and paralysis.

Mexican Beaded Lizard:

The Mexican Beaded Lizard can be identified by it size and appearance. It measures from 30 to 36 inches as an adult and can weigh up to six pounds. Their brown or black color is interrupted by bands of yellow to white spots. The most identifying feature is the protruding beads of skin on their body. The Mexican Beaded Lizard is one of two venomous lizards. Its cousin the Gilo Monster is native to the southern dry climates of the United States.

The Mexican Beaded Lizard is native to Mexico and Guatemala. They prefer a dry climate. These creatures are seldom seen as they are nocturnal and prefer to stay inside their burrows. They are aggressive and will move very quickly if they feel threatened. Hissing is used as a warning to predators.

The Mexican Beaded Lizard’s venom is a neurotoxin that is delivered from pits in the lower jaw. The delivery of the poison is done by chewing. They strongly clamp their prey between their jaws with their teeth continuing to chew until they have delivered their venom. There is no anti-venom for bites of the Mexican Beaded Lizard, and it can be fatal to humans if left untreated.

Poisonous Snakes of Central America:

Coral Snake

The Coral Snake is a small banded and colorful snake that can be found in many regions of the world. In Central America there are a number of varieties that don’t resemble the Coral Snake of the U.S. The best bet is to steer clear of any snake that is unfamiliar. The Coral Snake is reclusive. They prefer to live in their burrows and under leaf little and seldom come out during the day except after heavy rains or during mating.

Corals are not aggressive and human encounters are generally restricted to early morning and late evening hours. Some species are aquatic with a flat tail for use as a rudder. The temptation to handle these beautiful creatures or accidental disturbance of their hiding places are causes for most human bites.

Their favorite foods are small rodents. Since their fangs are so short and delivery of venom is slow they need to hold onto their prey while injecting. Venom is a neurotoxin as with most cobra species. Bites are not usually fatal to humans, but can be for a child or adult in poor health. The toxin is slow acting and can take up to 24 hours to show symptoms. These symptoms may include slurred speech, double vision, trouble swallowing, and paralysis of muscles. Though death is rare, it is usually caused by respiratory and cardiac failure.

Eyelash Pit Viper

The Eyelash Pit Viper can be identified by its small size, variety of colors, and scales over the eyes resembling eyelashes. The head is triangular like most other pit vipers. The female is larger than the male, but they seldom measure more than 75 cm. This tree dweller is found in regions of Central and South America. The Eyelash Pit Viper is generally nocturnal. It prefers the rainforests and can be found near water due to their need for moisture. The tail is strong and prehensile allowing them to grip and hang from the trees.

The Eyelash Pit Viper is not aggressive but will strike if bothered. This is an ambush predator that feeds on frogs, lizards, rodents, and birds. Bites are not usually fatal to humans but are very painful. However bites can become deadly if not treated properly and quickly.

Jumping Viper

A Jumping Viper is a short thick snake ranging from brown to gray with dark brown or black blotches on its back. It measures between 60 to 120 cm and lives throughout Southern Mexico and Central America. Preferring rainforests, plantations and wooded areas, they often hide under debris such as leaf litter and logs.

Jumping Vipers are difficult to see making them dangerous to humans who come within their range. The snake prefers to be out in the evening hours to feed on rodents, lizards and frogs. It can strike with such force that it leaps off the ground accounting for its name. The bite injects a hemotoxin that can cause death in humans.

The Bushmaster Snake

The Bushmaster is the largest pit viper in the Americas. It is not unusual for a Bushmaster to grow well over six feet and have a heavy body. The longest on record measured 14 feet. It has a triangular head, dorsal ridge, and well defined scales with an inverted snout. The color of this snake is light brown to pink with areas defined with black or dark brown markings following the full length of its body.

Bushmasters are found in remote tropical rainforests of Central America. Their territory covers much of Central America and portions of South America including Brazil. This nocturnal snake feeds primarily on rats and mice. Bushmasters don’t pursue human prey but are quite able and willing to defend themselves. It is an aggressive snake that is able to inject its venom repeatedly into a victim. The long fangs fold back into the mouth when closed and act like hypodermic needles. The venom is a hemotoxin. The occurrences of human attacks are low due to its nature. Its ability to deliver venom with each strike does make its bite deadly if not treated.

Tropical Rattlesnake

Once of the most dangerous vipers of the rattlesnake family, the Tropical Rattlesnake is generally a light brown with prominent diamond like shapes on its back. It is a large snake ranging from 1.4 meters to 2.1 meters. The Tropical Rattlesnake prefers dry sandy areas, plantations and dry hillsides. It is not rare to come into proximity with this snake as it shares some of the same area as humans. It may or may not emit a warning rattle and can strike very quickly even if it does.

The Tropical Rattlesnake is one very dangerous reptile. The bite includes both hemotoxin and neurotoxin. Immediate treatment with anti-venom is essential.

Yellow Bellied Sea Snake

The Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is easily recognized by its black or brown coloring on its back and distinct yellow underbelly. It has a flat tail helping to propel it through the water. It ranges in size from less than 1 meter to slightly over a meter.

The Yellow Bellied Sea Snake is found throughout the Pacific Ocean and may visit waters near the Pacific Islands such as Hawaii, and tropical areas like Costa Rica and Panama. Yellow Bellied Sea Snakes can be found in every ocean of the world except the Atlantic. It doesn’t often come ashore and does not strike. But, it will turn in the water and defend itself very quickly if it senses a predator.

Related to the cobra family, the Yellow Bellied Sea Snake carries a highly lethal neurotoxin requiring immediate treatment. A small amount injected into its victim can cause death.


The Fer-de-lance is the most dangerous snake of Central and South America. They are a pit viper with a triangular shaped head. The snakes usually have a heavy body and measure from 70 to 125 cm. Coloring can be brown or olive green with geometric shapes such as triangles with a light border. The bottom of the head is light yellow.

Fer-de-lance prefer to move along the ground and thrive in tropical forests. These predators can be found along streams and in ditches. They are known to live in regions populated by humans. It’s not uncommon to find them on plantations and in run down houses where mice and rats are plentiful.

The Fer-de-lance is unpredictable if bothered. It may flee or defend itself by striking as soon as the intruder is within reach. The snake detects temperature changes of 0.001 degrees Celsius, and uses its tongue to taste the air. It is primarily nocturnal.

A strike from a Fer-de-lance is quick and accurate even in the dark. The snake can inject as much as 105 mg of venom in one bite. A mere 50 mg kills an adult human. Treatment with anti-venom is needed immediately.


With any of the reptiles described in this article, the best defense is to be knowledgeable of them and wise in treading their territories. From the Mexican Beaded Lizard, and the small Coral Snake to the Fer-de-lance the progression of most dangerous of these creatures gives anyone pause to think about proper attire and caution when visiting Central America. They are fascinating creatures best viewed at a distance.

Visiting the cities, Pacific coastal regions, rainforests or studying the rich history of this amazing area of our world should give any traveler pause to think about its ecological significance. Respecting creatures of Central America that could be potentially dangerous should be a part of the traveler’s rule book. It is rare to come in contact with one of these creatures in the wild. When we are in populated areas known for being inhabited by such snakes as the Jumping Viper or Fer-de-lance it is prudent to be on guard and watchful.