The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake, Pelamis platurus, is easily recognised by its paddle-shaped tail and distinctive colouration of a dark back contrasting with variously patterned paler sides and belly. It has more than 40 rows of mid-body scales and large regular head scales. Total length of about 80 cm.
Yellow-bellied Sea SnakePhotographer: Peter Robertson. Source: Wildlife Profiles Pty Ltd
This species lives in the surface layers of the open ocean and drifts passively in warm currents. It probably occurs in Victorian waters as a result of drifting down from further north. It is quite helpless on land and sea snakes washed onto beaches during storms seldom manage to return to the sea.
The Yellow-bellied Sea Snake feeds entirely on small fish, which it immobilises with a potent venom. Females give birth to 1-6 live young.
Care should be taken with this species as it is considered dangerous. If bitten on a limb, apply a pressure bandage, immobilise the limb and seek medical advice immediately. If bitten elsewhere, apply continual direct pressure to the bite site. Do not wash the wound as the venom can confirm the identification of the snake.
Coventry, A. J. and Robertson, P. 1991. The Snakes of Victoria – A Guide to their Identification. Department of Conservation & Environment/Museum of Victoria.
Cogger, H. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Reed Books.
Wilson, S. & Swan, G. 2003. Reptiles of Australia. Princeton University Press.
If you would like more specific information about Yellow-bellied sea snakes, please feel free to submit an enquiry to the experts detailing your questions here: Ask the experts
Hi there, Christian. Like many sea snakes, this species has a paddle-like tail for ease of moving through the water. This - along with its special scales - is ideal for aquatic life.
Thanks Cooper, Lachie and Hayden! We have contacted the Senior Curator of Terrestrial Vertebrates and she thinks that you have done the right thing and that you may have in fact saved the snake. We would like to remind you though that these snakes are venomous and you should be careful.
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
Hi Les - Having checked this reference book - Cogger, H. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. - it would appear that the Yellow-bellied Sea Snake has a distribution that extends well down the coasts of NSW, so your find would not be unheard of in that location. I hope it recovered! As always, please exercise caution when handling wild reptiles; these snakes do have a venomous bite.
Hi Lis - Yes, these snakes have a very wide distribution, so it is certainly possible that this is the snake you found.
This species has an international distribution which includes the Indian Ocean, so it's perfectly normal to find them in Seychelles.
Hi John, sharks and other large predatory fish as well as birds are the more obvious predators of the Sea Snake. As potentially dangerous as sea snakes are they are still vulnerable to attacks from other animals. Many birds are very adept at killing snakes to have for a meal, and snakes that spend their life in the water are no exception.
Hi Cori, it is possible that what you have seen is not the species found around Australia but one of the North American species. You may want to contact the Florida Museum of Natural History who will have more information on the species of snake found in that part of the world.
Hi Blake - we wouldn't be able to suggest an identification for what bit you without seeing an image, however it is safe to assume that if this species can be found in Victorian waters, it certainly is possible that they could be found near Killalea.
Hope this helps
Hi Christine, You can find the answers to some of your questions in the InfoSheet above. Yellow-bellied Sea Snakes live on the surface of the water well away from land, not on the sea floor or in caves. They are often seen as individuals, but can also form extremely large groups associated with long lines of debris on the sea surface. They are predators creeping up on, or waiting to ambush, prey. They are piscivores (they eat only fish). They do not have many predators; their bright colours act as a warning that the snake is highly venomous. The venom is highly toxic and contains potent neurotoxins and myotoxins that can cause muscle pain and stiffness, drooping eyelids, drowsiness and vomiting, and possibly paralysis and death. If bitten, seek medical attention immediately. Reproduction occurs in warm waters throughout the year, but only during warmer months in cooler waters. They give birth to 2-6 live young from early spring to mid-autumn. Gestation is 5 months.
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