Belcher's Sea Snake

Updated on August 5, 2019
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree in History at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian history.

Belcher's Sea Snake.
Belcher's Sea Snake. | Source

Belcher's Sea Snake: Quick Facts

Name: Belcher’s Sea Snake

Binomial Name: Hydrophis Belcheri

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Order: Squamata

Suborder: Serpentes

Family: Elapidae

Genus: Hydrophis

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 lying in wait.
Belcher's Sea Snake lying in wait. | Source

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.

Belcher's Sea Snake washed ashore.
Belcher's Sea Snake washed ashore. | Source

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.

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Conclusion

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.

Works Cited:

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

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      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        6 weeks ago from North Carolina

        Thank you so much Linda! Yeah, I completely agree. Its a fascinating animal. I had never even heard of the Belcher's Sea Snake until I watched a documentary on them a few months ago.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        6 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        Thanks for sharing the interesting facts, Larry. I enjoyed learning about the sea snake that you describe. Snakes that live in the sea are fascinating animals.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        6 weeks ago from North Carolina

        Thank you Pamela. I'm with you... I'm not a big fan of snakes either haha.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        6 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I sure don't particularly like snakes, but I found the Belcher snake to be quite interesting. This was new to me, and I do not want to see them eliminated due man putting things in the ocean that do not belong there. The quite acting poison sounds awful. Very interesting article.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        6 weeks ago from North Carolina

        Thank you Liz! Yeah, its crazy how poisonous they are!

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        6 weeks ago from UK

        I had not heard of this snake before. This is a very good fact file.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        6 weeks ago from North Carolina

        @Eric Thank you my friend! So glad you enjoyed!

        @Cheryl Yes, indeed. Haha. I would be terrified if I saw this in the water with me!

      • Cheryl E Preston profile image

        Cheryl E Preston 

        6 weeks ago from Roanoke

        Wow, that’s a big one. I would be so afraid.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        6 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Amazing animal. Thanks for writing about it. Great work with facts in an interesting way.

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