News / Industry News & Events / Marine Biologists Discover New Subspecies of Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake (08/03/17)

Marine Biologists Discover New Subspecies of Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

08/03/17

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A team of scientists from Northwestern University, the Field Museum of Natural History and Phoenix Zoo has discovered and described a distinctive new subspecies of the yellow-bellied sea snake (Hydrophis platurus) from the inner-basin waters of Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica.

The yellow-bellied sea snake, also known as the yellowbelly sea snake or the pelagic sea snake, is a species of venomous snake from the subfamily Hydrophiinae.

The species is widespread in the Indo-Pacific region and, at the ocean surface, is often associated with smooth-water drift lines, where it opportunistically feeds on a variety of small fish.

Like many snakes, the yellow-bellied sea snake is sexually dimorphic in size, with females larger on average.

Individuals can reach at least 113 cm in total length. Published population averages for adult total length include 60-72 cm for males and 80 cm for females. Weight averages in ecological studies have included 91 g and 140 g.

The newly-discovered subspecies, named the yellow sea snake (Hydrophis platurus xanthos), differs from the yellow-bellied variety by its predominantly yellow coloration and smaller size.

At an adult total length of about 49 cm, weighing approximately 47 g, it measures around 1025 cm shorter and 3350% lighter in weight than published averages for the yellow-bellied sea snake.

Unlike its related species, the yellow sea snake lives in a significantly more hostile environment the waters in the gulf are warmer, often turbulent, and the dissolved oxygen in them occasionally drops to extremely low levels. The two snakes territories are separated by some 22 km.

Likely as a result, the new reptile has evolved to hunt at night, while its lighter coloration plays role in thermoregulation.

Given the list of well-defined distinct traits, the yellow sea snake could eventually turn out to be a new species instead.

As for the moment, however, the researchers remain cautious until additional data are available.

More importantly, they call for conservation measures to be applied to the new serpents habitat.

Hopefully this globally unique population can continue to offer both scientists and conservation-conscious tourists a worthy subject of observation and study, they said.

A detailed description of the yellow sea snake appeared in the July 24, 2017 issue of the journal ZooKeys.