The Belcher’s sea snake is a species that often suffers from mistaken identity. Due to a published error of a book in 1996 called Snakes in Question:
In the Smithsonian Answer Book, the Belcher’s Sea Snake is sometimes acknowledged, in error, as the snake possessing the most toxic venom in the world. Although its venom is toxic, it is not even the most toxic species of sea snake!
This story is a classic case of scientists who must be very careful in conducting research and publishing information.
Its scientific name, Hydrophis belcheri, has an interesting story. The word “hydrophis” means water serpent, while “belcheri” is believed to be a tribute to Sir Edward Belcher, the Royal Navy Captain, who collected the holotype, or first specimen, of the species. Another common name it is known by is the faint-banded sea snake.
Danger to Humans:
Fortunately for humans, the Belcher’s sea snake is not considered very dangerous. It is very timid, or easily frightened, and prefers not to attack. It is not considered an aggressive species and will usually only bite in self-defense.
Even when it does bite, it often does not even inject, or put in, venom into the victim. In fact, Belcher’s sea snake is 75% more unlikely to inject venom than to do so. To put it simply, this means out of every 4 people bitten, 3 of them do not receive any venom from the bite.
Most of the recorded bites happen to fishermen checking their fishing nets.
As its name implies, the Belcher’s sea snake is a water snake. There is not a lot known about the species, but it is found in many countries including Vietnam, Thailand, New Guinea, and the Philippines. The collection of specimens indicates it prefers living on the soft bottom of the ocean.
Belcher’s sea snake is a thin snake and can reach 2-4 feet long. Its body is yellowish in color with dark green bands on its dorsal, or back, side.
Although there is still a lot to find out about the Belcher’s sea snake individually, the different species of sea snakes are known to shed their skin often. In fact, while most snake species might shed their skin once a year, sea snakes shed their skin about once every month!
This frequent shedding is necessary in order for them to swim underwater. By shedding their skin, they also free themselves of unwanted marine, or ocean, organisms.
Algae and barnacles sometimes growns on their skin since they spend so much time underwater!
The Belcher’s sea snake lives in the water, so it, as one might expect, eats fish and shellfish. This is the only thing scientists know a snake of this species eats.
- Special Adaptations: With a paddle-like tail, the Belcher’s sea snake is an excellent swimmer. It hardly ever goes out on land because it does not have to. In fact, its body is perfect for swimming, but is quite clumsy on land. It can live, breathe, and even sleep under water for hours at a time before coming up for air! The Belcher’s sea snake has a special valve, or air pipe, in its nose that will breathe in air as needed. When the snake goes underwater, this special valve will automatically close not letting in any water!
- Reproduction: Not a lot is known about how the Belcher’s sea snake reproduces. However, scientists believe it might be similar to how other species of sea snakes give birth. Female sea snakes give birth underwater to three or four live young. Depending on various factors, like food sources and water temperature, it might take the babies 4-11 months to grow before being born! Female sea snakes can give birth every year, butsome do not.
- Conservation Status: Although considered rare, with less than 50 records of specimens collected by scientists, the conservation status of this snake species is considered Data Deficient. There are no known predators to the species.
Striking Statements of Fact:
- The Belcher’s sea snake breathes with its lungs like any other snake, but it can also breathe with its skin!
- Sea snakes can dive in shallow water or in water up to 300 feet. While most species of this snake stays in the shallows, scientists believe the Belcher’s sea snake might be one of the deep divers of the species!