Sea Snakes Are Losing Their Stripes When Exposed to Pollution

Source: Science Daily/Cell Press - August 11, 2017 in Science/Tech

Sea Snakes Are Losing Their Stripes When Exposed to Pollution
Photo: Elias Levy/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Researchers studying turtle-headed seasnakes living on coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific noticed something unusual about the snakes’ color patterns: seasnakes living in more pristine parts of the reef were decorated with black-and-white bands or blotches. Those in places with more human activity — near the city or military activity — were black.

As reported in Current Biology on August 10, those color differences are explained by differences in the snakes’ exposure to pollution. The blacker skin of urban seasnakes allows the animals to more effectively bind and rid their bodies of contaminants, including arsenic and zinc, each time they shed their skins. The findings add seasnakes to a growing list of species that show industrial melanism, a greater prevalence of dark-colored varieties in industrial areas.

“The animals I study continue to astonish me,” says Rick Shine at the University of Sydney in Australia. “I think it’s remarkable to find industrial melanism in organisms as different as moths and seasnakes!”

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