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What is a Bushmaster?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison

The venomous bushmaster is one of the longest snakes in the world, ranging in length from around 6 feet (1.8 m) to more than 13 feet (around 4 m). It lives in several South American countries, including Nicaragua, Brazil, Costa Rica and Colombia. The bushmaster varies in color from a brownish red to a gray-pink, depending on the color of its surroundings, and it may have diamond or X-shaped markings along its back. The triangular shape of its head, which is similar to that of the rattlesnake, serves as a warning that the snake is poisonous.

There are just three species of this dangerous snake, Lachesis muta, Lachesis melanocephala, and Lachesis stenophrys. They belong to a subfamily of vipers called Crotalinae, or venomous pitvipers, which refers to the pits below their eyes. These pits help the snakes detect heat, which helps them locate prey and allows them to see in two different spectrums of light, the visible spectrum and the infrared spectrum.

Rats are a common meal for the adult bushmaster.
Rats are a common meal for the adult bushmaster.

Humans seldom see these deadly snakes, because bushmasters live in remote jungles and rainforests. This makes their bite even more dangerous, because it means there are often no hospitals or other medical facilities for many miles when a bite does occur. By the time a snake bite victim reaches help, it is usually too late.

There are few documented cases of the bushmaster biting people. The few that do exist suggest an 80 percent fatality rate, making this snake one of the most deadly in existence. They have exceptionally long fangs that are able to penetrate and firmly grasp their victims, causing venom to be injected deeply. As a result, the very deep bites of bushmasters have been known to cause severe scarring in those who do survive. Survivors also tend to endure acute pain and vomiting during their struggle to live.

Bushmasters are found in the jungles of Brazil.
Bushmasters are found in the jungles of Brazil.

The bushmaster uses its coloring as a camouflage for protection and to help it find prey. It will remain completely still while hunting and then quickly strike when its intended victim comes near. The snake kills by injecting its deadly venom, which both immobilizes its prey and causes body tissues to rapidly break down. The animal actually starts to decompose before it is digested. The venom, hemotoxin, enables the bushmaster to eat animals much larger than itself.

This is the only oviparous, or egg-laying, venomous snake in existence, laying up to a dozen eggs at a time. Its babies are fed a diet consisting of only small frogs and lizards. Adults eat an entirely different diet, feeding solely on mammals such as opossums, rats and mice. The bushmaster is nocturnal and hunts at night, when the animals on which it preys are most active.

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    • Rats are a common meal for the adult bushmaster.
      By: Ilia Shcherbakov
      Rats are a common meal for the adult bushmaster.
    • Bushmasters are found in the jungles of Brazil.
      By: Bastos
      Bushmasters are found in the jungles of Brazil.