Yellow-lipped sea krait
Length: Females can reach lengths of up to 1.7 metres; males are significantly smaller rarely exceeding 0.9 metres.
A striking species of marine snake with beautiful steel blue, and black banding running along the entirety of its body, fading into pale yellow on the undersides and on the facial mask. It is the second-most common marine snake in New Zealand’s waters, although only rarely observed.
This species is visually similar to the brown-lipped sea krait, but can be distinguished by the presence of a yellow upper lip as opposed to the brown upper lip of the aforementioned species. Can be differentiated from Saint Giron’s sea krait based on colouration (blue vs. brown), and from the yellow-bellied sea snake by general morphology (blunt vs. flattened elongate head) and patterning (banded vs. striped).
The yellow-lipped sea krait has the widest distribution of any Laticauda species, occurring throughout the Indo-Pacific region from the eastern coast of India through to the islands of the western Pacific.
A rare visitor to New Zealand, this species is most commonly seen around the northern North Island, with a few records as far south as the Wellington region.
Primarily an eel-specialist, although they are known to prey upon other small fish species. There is some sexual dimorphism in terms of dietary habits with the larger females primarily preying upon conger eels (Conger spp.), and the smaller males on moray eels (Gymnothorax spp.).
Ecology and Habitat
A semi-aquatic species which spends up to 50% of their time on land (including the intertidal zone) when mature. They are often associated with the shallow waters surrounding islands, coral reefs, and mangroves where they can be seen hunting for prey at night, but have been reported as diving to depths of up to 60 metres when hunting in deeper waters.
This species is typically solitary, although they can be found in large aggregations on land especially during the breeding season when several males can often be found courting lone females.
Yellow-lipped sea krait do not breed in New Zealand.
They are oviparous (egg-laying), with females depositing between 4-20 eggs into sheltered crevices on land. Sexual maturity is reached at 1 ½-2 years old.
Disease and threats
Yellow-lipped sea krait are host to several reptilian diseases and parasites including the sea snake tick (Amblyomma nitidum).
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Heatwole, H., & Powell, J. (1998). Resistance of eels (Gymnothorax) to the venom of sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina): a test of coevolution. Toxicon, 36(4), 619-625.
Kwak, M. L., Kuo, C. C., & Chu, H. T. (2020). First record of the sea snake tick Amblyomma nitidum Hirst and Hirst, 1910 (Acari: Ixodidae) from Taiwan. Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases, 101383.
Shetty, S., & Shine, R. (2002). Activity patterns of yellow-lipped sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina) on a Fijian island. Copeia, 2002(1), 77-85.
Shetty, S., & Shine, R. (2002). Sexual divergence in diets and morphology in Fijian sea snakes Laticauda colubrina (Laticaudinae). Austral Ecology, 27(1), 77-84.
Shetty, S., & Shine, R. (2002). The mating system of yellow-lipped sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina: Laticaudidae). Herpetologica, 58(2), 170-180.
van Winkel, D., Baling, M., & Hitchmough, R. (2018). Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: A Field Guide. Auckland University Press, pp376.