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             Wednesday December 29, 2010 

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Fer-de-lance or Tommy Goff
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Also called "Yellowjaw" or "Tommy Goff" by Belizeans. These snakes are sensibly feared throughout Central America. They have a strong, fast acting hemotoxic venom, they are fairly common, are hard to see, and they will strike if perturbed.

This is an aggressive snake, so be weary. His bite (although responsible for the majority of snake bite deaths in the region) is rarely fatal. Although he is a very grumpy snake who doesn't tend to run away and will stand his ground and strike when disturbed, he is also quite smart and will normally give a dry bite or only partially envenomate the poor hapless soul that gets in the way.

If you are bitten by a Tommy Goff and he does envenomate, then you have got many hours to get treatment before things get really serious. This is not a two step snake that doesn't give you time to make a will. The bite is designed to start the digestion process and to make sure the prey doesn't get very far before collapsing.

The fer-de-lance or terciopelo is the most feared snake in Central America, and with good reason - it's the cause of most serious snakebites in the areas where it lives. The name fer-de-lance isn't used in the countries where this snake lives, and there's a different snake called fer-de-lance in South America, so terciopelo is probably a more appropriate name. Terciopelo is Spanish for "velvet", literally meaning "third skin". In Belize it's also called the Tommygoff or yellowjaw.

This is the snake I most wanted to see while I was in the country, and I got lucky coming back from dinner at Maya Landing to the park headquarters at the Cockscomb jaguar reserve. This beautiful six footer was stretched across the road, so I grabbed my camera and flash, jumped out of the van and approached it to get some photos. I was able to get five or six before it turned tail and headed back into the jungle. Luckily I didn't follow, because it has a reputation for initially fleeing and then turning around and attacking.

Females of this species can reach two and a half meters in length and weigh six kilograms, making them one of the heaviest of all venomous snakes. The fangs can be an impressive 2.5 centimeters long. The terciopelo is said to be very unpredictable and very willing to defend itself by striking. However, most bites happen when one enters a house and strikes a person, or a person walks too close to one without realizing that it's there. For this reason I was ultra careful whenever I was walking around the forest in Belize, especially at night. Although the great majority of people recover from terciopelo bites, it's very common to have severe necrosis which requires fingers, toes or whole limbs to be amputated.

Photograph by Richard Seaman
Fer-de-lance or Tommy Goff
2nd photograph by Jana C. Uhlik              
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