Yellow-bellied Sea Snake, Pelamis platurus

Snakes of Victoria series


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 Snake, Pelamis platurus

Yellow-bellied Sea Snake
Photographer: Peter Robertson. Source: Wildlife Profiles Pty Ltd

Distribution and habitat

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.

Biology and bite

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.

Further Reading

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.

Comments (58)

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amelia 20 May, 2009 12:35
there is not enough information on the animal's diet, i cant find any good information
Discovery Centre 24 May, 2009 14:37

Hi Amelia,

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

Christian 17 September, 2009 11:13
Hi there, does this snake have any special addaptions to living under the water?
Discovery Centre 17 September, 2009 12:54

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.

carey 16 October, 2009 17:35
thanks for the info! It was very detailed and helpful!
Cooper, Lachi and Hayden 8 November, 2009 17:11
We found on of these on the beach at Coonnar near Bundaberg this morning. We thought it was dying because it wouldnt go back into the water. It was clearly having some difficulty getting through the breaking surf. Was it wrong of us to get it to go back in the water? We had a big storm the night before
Discovery Centre 9 November, 2009 14:52

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.

MarineTeam 18 December, 2009 14:06
Hi thanks for the nformation it is very interesting. Plz visit our website at thanx!!!
Les Lawrenson 15 March, 2010 09:51
We found one of these alive on the beach at Currarong NSW 15th Mar 2010. We returned it to the water and it started to swim but was struggling in the surf. First time we have seen one here - is it part of it's normal range?
Brad smith 10 November, 2013 20:34
Hi les, just read your recording on the snake you came across on currarong beach all those years ago... I live in culburra but make the walk to currarong by beach every so often ( all 14km return ) and was lucky enough to strike a yellow belly struggling on the sand, brilliant looking snake at a small size ( 25cm ) but great to see but unfortunant I could not return it to the water as it was a large swell and wouldn't co operate lol... Thanks for the info and the read on this site regards brad
Discovery Centre 15 March, 2010 16:14

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.

joseph 25 May, 2010 10:32
this is a very good type of info i will put this in fav
joseph 18 June, 2010 10:42
Lis 19 July, 2010 15:34
I found a sea snake washed up on Peregian beach, Qld. Is this area within the snakes range and do many sea snakes have a marking similar to the yellow bellied sea snake?
Discovery Centre 20 July, 2010 11:05

Hi Lis - Yes, these snakes have a very wide distribution, so it is certainly possible that this is the snake you found.

Turtle Chick 28 July, 2010 20:26
Hi, found a yellow-bellied sea snake in Seychelles. Is that normal?
Discovery Centre 29 July, 2010 15:16

This species has an international distribution which includes the Indian Ocean, so it's perfectly normal to find them in Seychelles.

john 22 August, 2010 17:13
What kills it?
Discovery Centre 28 September, 2010 16:10

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.

Julianne 20 October, 2010 13:36
Hi,my question is why are black and yellow?
basti 20 October, 2010 17:43
hi we found one here in the philippines in the shore of boracay. and we took it we placed it in one of my aquarium. is it safe if we just take care of it? i really love snakes. thanks....
Discovery Centre 23 October, 2010 10:10
Hi Basti - I am not able to give you husbandry information for this species, but I will say that these snakes are potentially dangerous, with a venomous bite. Please also abide by any regulations or laws in your country pertaining to the collection of wild specimens.
micah bonnici 31 October, 2010 10:40
hi, i was just wondering what was the most recent record for the yellow-bellied sea snake being washed up in the greater melbourne area and where?
Discovery Centre 4 November, 2010 16:13
Hi Micah, unfortunately we don't have those records but the Department of Sustainability and Environment may have these records for the state fauna atlas.
Sarah 8 November, 2010 12:33
found fully-grown snake washed up on Seal Rocks Beach. We put it back into the ocean but it kept being washed up and reluctant to stay in water. Decided it was ill or exhausted and would very probably perish if left on the sand. Have numerous marine aquariums and decided to bring it home to recuperate in one of our spare aquariums and will return it to Seal Rocks if it survives. I took photos.
Hibaq 5 March, 2011 15:14
Are there any anti-venoms for their bite?
tbling 3 April, 2011 09:06
can you find these snake in s.c
rad 14 June, 2011 20:36
We found one of these on Fraser Island yesterday. We put it back in the water but it did not seem to be coping too well. Hopefully it survived.
Michael 18 June, 2011 15:29
we found one of these on Ettalong Beach yesterday wasnt coping well we used great care and caught it and took it to the australian reptile park for wildlife ark to collect.
Cori 7 August, 2011 10:47
While snorkeling in Key West Florida yesterday, we came upon a yellow bellied sea snake and followed it around in the shallow warm water. Two other snorkelers saw this as well and as they spend a great deal of time here, they said this was not unusual. All the information on the web says they do not live in the atlantic. Have they been observed in the atlantic?
Mike 11 August, 2011 01:49
found one in Perth yesterday,
Discovery Centre 13 August, 2011 12:30

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. 

Paige 14 August, 2011 13:19
We found a dead one today washed up on Melros Beach, South West of Perth, WA.
Bea and Dennis Pate 23 August, 2011 21:16
We found one of these on Horsehoe Beach yesterday afternoon and, concerned for our two dogs, tried to move it away and found it was still alives so flicked it back into the sea and it swam away! Happy all around!
Lou 24 August, 2011 21:53
I saw one of these on the beach today just south of Port Macquarie NSW. It was big and looked like it was still alive and had been moving around in the sand. Prob. swept in on a rough high tide. I kept clear of it with the dog.
Bea and Dennis Pate 25 August, 2011 09:21
Re sighting of sea snake 23/8, I should have located us better ... Horshoe Beach is in Newcastle, NSW
John reading 25 August, 2011 16:54
Found one washed up in Bunbury South west WA on the 24/8/2011. Very much alive!
Max Brown 16 December, 2011 06:15
where do they live?
Discovery Centre 16 December, 2011 09:46
Hi Max - the obvious answer is 'the sea', but for more specific distribution information, we reccommend you look at our BioInformatics page on Snakes, which is a clickable link at tthe top roght of this page. You can see distribution maps for many Snakes found in Victoria, including this one.
Blake 5 March, 2012 16:24
Hi, I was bitten by something in waist deep water at The Farm Beach Killalea on NSW south coast. There was 2 puncture marks on my lower leg that burned and it was red and swollen. The Drs at the hospital said we don't have sea snakes as our water isn't tropical. We have had a lot of rain lately and was just wondering if this could could have been a sea snake?
Discovery Centre 5 March, 2012 16:47

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

Sandy 10 May, 2012 23:20
Blake, i found a yellow bellied sea snake on Warilla Beach on the 2nd or 3rd of May, so we definitely have sea snakes.
christine 31 July, 2012 19:36
1] where do these snakes live (ocean floor in caves) 2] what size are they and what colour are they? 3] what do they eat? 4]do they live in groups or on their own? 5] is it a peditor or does it have preditors? 6} how would you teat the wound if bitten ? how often does it reproduce? i hope u can help me with these answers.
Discovery Centre 2 August, 2012 16:50

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. 

jenna 7 November, 2012 01:37
i need to know the deffence!
Discovery Centre 17 November, 2012 16:41
Hi Jenna, these snakes do not feed on people and so have no interest in us. Like most animals this species of snake is only likely to bite if it feels threatened. If you find one washed up on the beach don't pick it up and if you are diving and these snakes are present, give them a wide berth and let them go their way. Just as you would if bushwalking and there was a terrestrial snake on the path.
Raj Jhugroo 21 February, 2013 17:34
Please advise if in the Seychelles there is sea snakes, i can't find any information on the web, but few people mentioned they saw, which i am pretty sure theyconfused with a baby morray eel.
Discovery Centre 28 February, 2013 15:34
Hi Raj, sea snakes are found in the Seychelles. Try internet searches on the following scientific names Pelamis platurus and Enhydrina schistose which is found south of Seychelles.
Dawn Adams 12 September, 2013 22:43
Live snake on Mullaloo beach this afternoon, hiding its head in a bit of weed, looking around occasionally presumably wishing the incoming tide would hurry up :)
Wayne 2 March, 2014 23:44
Today, at Victor Harbor, Hayborough beach, a, small in size sea snake, washed, onto the sand. Yellow, colouring, was a sea snake. Moved, the dog, from the vicinity and it was, getting on towards dark, with no, other person's at beach.
Donna Chippett 30 August, 2014 22:49
My husband was fishing at Warneet (Westernport Port Bay) and caught something that fits the description of the photo above. Could it have been a yellow bellied sea snake?
Discovery Centre 31 August, 2014 14:02

Hi Donna - we suppose it's not out of the question, but there's no way of being certain without seeing the animal - if you have any photographs, feel free to upload and send them through to us via the Ask the Experts page and we'll see what we can do


Ruqayya 10 August, 2016 10:02
Yes it will have to be if it has a flat paddle tail. Ask your husband when he has some time, since they are very dangerous.
Janelle 1 September, 2014 08:39
Hi I believe I found one if these washed up on the shores if Wanda Beach NSW yesterday after big seas. I thought it was dead at first but then it raised it sharada little bit while I was taking photos
Anya 7 March, 2017 06:11
What should I do if I find one of these
Peter McPhee 25 March, 2017 09:41
There was an almost dead one of these on the beach at Aireys Inlet, SW Victoria this morning. I've never seen one here before.
Erica 14 April, 2017 11:01
We found a sea snake at Lake Tyers Beach Victoria this morning. The surf has been very rough with lots of debris and sticks The snake was really tired and looked nearly dead. We returned it to the water with a piece of drift wood and he stuck his head up when the water washed over him. We hope he will be ok :)
lindsey 16 May, 2017 08:04
how do the snakes move, freely, drifting, or attached to the bottom of the ocean?
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