~ Sea Snakes ~

NAME: Sea snake is the common name for certain marine members of a family of venomous snakes.

HABITAT: Sea snakes inhabit tropical waters from the Indian ocean to the Pacific ocean. Sea snakes are particularly abundant in the Persian Gulf and the Bay of Bengal.

SIZE: Most sea snakes are not large, ranging from about 1.6 to 3.3 feet in length, although Stokes's sea snake can reach nearly 6 and a half feet.

REPRODUCTION: One group of sea snakes, sometimes called the true sea snakes, give birth to live young and lack the enlarged ventral scales typical of most terrestrial snakes. The other group, sometimes referred to as seakraits, lay eggs; because they must leave the water to deposit their eggs, they retain straplike ventral scales, although these may be smaller than those of terrestrial snakes.

SWIMMING: The paddlelike tail of sea snakes is wide and compressed and makes an effective swimming organ.

BREATHING: Unlike eels, sea snakes have no gills and must rise to the surface of the water for air, but they can remain underwater for several hours, obtaining dissolved oxygen from water that they swallow and eject.

FEEDING: Many species feed on elongate fishes, such as eels, which they paralyze with their venom.

BEHAVIOR: Sea snakes are generally not aggressive and usually will not bite humans unless handled roughly or forcibly restrained.

VENOM: Sea snakes are highly venomous, and bites, though rare, are fatal.

COMMON SPECIES: The yellow-bellied sea snake, one of the most common sea snakes, ranges along the Pacific coast from southern California to northern South America. It is less than 3 and a quarter feet long and is black or dark brown with a bright yellow belly.

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION: Sea snakes are usually classified in two subfamilies, the Hydrophiinae and the Laticaudinae, both in the family Elapidae. Some taxonomists classify them instead in two families, the Hydrophiidae and Laticaudidae, separate from the family Elapidae. Stokes's sea snake is classified as Astrotia stokesii. The yellow-bellied sea snake is classified as Pelamus platurus.

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