With 5 thermal floors encompassing over 300 diverse ecosystems, Colombia is a perfect breeding ground for all kinds of wildlife and plants.
Here are 7 of the most deadly creatures of Colombia, sourced from 300 known species of snakes (more than double the number of Australia), 915 known species of spiders (possibly thousands more unidentified or undiscovered), 811 known species of frogs, and approximately 255 species of ants, along with the usual suspects known to be dangerous to humans, that also reside in Colombia.
Obviously there are more than 7 deadly species. There are sub-species of sub-species and all are dangerous to varying degrees.
Whether you are a tourist or local it is possible to come into contact with most of these creatures.
Lets take a look.
1 Venomous Spiders in Colombia.
While the majority of spiders are harmless, that does not apply to the Brazilian Wandering Spider, also known as the banana spider, armed spider, or sometimes huntsman spider.
The problem, as always is in the identification.
Banana spiders is a term given to at least 4 other spiders species throughout the world.
- Hawaiian garden spider (Argiope appensa).
- Goblin spider (China).
- Golden silk orb-weaver (Nephila).
- Hunting spider (Cupiennius).
There are eight different species of Brazilian Wandering Spider, and all are found in South America.
They are called wandering spiders because they like to go walk-a-bout at night.
Six of them are said to be mild to moderately venomous.
The two most venomous banana spiders are also considered the most venomous spiders in the world.
- Phoneutria nigrienter
- Phoneutria fera
The phoneutria nigrienter is arguably the most deadly of the banana spiders. It is common in the urban areas of southern Brazil. and Northern Argentina.
See Reported cases.
Its relative phoneutria fera is also extremely venomous but is found in the Northern areas of South America, although there are reports of it having been found in Argentina.
These two Phoneutria are widely dispersed in their endemic areas and can be found in banana plantations, foliage, urban areas, and even inside homes.
A component of the venom from these spiders is being studied as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Its bite can kill a human in 2-6 hours.
Bananas are a South American export and these spiders have been found in boxes of bananas in various countries.
Who knows, they may be in your country?
The female Black Widow spider which has more potency than a Rattlesnake deserves a special mention.
Black Widow Spiders (Latrodectus curacaviensis).
Many countries claim a Black Widow spider species.
In South America, black widow spiders, are known for their distinctive black coloration, with the female having a red hourglass-shaped marking on the abdomen.
The good news is, if you are unlucky enough to be bitten, their bite doesn’t deliver a lot of venom, still, the venom is enough to potentially be deadly to children, elderly people or those with heart issues.
There is also a Brown widow spider which has yellow markings on its legs, but its bite is not as serious as the black widow.
These spiders are found under logs, in sheds, in piles of rubbish, even fire places.
2. Scorpions in Colombia.
Colombia is home to an estimated 50 different species of scorpion.
The two species in Colombia are considered medically significant due to their venomous stings are:
1. Tityus asthenes: Often called the Peruvian Black Scorpion or Amazonian Black Scorpion, it is found in various regions of Colombia, especially in the Andean region. It is known for its potent venom, which can cause severe pain, local swelling, and sometimes systemic symptoms in humans. Although fatalities are rare, its sting can cause severe pain, local swelling, and sometimes systemic symptoms in humans.
2. Centruroides margaritatus: This scorpion is known for its painful sting.
It can cause local pain, swelling, and discomfort but is generally not considered life-threatening to healthy adults. However, children, the elderly, or individuals with pre-existing medical conditions may be more vulnerable to severe reactions.
Scorpions are usually only active at night, so if you are camping in the wilderness, it’s worth checking your shoes and giving your clothes a good shake in the morning.
Apparently Colombian army soldiers turn their socks over the top of their boots when they are on manoeuvres.
3. Painful Colombian Stinging Ants.
The Bullet Ant or 24-hour ant. (Paraponera clavata).
Although not the deadliest ant in the world (that belongs to the Bulldog ant in Australia), the Bullet ant has the most painful bite in the world.
They nest around the base of trees in the tropical jungles of Central and Sth. America, and they forage for food on the trees as well as the forest floor.
They are normally found from sea level to 2500ft., but they have been found as high as 5,000 ft above sea level.
The pain of the sting is described as blinding, electric pain, comparable to “walking over flaming charcoal with a three-inch nail embedded in your heel,” and some native tribes used them for initiation ceremonies.
The pain is said to be a level 4 on the Schmidt sting pain index. There is no level 5!
4. Beautiful but Deadly Colombian Frogs (Phyllobates terribilis). These are not for Kissing.
The world’s deadliest frog is considered to be the Golden Poison Dart Frog, which is native to the rainforests of western Colombia.
It likes high humidity and high rainfall, up to 5000mm per year, where the prey it lunches on contribute to the poisonous secretions from it skin.
These small frogs are known for their vibrant yellow, orange, or green coloration, which serves as a warning to potential predators that they are highly toxic.
Other poison dart frogs are also toxic to, but to a lessor extent than the Golden dart frog.
Short Video Here.
Indigenous people of Colombia have used the toxins from these frogs to poison the tips of blowdarts for hunting, hence the name “dart frog.”
However its level of toxicity doesn’t make this frog completely immune from predators.
One creature that is immune from the frogs toxic skin is the “Fire Bellied Snake” (Erythrolamprus epinephalus).
The snake is non- venomous and is not a danger to humans.
The Golden Poison dart is just one of a series of poisonous frogs endemic to the Central and South America.
Note:- In nature Dart frogs make their poison through their diet, but in captivity with a controlled diet they’re not able to create the full chemical defense, so, the toxin weakens after a year or two into being harmless.
5. Snakes in Colombia.
Mention South America and snakes in the same sentence and people normally think of Jungle, Boa Constrictors and Anacondas.
While those two snakes are found in many areas of South America, they generally steer clear of humans… Well, humans have a hard time accessing their habitats.
With over 300 species (34 of them endemic to Colombia), of snakes Colombia has its fair share of South American reptilian specimens.
Those that are likely to be encountered by humans are unfortunately likely to be some of the more venomous.
The two species responsible for the majority of snake bites in Colombia are related. Both are pit vipers and are responsible for up to 50-70% of all snake bites in some provinces in Colombia.
- The Common Lancehead Viper
- Terciopelo or Velvet snake.
Lets take a look at these two.
- The Common Lancehead Viper. (Bothrops atrox)
The common Lancehead is also called: fer-de-lance, mapaná, barba amarilla (yellow beard, alluding to its pale colored bottom jaw), grows to around 120-140cm (4-5ft).
The biggest danger to humans is because it inhabits banana and coffee plantations, and workers in these two industries are its most common victims.
These snakes can lie camouflaged for hours, nearly undetectable, and strike with high speed.
Someone I know was bitten on the leg by one recently, and he said it felt like someone had hit him with a hammer. Luckily he was able to get medical attention quickly and recovered quickly.
2. Terciopelo (Bothrops asper).
Other names include: Velvet snake, fer-de-lance (again),
There is some mis-identification of this snake associated with the common Lancehead.
Two things are apparent: This is a larger snake growing up to 2.5 mtrs. 9.2 ft. It also has a lighter colored face.
Where as the common Lancehead is found in areas below 1000mtrs, the Terciopelo can be found in up to 2600 mtrs. in Colombia.
Of course there are other venomous snakes that inhabit Colombia, and not all are as venomous as these two, an exception is the highly venomous Neotropical Rattlesnake.
As a general rule snakes like to steer clear of humans and will only strike out when they feel threatened. If you see one stop, and give it space.
6. Jaguar. The Jaws of Death. (Panthera onca)
Also called yaguar o yaguareté by the indigenous people. Meaning “He who kills in one leap”
Jaguars sadly, are an endangered species. Unlike spiders, scorpions and snakes, once Jaguars they lose their habitat, they disappear.
Spiders and scorpions will just move into your place, and a snake might decide your garden is a nice home for them.
Of all the big cats the Jaguar even at 150kg+, has all the attributes of other big cats including speed (although not as fast as a Cheetah), and a few unique traits of its own, such as:-
- It is a superb swimmer (it has webbed feet)
- It can eat while being submerged
- It is the apex predator in the Americas
- It can run fast, up to 80 klms an hour
- It has a bite force estimated at between 1500 and 2000 psi. A lion is estimated at 1000psi.
- Jaguars employ a unique technique called the “canine shear bite.“ That is, they target the skull or brain of their prey and use their sharp 50mm (2inch), canines to pierce through the skull, leading to a quick and lethal bite.
- Pound for pound it could be argued they are the strongest big cat. It is the third largest after a Tiger and a Lion. It is stronger than a Leopard which can carry prey twice its weight up a tree.
- Jaguar’s are also good at climbing trees.
- Their claws are surgeons scalpel sharp
Jaguars can be found in diverse habitats such as forests, wetlands, savannas, and grasslands, from sea level to 3,000mtrs asl.
As humans have encroached into Jaguar habitat, much of the Jaguars natural prey has disappeared, or severely diminished. This destruction forces Jaguars further up the mountains or stay near their territory and dine on famers grazing stock.
Farmers finding a carcass of one of their cows or mules will retaliate and shoot Jaguars on sight.
This is a problem across much of South and Central America where Jaguars have lost about 50% of their habitat over the past 100 years or so.
It has also been hunted for its fur, fangs, and paws. And of course there is the “Black Panther,” which is just a Jaguar with melanistic coloring, its spots are still visible in certain light conditions.
One of the reasons it is still with us is its varied diet. It is basically a “if it moves eat it” type creature.
There are conservation efforts and Colombia has been at the forefront of this along with Peru and Brazil.
In Central America the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary was set up in 1986 in Belize. The worlds first Jaguar sanctuary.
To see a Jaguar in Colombia you need to be very lucky. Although they have been seen 600 metres from Santa Airport, possibly your best option would be to look into river tours at Letica.
An excellent Video Here.
7. The Owners of Colombia…Iguanas.
Who would think the humble Iguana could be dangerous, people keep them as pets after all.
People also keep tarantulas, snakes and tigers as pets too.
Iguanas are endemic to the jungles of Central and Sth. America, they are also common around the Caribbean, including in the built up areas.
They can grow to around 150cm (5 ft.), and can weigh up to 8-10Kgs.
The Iguana is not so much dangerous because it intentionally attacks you, most attacks are put down as accidents.
For example: I have been been sitting on a bench in a park and had an Iguana fall on me from a branch about 5 meters above me.
Maybe it saw me as a soft landing.
Believe it or not this is not uncommon, and people have many tales of an Iguana dropping from a tree onto them while they are talking with friends.
Worse, they seem to prefer a crowd under a tree when they defecate, which comes out in a sloppy, liquid mess guaranteed to be spread over as many victims as possible.
Iguanas are venomous, with venom glands on their upper and lower jaws. If they bite you with their small serrated teeth venom will be released but, it is harmless to humans.
Their teeth will do more damage than any venom, and it is possible for an Iguana to bite down to the bone.
The real danger from an Iguana comes from its claws. They are very sharp and can easily can easily puncture the skin deeply.
Their tails can also be used as a whip, this is sometimes seen when defending themselves against domestic dogs.
The danger with Iguanas though, is the bacteria it has on its body, its claws and in its mouth, they are salmonella rich!
The one that dropped onto me left claw punctures on my arm and in the calf of my left leg.
Although they didn’t looked serious, I washed these with alcohol and applied anti-bacterial cream on a daily basis. They still took about a fortnight to completely heal.
While it is interesting, even important to know of these dangerous creatures, more importantly we have made many of them more dangerous by destroying their habitat and bringing them into closer contact with us.
Many are actively hunted not only for medical purposes but sadly, for trophies, the pet trade, the fur trade, and the skin trade for making shoes and purses.
We need to do better.