The yellow-bellied sea snake, hydrophis platurus, is a venomous sea snake and probably the most common snake species around the world. It can be found along the coast lines of the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean as well as in some areas of the Atlantic Ocean. In the United States, the yellow-bellied sea snake can only be found in Southern California and Hawaii – due to its preference for warm climate.
As its name suggests, the main characteristic of this small sea snake is its yellow belly. Its upper body is mostly black. The flat tail of the snake is mostly yellow with black spots. Similar to a zebra pattern. Even though the black and yellow coloration is the most common, a second, yellow-only morph of the sea snake exists.
The yellow-bellied sea snake is a small sea snake. Femals reach an average length including tail of up to 35 inches (88 cm). Males are usually smaller than females and reach a length of up to 28 inches (72 cm).
The main diet of the yellow-bellied sea snake are small fish. The snake floats just below the water surface waiting for small fish to pass by closely. As soon as an appropriate prey gets close enough, the snake strikes the fish quickly with a sideward movement of its head and injects its venom. It eats the fish head first as a whole. The snakes hunt during the day and often hide among floating wood or other debris.
Bite and Venom
Like most other sea snakes, the yellow-bellied sea snakes produces a potent neurotoxin that immobilizes its prey. Due to its size and the small amount of venom, bites rarely pose a serious threat for humans. Mostly, the effects are limited to local swelling, muscle pain or temporary muscle paralysis. However, if a bite occurs, immediate medical attention is necessary in order to prevent serious symptoms such as renal damage. An antivenom for the bite of the yellow-bellied sea snake is widely available.
The sea snake lives along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean as well as the Pacific Ocean. Smaller populations can be found in the warmer regions of the Altantic Ocean but their populations are not stable and thought to by only a dispersal from their native range. They require a minimum water temperature of around 65°F (18°C) to establish a long-term habitat. Various specimen and smaller populations have also been found in colder water temperatures, however. The snake is active throughout the day and spends the nighttime well below the water surface in depths of up to 125 feet (40 meters).
Yellow-bellied sea snake range in the USA
Even though the yellow-bellied sea snake is one of the most common snakes in the entire world, it can only be found in two U.S. States: Along the coast of Southern California as well as in Hawaii. The yellow bellied sea snake is the only venomous snake species that can be found in Hawaii.
Scientific classification of Hydrophis platurus
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Squamata
- Suborder: Serpentes
- Family: Elapidae
- Genus: Hydrophis
- Species: Hydrophis platurus
In the past, the snake has been placed in the genus Pelamis and is therefore also known under the outdated specific name Pelamis platurus.