Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake Fact File

Pelamis platura

Credit: Luis Correa, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Weight

Insufficient

Data

Length

8.8m

(28.9ft)

Lifespan

Wild 2-4 years

Captive 2-4 years

Diet

Carnivore

Fish

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

The World’s Most Widespread Snake!

Yellow-bellied sea snakes are the most widespread species of snake on Earth. They are found in tropical oceans including the Pacific and Indian.

This species is a carnivore which will subdue prey using its potent venom. This assists them with capturing fish on which they will feed.

They give birth to live young. The female will produce up to six young during each breeding season.

Threats to this species include pollution and bycatch in fishing operations.

Read on to learn more about these radical reptiles.

Appearance

What does the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake look like?

This species is named for the bright yellow underside which contrasts heavily against the black or dark brown of the upper half of the body. In some individuals the underside may be whiter in color. Across the body the scales are hexagonal in shape.

This is an example of countershading. The animal has light coloring underneath which blends with the sky above and dark colors on top which blend with the oceans surface.

Their underside has keeled scales which provide stability in the water. These mean they cannot get traction while moving across the sand.

They have a large eye with a bluish-black pupil.

At the end of the body is a flattened tail. This is shaped like a paddle. it is colored a lighter color than the rest of the body and features a range of black spots.

Females are larger than males. They can reach lengths of up to 8.8m (28.9ft) long compared to the males measuring 7.2m (23.6ft) long.

Adaptations

How does the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake survive in its habitat?


Their counter-shaded coloration allows them to camouflage in their environment.

The tail is flattened in to a paddle shape. This can be flicked from side to side providing thrust to push them through the water.

Their nostrils sit high on the head which allows them to breathe while resting at the surface. There are valves across the nostril which will prevent water entry from affecting them.

These reptiles have the ability to respirate across their skin. They can obtain oxygen and expel excess carbon dioxide in this way.

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Diet

What does the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake eat?

Yellow-bellied sea snakes are carnivores. Most of their prey is fish.

They are able to subdue their prey using a toxic bite.

When hunting they will sit motionless in the water. Fish begin to gather near the tail and the snake then rapidly swims backwards and will strike sideways at the predator.

It was previously believed that this species would remove salt from sea water to drink but recent research has revealed that they solely drink fresh water.

Learn more about the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake in this video from Snake and Reptile Catching Gosford Central Coast on YouTube

Range

Where do you find the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake?

Yellow-bellied sea snakes are found in the ocean. Their range takes in parts of the Pacific and Indian ocean. It extends along the coastline of Africa, Asia, Australia and many islands including Madagascar and those in the Pacific.

This species is considered to be the most widespread species of snake on Earth. They are the only species of snake to be found around Hawaii and one of only two to have ever reached New Zealand.

Habitat

Where can the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake survive?

This species will spend its entire life in the water. The majority spend their time in the shallow waters along the shore where they can find large numbers of fish.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platura)

Credit: Public Domain

Reproduction

How does the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake produce its young?

Young have been recorded year round indicating that they do not have a defined breeding season.

The female will give birth to between one and six young. These are born live in the water. They are born after a six month gestation period.

Young can feed as soon as they are born.

Sexual maturity is reached between two and three years old.

Behavior

What does the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake do during its day?

This species is helpless on land and must remain in the water. Even when beached on the sand they can still strike at anything which may attempt to move them. Beaching is commonly a result of high winds.

They may remain submerged for between 10 and 90 minutes at a time.

At night this species will rest in deep water. As they breathe air they must come to the surface two or three times through the night to breathe.

They are active by day when they will hunt for prey.

These animals regularly shed their old skin. During this period they must loosen their old skin. Often this species is not near corals which they can use to loosen the skin. Instead they will coil their body and rub against themselves to remove the old skin. This behavior will also remove algae and barnacles from their body.

They may shed as much as often as once every two weeks.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platura)

Credit: Aloaiza, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What stops the Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake from surviving and thriving?

No natural predators of the yellow-bellied sea snake have been recorded.

This species can defend itself using a highly toxic venom.

Their bright coloring will also act as a warning to predators that they are venomous.

Populations of the yellow-bellied sea snake are considered stable and it is a common species across its range.

They are affected by fishing operations and pollution such as oil spills.

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Quick facts

The species was first described for western science in 1766.

They may also be known as the pelagic sea snake.

This snake is the only species in its genus, Pelamis.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake (Pelamis platura)

Credit: Luis Correa, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Crew, B., 2021. Creatura. 1st ed. Terrey Hills, NSW: Australian Geographic.

Rowland, P., Eipper, S. and Mayer, K., 2019. A naturalist’s guide to the dangerous creatures of Australia. 2nd ed. Oxford:

John Beaufoy Publishing Limited.Jackson, T. and Chinery, M., 2012. The illustrated encyclopedia of animals of the world. London: Southwater.

Thai National Parks. 2022. Hydrophis platurus, Yellow-bellied sea snake. [online] Available at: <https://www.thainationalparks.com/species/hydrophis-platurus> [Accessed 8 January 2022].Environment.gov.au. 2022. Pelamis platurus — Yellow-bellied Seasnake. [online] Available at: <http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/sprat/public/publicspecies.pl?taxon_id=1091> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

The Australian Museum. 2022. Yellow-bellied Sea Snake. [online] Available at: <https://australian.museum/learn/animals/reptiles/yellow-bellied-sea-snake/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Mesa.edu.au. 2022. Sea Snakes of Australia. [online] Available at: <http://www.mesa.edu.au/sea_snakes/sea_snakes04.asp> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Waikīkī Aquarium. 2022. Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake. [online] Available at: <https://www.waikikiaquarium.org/experience/animal-guide/reptiles/yellow-bellied-sea-snake/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

Guinea, M., Lukoschek, V., Cogger, H., Rasmussen, A., Murphy, J., Lane, A., Sanders, K. Lobo, A., Gatus, J., Limpus, C., Milton, D., Courtney, T., Read, M., Fletcher, E., Marsh, D., White, M.-D., Heatwole, H., Alcala, A., Voris, H. & Karns, D. 2017. Hydrophis platurus (amended version of 2010 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T176738A115883818. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2017-2.RLTS.T176738A115883818.en. Accessed on 08 January 2022.

Australian Geographic. 2022. Meet the yellow-bellied sea snake, a powerhouse of a reptile. [online] Available at: <https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/fact-file/yellow-bellied-sea-snake/> [Accessed 8 January 2022].

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