A Green If Lethal Gem

5th June 2015

After a long and sticky day in the field photographing Peruvian Amazon rainforest frogs for the Untamed Photography website, at a site a few hours from Puerto Maldonado city centre, one of the Fauna Forever herpetology team volunteers (Andrew Kathriner) returned to the lodge with a stunning, vibrant green Bothriopsis bilineata, aka the Western striped forest pit-viper. This venomous arboreal species, found in the Amazon basin of South America, can reach a length of 1 m, and its venom can be fatal. Due to its tree-dwelling nature, and if you’re not careful when out in the undergrowth, bites can be to the upper body such as the arms, head and face. The venom is hemotoxic, in that it destroys red blood cells. Clinical features of a wet bite include bruising, acute coagulopathy which leads to uncontrolled bleeding from the mouth, nose, ears and gums, loss of consciousness, fever, and shock. It’s not advised to get bitten by one of these guys, so remembering good snake-handling techniques is a must. Enough of the gory “what ifs” and on with the story…

Andrew, an experienced herper from the USA, had safely caught, carefully bagged, and calmly brought the snake back to the lodge for photographs and measuring before being released once again. This was an opportunity not to be missed, as venomous snakes aren’t as commonly observed in the deep Amazon as one may think, and I knew I had to get some shots of this green if lethal gem. Using some snake tongs, we carefully placed her (I think she was a she) on a photogenic vine that hung down from a tall Ceiba or Kapok tree. She sat there in pure grace and lack of fear – borne of the fact that she knows she’s venomous. The soft light that shone down from the canopy above was good, the background was a deep green and we had a perfect area to photograph her safely. With my Canon EOS 70D, an EOS 7D, 6D and a GoPro too, on an array of tripods a couple of metres from her, our little team got ready to fire off some frames. We concentrated first on head-on images, but I was really hoping for an opportunity for a side-on macro of her angled head, as the markings close-up looked amazing.

Having observed her very docile behaviour during the first 30 mins of the photoshoot, I got the Canon 60 mm macro lens fitted and ready for action. She behaved impeccably and allowed me to slowly approach the lens to within a few centimetres of her, which made for some exquisite focusing. My final macro shot settings were ISO 150, F-13, 0.8 secs, the results of which can be seen below. Before releasing this very cooperative beauty back into her wild realm, there was a bit of time for some fish-eye experimentation and we even managed to manoeuvre her on top of my flash, for a unique combination of snake-on-camera-gear pic – nice. I wonder whether those markings on her scales could be used to identify her if I were ever lucky enough to photograph her again?

Story written by Chris Kirkby