Belcher's Sea Snake
Belcher's Sea Snake: Quick Facts
Name: Belcher’s Sea Snake
Binomial Name: Hydrophis Belcheri
Species: H. belcheri
Synonyms: Aturia belcheri (1849); Hydrophis Belcheri (1864); Distira Belcheri (1888); Hydrophis belcheri (1983); Chitulia belcheri (2005)
Typical Life Span: 4 – 5 years
Conservation Status: Unknown (Not Evaluated)
Behavioral Traits and Characteristics of Belcher's Sea Snake
The Hydrophis belcheri, also known as the faint-banded snake or, more commonly, “Belcher’s Sea Snake” is a highly venomous snake species of the elapid family. Widely considered one of the most deadliest snakes in the world due to its potent venom, one drop of the Belcher’s Sea Snake’s venom is capable of killing a human within minutes. The sea snake grows to impressive lengths by adulthood (at approximately one meter in length), and has a thin, chrome colored body with yellow and green crossbands. Possessing a small, flattened head, along with a compressed body and set of scales, the sea snake is capable of moving throughout the water at high speeds (approximately twelve miles per hour), allowing it to ambush and subdue its prey with relative ease. The sea snake lives most of its life underwater, and only occasionally surfaces for air (since they do not possess gills). They also possess a flattened tail (similar to a flipper) that they use to move quickly through the water.
The Belcher Sea Snake is named after the British explorer, Sir Edward Belcher, who first discovered the snake in the mid-1800s. It was later named by John Edward Gray in 1849.
Belcher's Sea Snake Habitat
The Belcher’s Sea snake is found primarily near the tropical reefs of the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Thailand, New Guinea, Indonesia, and the coastline of the Philippines. They have also been discovered off the coast of Australia, along the Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea, as well as the Solomon Islands. The snake is often found along shallow areas (close to the coast), as most of its prey is easier to find in these regions (particularly in the tropical reefs with are teeming with aquatic life). Aside from plentiful amounts of food, coral reefs also provide the Belcher’s Sea Snake with natural protection from predators. With coral reefs facing destruction from the use of chemicals and industrial-strength acids that are being dumped into the oceans, the natural habitat of the Belcher’s Sea Snake is under threat; forcing many of the snakes to seek shelter even closer to the coastlines, and in greater contact with humans.
Prey And Natural Predators
With a large variety of aquatic life residing in coral reefs, the Belcher’s Sea Snake’s diet is quite diverse. Primarily, the sea snake tends to dine on small fish, shellfish, fish eggs, and local eels. Hunting from crevices and enclosed areas of the tropical reefs allows the sea snake to quickly ambush its prey. This is crucial for the sea snake, as fish in open water are far faster and capable of escaping with relative ease.
Although little is known about the sea snake’s natural predators (as few studies have been done on this subject), current research tends to indicate that sea eagles, particularly the “White-bellied Sea Eagle” and “Grey-Headed Fish Eagle” are natural predators of the snake. In addition, sharks have also been observed hunting the snake, including the Blacktip Reef Shark, and the Grey Reef Shark that inhabit the coastlines of Australia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Large eels and swordfish (which reach lengths of ten or more feet) have also been known to eat sea snakes as well.
"You know, you can touch a stick of dynamite, but if you touch a venomous snake it'll turn around and bite you and kill you so fast it's not even funny."— Steve Irwin
Belcher's Sea Snake Venom
Venom from the Belcher’s Sea Snake is so toxic, that a single bite can kill a human being in less than thirty minutes. Some studies have even indicated that the venom may be a hundred times more toxic than the deadly Inland Taipan Snake. Containing high levels of neurotoxins and myotoxins, one drop of the snake’s venom is capable of killing 1,800 people. Symptoms of the snake’s bite include extreme vomiting, nausea, migraines, excruciating abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, convulsions, and paralysis. Other symptoms include hysteria, uncontrollable bleeding, as well as respiratory and kidney failure. Although antivenoms have been developed to combat the toxicity of the snake’s bite, immediate treatment is crucial for survival.
Fortunately, the Belcher’s Sea Snake is quite mild-mannered in its temperament, and only rarely bites humans. Moreover, recent studies have also indicated that the sea snake is capable of controlling its venom secretion, and releases venom only in a quarter of its bites. Because of their relatively small fangs, researchers have also discovered that it is quite difficult for the Belcher’s Sea Snake to bite humans, particularly when they are wearing diving gear or a scuba suit. Along with their small mouth, there are only a limited number of places on the human body that a sea snake can latch on to with their mouth (such as a finger or toe), as their jaws are incapable of opening very wide.
Before reading this article, were you familiar with the Belcher's Sea Snake?
In closing, the Belcher’s Sea Snake is one of the most fascinating snakes in the world due to its natural habitat, hunting behaviors, and general toxicity to humans. Unlike many snakes that have been studied extensively by researchers and scientists, alike, the Belcher’s Sea Snake remains a bit of a mystery to scientists as they are difficult to observe in their natural habitats. With coral reefs being damaged and destroyed each year, studying these creatures becomes even more difficult as their populations continue to dwindle. Despite these setbacks and difficulties, it will be interesting to see what new information can be learned (in future studies) about this extraordinary snake and its place (and role) within the animal kingdom at large.
Articles / Books:
Wikipedia contributors, "Hydrophis belcheri," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Hydrophis_belcheri&oldid=890407501 (accessed July 3, 2019).
Images / Photographs:
"Belcher's Sea Snake." "Ocean Treasures" Memorial Library. January 26, 2019. Accessed July 03, 2019. https://otlibrary.com/belchers-sea-snake/.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Larry Slawson