Phuket’s Deadly Pacifist!

Phuket’s Deadly Pacifist!

One Of Thailand’s Most Venomous Snakes Is A Common Site On Phuket’s Reefs

If we stumbled across a cobra on our Phuket travels most of us would disappear into the distance screaming yet we can calmly watch a snake with a more toxic venom from just a couple of meters when scuba diving. The yellow lipped banded sea krait has a very powerful myotoxic venom and is probably the only snake you’ll encounter on your Thailand holiday.

Why Doesn’t it Bite Divers?

The reason you may hear is that their mouths are too small and they can only bite you on the ear lobe or in between your fingers. This is a complete fallacy, there would be little use in having such potent venom if they can only deliver it to wafer thin biscuits. The reasons kraits don’t bite are simple, they don’t see us as a threat, have an extremely mild temperament and their fangs are so tiny that most wet suits would protect you from envenomation but a bite on exposed skin could result in a lot of pain. At Tanah Lot temple in Bali you can see the locals handling the snakes without fear. They know what they’re doing and needless to say you should never try touching sea kraits or any other marine animals. Unless of course you have a natural resistance to the venom (PROTIP: You haven’t).

Bit Of A Fake

Banded sea kraits are not true sea snakes, still retaining the mainly cylindrical body shape of their land lubber cousins and as a result are relatively slow swimmers. They frequently come onto to land to digest food, shed skin, breed and lay eggs, some experts suggest that as much as 50% of their lives is spent on dry ground. Still, they have evolved some incredible adaptions since their ancestors decided it was good idea to dive back into the oceans. Valved nostrils and very large lungs enable then to stay submerged for up to two hours and a flattened paddle like tail aids swimming.

Dining Preferences

Moray eels are the unfortunate meal of choice. Which makes sense, it’s the perfect shaped meal for a snake. The powerful myotoxic venom quickly paralyses muscle, reducing the preys ability to breathe swim and probably dance. Enabling the the snake to swallow the meal without too much trouble or fear of injury. Moray eels in the Indian and Pacific Ocean have a much higher resistance to sea krait venom than their Caribbean and Atlantic cousins. Some twisted individual injected the venom into a Caribbean species and found it was much more effective on a species that doesn’t encounter the snakes in its normal environment. Evolution apparently didn’t cater for evil scientists.

Heads Or Tails

False Markings On Banded Sea Krait

False Markings On Banded Sea Krait

If you spend most of your time with your head stuck in a coral reef then you’ll probably need something to deter predators from biting off your rear end, the banded sea krait has made an attempt to solve this issue. When viewed laterally the tail has very similar shape and markings to the head hopefully fooling predators into thinking that it’s the ‘ruin your day’ end they’re looking at and not the tasty and vulnerable tail. The bold markings also act as a deterrent but sharks and sea eagles regularly feed on all kinds of sea snakes.

Male Or Female?

Both sexes have exactly the same markings but the females do grow much larger than the males. Males rarely grow to over 90cm, so anything you see over that length is probably a female. The males are also much more irresponsible and behave obnoxiously in groups.

Where To See?

Everywhere! Banded sea kraits can be seen on all of our dive sites but are probably most common at Koh Bida Nok on Phi Phi. So come join us at Local Dive Thailand and have a blissful encounter with one of the world’s deadliest snakes.

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By Justin Hartrey

I've been enjoying the incredible marine life in our oceans for over 25 years. 13 years ago I became a PADI professional, hoping to introduce as many people as possible to the incredible beauty of the seas.

Having been fortunate enough to dive all over south east and especially Thailand, I enjoy sharing my experience and passion on this blog.

Posted in Rare & Peculiar Critters on .

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