Terrifying Tales from the Field: Snakes in Costa Rica

By Roberto Salom-Pérez, Ph.D.
Latin America Director

Fer de lance

For Halloween, we’re bringing you a terrifying tale. In the field, scientists face threats from a variety of different frights — including venomous snakes. Our Mesoamerica Regional Director, Dr. Roberto Salom-Pérez, has one such tale of a spine-tingling run-in with a poisonous snake in Costa Rica. 

As a scientist who studies jaguars, pumas and the small wild cats of the Americas, my research takes me all over Costa Rica. One such place is Corcovado National Park, a beautiful location on the southwestern coast of this Central American country, where jaguars and small cats abound alongside Baird’s tapirs, spider monkeys and many more diverse plants and animals. However, one of the creatures important to this ecosystem is also one of its most dangerous — the snake. 

Ocelot in forest

I was new to Corcovado, hiking the trails to become familiar with the place where I was to conduct my research. Past bush, tree, rock — I walked, becoming familiar with my surroundings and the sounds of the jungle. 

I walked on, looking up at a peculiar sight. Before me stood a tree, its branches all black. I looked more closely; my curiosity was piqued by what I had seen. I guessed that the tree had probably been struck by lightning, blackening its bark in the process.

I kept looking, my scientist’s curiosity getting the better of me. While studying the tree, I forgot to take in all of my surroundings. Around me, the rest of the jungle teemed with life. And looking down — oh no. 

On the ground right next to me was a huge fer-de-lance, a snake native to Costa Rica — and a venomous one. 

I had seen fer-de-lances before, but never one that close. I slowly moved away, my heart pounding in my chest with each step.

Fer-de-lance 2
A fer-de-lance.

Luckily for me, the snake never moved. My heart kept pounding, however, as I put marking tape all over the trail, a message to other researchers to be cautious around the tree and its poisonous resident. 

I entered the forest once again a day later, with the thought of the poisonous snake ever-present in my mind. This time,  I was more cautious than ever before.

Fer de lance

Just remember to keep your eyes peeled when walking in the jungle. You never know what you might see — even at your feet.