Fatal Attraction: Scientists Blame Sea Snake Attacks on Sex Drive


If you might be ever scuba-diving and a six-foot-long sea snake comes storming out of the shadows, here’s what it is best to know.

First, stay calm. Though sea snakes not often assault leisure divers, a venomous chew from one can shortly flip deadly, because it did for a trawler fisherman in Australia in 2018.

Second, your finest wager for survival when charged by a marine serpent is to withstand the urges of flight or combat.

“These big sea snakes can swim a lot faster than we can, so we can’t get away,” stated Rick Shine, a herpetologist at Macquarie University in Australia. He provides that hitting the snake can also be a foul thought. “The snake’s likely to get pretty angry about it and might actually drop into a more aggressive frame of mind.”

So what’s a sea-snake-beleaguered diver to do? According to a study printed Thursday within the journal Scientific Reports, Dr. Shine and his co-authors recommend that you simply let that extremely venomous reptile slither proper on up and lick you.

The sea snake doesn’t wish to chew you, they are saying. It needs to, properly …

“In fact, it’s just a lovesick boy looking for a girlfriend and making a rather foolish mistake,” Dr. Shine stated.

Dr. Shine took benefit of final 12 months’s Covid-related shutdowns to research an information set collected in 1994-95 by Tim Lynch, a co-author of the examine. At the time, Dr. Lynch was finishing his Ph.D. by observing olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis) off the northeastern coast of Australia. And over the course of 250 hours underwater with 158 sea snakes, he found a number of exceptional developments.

For starters, olive sea snakes tended to method divers most frequently through the breeding season, which runs by means of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months between May and August. Male snakes had been way more more likely to swim towards divers than females. Males additionally spent extra time investigating human observers than females, generally coiling themselves round Dr. Lynch’s limbs or flicking their tongues towards his moist swimsuit or uncovered pores and skin.

Finally, the behavior of charging at one thing, like when a sea snake swam quickly towards a diver, was virtually at all times preceded by different sea snake shenanigans — corresponding to two male snakes tussling, or a feminine fleeing a pursuing male.

“There have always been these really consistent tales from divers about what looked to be full-blooded attacks by sea snakes,” Dr. Shine stated. “And you hear commercial divers saying, ‘Oh, you really shouldn’t dive in winter in this part of the world because the sea snakes are so aggressive.’”

But now, he says, all of those observational knowledge have put the ocean snakes’ peculiar behaviors into context.

“I’ve always expected that the motivation for this behavior is sex,” stated Kate Sanders, an evolutionary scientist on the University of Adelaide in Australia who was not concerned within the analysis.

After all, there are numerous examples of male animals making an attempt to mate with one thing apart from a feminine of their very own species.

“I mean, I’ve been courted by sea turtles in the water,” stated Dr. Sanders, who can also be co-chairperson of the International Union For Conservation of Nature’s Sea Snake Specialist Group. “So yeah, I mean, I buy it.”

If you’re questioning how a male sea snake might presumably mistake a human for a mate, remember that sea snakes collect details about the world round them by means of mingled senses of style and odor, similar to snakes on land.

“But when snakes went back into the ocean, of course, they lost that ability to pick up cues from tongue-flicking, because most of these important chemicals are too large to be transmitted through the water,” Dr. Shine stated. “And so they have to rely on a vision, and it’s just not that good.”

Interestingly, Dr. Sanders stated that these waters are residence to round a dozen species of sea snakes, however solely the olive sea snakes and their shut family usually tango with divers.

One attainable clarification is that male olive sea snakes are fairly a bit smaller than females, which could imply they should be further motivated to search out and safe a mate. And generally, that enthusiasm could cause them to search for love in all of the incorrect locations.

“I don’t know how you would say it other than the snakes have got their beer goggles on,” Dr. Sanders stated. “Their hormones are skewing their behavior.”



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