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Sea snake approaches to divers

posted on 2022-06-10, 02:37 authored by Rick ShineRick Shine, Tim Lynch, Ross Alford
Scuba-divers on tropical coral-reefs often report unprovoked “attacks” by highly venomous Olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis). Snakes swim directly towards divers, sometimes wrapping coils around the diver’s limbs and biting. Based on a focal animal observation study of free-ranging Olive sea snakes in the southern Great Barrier Reef, we suggest that these “attacks” are misdirected courtship responses. Approaches to divers were most common during the breeding season (winter) and were by males rather than by female snakes. Males also made repeated approaches, spent more time with the diver, and exhibited behaviours (such as coiling around a limb) also seen during courtship. Agitated rapid approaches by males, easily interpreted as “attacks”, often occurred after a courting male lost contact with a female he was pursuing, after interactions between rival males, or when a diver tried to flee from a male. These patterns suggest that “attacks” by sea snakes on humans result from mistaken identity during sexual interactions. Rapid approaches by females occurred when they were being chased by males. Divers that flee from snakes may inadvertently mimic the responses of female snakes to courtship, encouraging males to give chase. To prevent escalation of encounters, divers should keep still and avoid retaliation.


A diver recorded interactions with free-ranging snakes.


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