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Sea Snakes

Prashant Magar
The mere mention of sea snakes brings forth images of crawling monsters, like those seen in sci-fi movies. What are these sea snakes? What is their habitat made of? Questions are aplenty!
Sea snakes are reptiles that have adapted to life in water by developing certain physical and behavioral traits that are typical to sea-dwelling creatures. The scientific classification of sea snakes is as follows.
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Sub phylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Hydrophidae
Genera: Aipysurus, Enydrina, Hydrophis, Pelamis, Laticuda, etc.

General Characteristics

A full-grown sea snake measures anywhere between 120 and 150 cm. The largest species, the Hydrophis spiralis, can grow on to attain a length of 3 meters. They have valves inside their nostrils, which close once they are inside water.
Since they frequently surface to breathe, most of the sea snakes are found in shallow waters. They mostly feed on fish, fish eggs, or eels.
Like most snakes, they have a forked tongue, lack eyelids, and can't control their body temperature. The spongy tissue in their nostrils helps them keep water out and they respire through their skin. The lungs are extensive and spread throughout the body. This facilitates the storage of extra air to sustain for longer period inside water.
There are approximately 52 species of sea snakes all over the world. Their evolution has taken place from their terrestrial counterparts on the Australian mainland. They have special flattened tails or paddle tails, dorsal nostrils, and a boat-shaped body.
They do not possess gills, like fish do, but can remain in water for an average of 5 hours. Interestingly, they even give birth to their offspring at sea.

Understanding Sea Snakes

Sea snakes are extremely venomous in nature. Barring a few, most of them attack at the slightest provocation, despite the fact that they are known to be very 'reserved' species who avoid contact with other animals, especially humans. Once they are chafed, they can become really aggressive and sustain their attack for a long period.
The venom of a typical sea snake is 2 - 10 times more effective than that of a cobra. However, these creatures use venom to catch their prey, and not for self defense. The bite of this species is largely painless.
Muscle ache, jaw spasm, or pain in the bitten limb are the symptoms that start developing within 30 minutes of the bite. The neurotoxin content of the venom may cause drowsiness, respiratory paralysis, or blurred vision.
Winter is the mating season for the species, during which they can get really aggressive. These snakes dwell in regions where river water meets the sea. They need freshwater or extremely diluted salt water for drinking.
The pelagic or yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platura) is the most common type of snake in this family. It is found in the Pacific Ocean, near the coast of Madagascar and at times, in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands.
Sea snakes are also found in Australasia, with the Great Barrier Reef alone playing host to 32 species. Other variants have a limited habitat in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean.
Despite their ability to live in the ocean, they are generally found in coastal areas or places with shallow water. In fact, some have been spotted more than 100 km up the rivers. Most of the species are ovoviviparous in nature. In some species, the neonates are almost half the size of their mothers.
Sea snakes are poached for their organs, meat, and skin, but are not considered as endangered species as yet. These snakes are attracted to light and hence, get lured by humans easily. They are even considered a delicacy in the Orient. These beautiful creatures deserve to be treated with great respect, as they form an integral part of the marine world.