Summer of underwater slither
Been trying to find a few moments to post this, but the pace has been a little high lately. We've hit many new sites since I had my first ever encounter with this gorgeous animal, and there were some exciting things to process back at the "lab" (which consists of some tables back at Club Ocellaris). Been making great progress on the sea urchin and sand dollar fronts, but that's not the subject of this entry.
I was searching for and collecting echinoderms around a tiny, rocky outcrop that came to the surface to make a raft-sized island at a site called Ligpo about a 45 minute boat ride from the aforementioned "lab". Some movement in a crevice that connected with the surface caught my eye. Turned out to be a "lifer" for me, a sea snake. I'm an echinoderm biologist, so my powers of identification of these things with bilateral symmetry and a backbone are a bit stretched, but I believe this to be Laticauda colubrina, the yellow-lipped sea snake. Forgive me, herps people, if I have that incorrect. Nevertheless, I spent about 10 minutes watching this magnificent animal watching me. I am told that if they have a brood nearby, they can get a little more "interested", and there were points at which the coiling and aiming behavior of the snake seemed a little bit more than just curiosity, so I couldn't help but wonder if she(?) had eggs somewhere on that island.
Sea snakes are related to the cobras, and their venom is at least as potent, if not more so. Like all snakes, they breathe air, and need to come to the surface to respire. Their tails are flattened from side to side (hence the genus name: "lati" for compressed from side to side; "cauda" for tail -- scientific names always make sense at some level). I am told that these animals are de facto harmless, but should be "treated as venomous", whatever that might mean in terms of snorkeling in the snake's native habitat. All the authorities agree that they seldom bite. "Seldom" implies that there are instances, and I didn't want to add to that small dataset myself, and exercised caution. The movements of the snake were graceful and purposeful as it took a few gulps of air, then quietly and quickly moved down the crevice and across the soft coral masses below me to go hunting for some lunch.
Just had to get this out there in this, the Academy's summer of slither. Looking forward to my next encounter with one of these fantastic animals. Maybe at the Academy? Wouldn't it be great to have one in the exhibit?