Sea Snakes - Are you a Lover or a Hater?
Apparently a third of us have a fear of snakes (thanks, Wikipedia) – actually I thought it would have been more!
My fear of snakes is genuine (albeit unfounded), partly I think because I grew up in New Zealand where there is not a snake to be found.
Fear of Snakes
And we really don’t expect a snake to be there swimming next to us on a tropical reef in the South Pacific Islands, do we????
Since Sea Snakes seem to be so prolific in one of our favourite holiday destinations (New Caledonia), we decided we should learn a bit about them.
Nature Lesson – Sea Snakes 101:
The Sea Snakes of the South Pacific that we are familiar with are the banded black & silver type.
Snake or Krait: what’s the difference?
A Sea Snake is purely aquatic – it doesn’t leave the water and it bears live young.
A Sea Krait is our black & white buddy – they are amphibious which means they spend some time in the water and some time on land. They also lay eggs.
(So I’m scared of a snake, but it’s actually a Krait)
Scientific Name: Laticauda Colubrina
- Banded Sea Snake
- Banded Sea Krait
- Colubrine Sea Snake
- Amphibious Sea Snake
- Yellow Lipped Sea Krait
- Tricot Raye
I love the French name, Tricot Raye – translated it means something like “striped t-shirt” – just like the stereotypical French-man in his striped shirt!
The Yellow-Lipped describes the fact that this banded snake has a bright yellow nose, but you may not have noticed it before because you were too busy looking at its long sinuous body! That body is long and thin with the men averaging 90cm long and the ladies 1.4m long.
Why are they hanging out where we want to swim and sunbake?
The Tricot Raye lives in warm tropical waters (the sort we like to holiday in) and are very common in the Pacific Islands.
They are also home-bodies – they return to their place of birth to mate so you can see why particular islands appear over-run (hello Amedee Island off Noumea)!
They hunt in the water – their main food is eels, but they also hunt small fish, crabs & squid that all live in the shallow waters of coral reefs. So that is where you will find them too (just where you like to snorkel).
Once a sea krait has eaten it needs to return to land to digest its food. It can’t swim very well after a meal (just like us) so it needs to be close to a beach where it can let lunch go down (just where you also like to lay your beach towel)!
Aren’t Sea Kraits Dangerous and Poisonous?
Like most things in nature, the sea krait is just going about its business.
Eat, Sleep and Mate…. now you wish you were a Tricot Raye too!
Like most snakes, they are actually quite shy and non-aggressive and will usually avoid people.
If they are not curled up trying to digest their dinner, they will invariably slither away when approached on land.
They may be less docile during the mating season (September to December). They will come to land to mate and lay eggs so be more aware during this time to just leave them alone. You wouldn't want a crowd watching when you mate or give birth, would you!
However, the Sea Krait is Venomous, and highly so with a neurotoxin up to 10 times stronger than Rattlesnake Venom which quickly paralyses their prey so that they can eat it.
They use their venom by biting their prey when hunting for food.
**Just remember you are not their prey so they do not intend to bite you**
The only other reason they would try to bite is if they feel threatened, so don't corner or antagonise him. Common sense, right?
It is also true that the Sea Krait has a very small mouth and short fangs, so it would be difficult for one to actually bite you even if it tried (I don’t recommend you trying this out though).
A New Understanding of Sea Snakes.
I feel like I know Tricot Raye a little better now.
If you have been lucky enough to watch them in the wild you will agree that they are a stunning-looking animal, and perfectly adapted to their lives on the coral reefs & coastal islands that we also love.
So when you visit their territory, show them some respect. Admire them from afar and then just leave them to do their thing.
Don’t let an unfounded fear stop you from enjoying some of the most incredible destinations on the planet. I’m not going to!