Laticauda colubrina

Sea Krait

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Sea Krait Sea Krait

 

Description

L. colubrina is one of the most widespread members of the genus Laticauda (Heatwole et al. 2005). It is found along the coasts of eastern India and Andaman Islands, east through Malaysia, Indonesia, and northward to Viet Nam and southern China, Taiwan, and the Ryuku Islands of Japan. Also found in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Philippines, Palau to the islands of the southwestern Pacific Ocean stretching to Fiji, Vanuatu and Niue. This species has been known to stray to Australia and New Zealand, though there is no evidence of breeding populations in these locations (Heatwole 1999).

This species is common on several of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but it has rarely been spotted off islands near the Indian mainland (e.g. Grande Island in Goa) (A. Lobo pers. comm. 2009).

There have been unconfirmed sightings of this species near the western coast of Central America.

Common names:

Colubrine sea krait

Yellow-lipped sea krait

Nattern-Plattschwanz

Geography

Laticauda colubrina, also known as banded sea kraits, originated in the region of northern Papua New Guinea. This species of sea krait is the most widely distributed of the Laticauda complex which includes the related species, Laticauda colubrina and Laticauda saintgirosi. The breeding range of banded sea kraits is limited to the Australian and Oriental Oceanic geographic ranges. Because they inhabit coral reefs and live mostly off the coast of small islands, they have a patchy geographic distribution, a characteristic off most sea snake species. Generally, they are widespread through Indo-Australian Archipelago, the Bay of Bengal, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. More specifically, the breeding range extends westward to the the Andaman and Nicobor Islands and northward to Taiwan and the Miyako and Yaeyaema island groups in the southwestern part of the Ryukyu Archipelago in southern Japan. They are present off the coast of Thailand but only on its western coast. Their eastern limit is Palua and they are present on the island groups from the Solomon Islands to Tonga in the southwestern Pacific. Their distribution is heavily reliant on several key factors including the presence of coral reefs, sea currents, suitable terrestrial shelter, and paleography. They are not found in the Atlantic and Caribbean oceanic regions.

Biogeographic Regions: oriental (Native ); australian (Native )

Ecosystem

Banded sea kraits are found most frequently in warm, tropical climates in oceanic, coastal waters. Many are found off the shore of small islands and they often hide in small crevices or under rocks. Their primary habitat is shallow coral reef waters where their primary food source (eel) resides. They have many special adaptations for diving including a saccular lung allowing them to dive to depths up to 60 m in search of food. They spend a much of their lives in the ocean but also spend anywhere between twenty-five and fifty percent of their life on rocky islets in order to court, mate, lay eggs, digest food, and shed their skins. They can also be found in mangrove areas. They have the ability to climb trees and have even been recorded at the highest points of the islands in which they reside (36 to 40 m high). They are not characterized as a pelagic species.

Range elevation: 36 to 40 (high) m.

Range depth: 60 (low) m.

Average depth: <20 m.

Habitat Regions: tropical ; saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: reef ; coastal

Other Habitat Features: intertidal or littoral

Conservation

Laticauda colubrina is not listed on any of the databases of endangered species indicating that the conservation status of the species has not been documented and is unknown. However, because many Laticauda species aggregate on land they are highly vulnerable to capture. Commercial harvesting, human-induced reduction of habitat in mangrove swamps, industrial pollution of coral reefs and other coastal areas, and overfishing are all environmental hazards that negatively affect the biodiversity and population size of many species of sea snakes. Some researchers have proposed that rainfall and the availability of freshwater may be determining factors in many populations of sea snake species including Laticauda colubrina. To maintain a proper water balance, they drink fresh water or very dilute brackish water in order to counteract the dehydration they experience on land and in salt water. Therefore, the population dynamics of some species of Laticauda may be affected by drought and global climate change.

 

Threats

The major threats to this species may include anthropogenic disturbances such as coastal development and habitat destruction. This includes loss of shore habitats required for laying eggs and digesting prey. This species is attracted to light and may be affected by lighting from hotels and beach shacks in developing areas (A. Lobo pers. comm.). There is anecdotal evidence that resort developments on some Fijian islands may have reduced population sizes of L. colubrina (M. Guinea pers. comm. cited by Marsh et al. 1993).

Locals in the Andaman Islands suggest that this species was killed for food by Karen migrants from Myanmar, however, there is no confirmed evidence of this. Harvested as smoked sea snake in the Philippines and exported to Japan. This threat is localised to Cebu and Leyte Province (J. Gatus pers. comm. 2009).

Amphibious Laticaudine sea kraits predominantly utilize the inter-tidal region whilst on land and require suitable cover (such as beach rocks) 1-4 meters from the waters edge (Saint Girons 1964, Ineich and LaBoute 2002, A. Lane pers. comm). If suitable habitat in the inter-tidal region is lost due to rising sea levels associated with global warming (Meehl et al. 2005, Bindoff et al. 2007), this is expected to constitute a direct threat. Furthermore, Laticauda spp. have specific oviposition requirements which have been recorded only rarely (Bacolod 1983, M. Guinea pers. comm.). In these instances, egg laying was observed in rocky inter-tidal caves, accessible to kraits only at certain tides. If sea level changes prevent access to suitable laying sites, or render these sites unusable, this would also directly threaten the persistence of Laticaudine sea kraits.
This species is strongly associated with coral reefs and the degradation of this habitat is likely to pose a threat to species persistence. Mass coral bleaching occurs in association with episodes of elevated sea surface temperature and results in significant losses of live coral (Hoegh-Guldberg 1999). This reduces habitat complexity, with a consequent decrease in prey abundance (Pratchett et al. 2008) and the loss of refuge sites. Climate change may thus threaten all sea snakes which are coral reef specialists (Francis 2006).

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