Tropical to warm temperate latitudes in the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans
Coral reefs and rocky shores
Order Squamata (snakes and lizards), Family Elapidae (sea snakes and relatives)
The banded sea krait is a sea snake that lives on coral reefs in the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans. It gets its common name from the dark, vertical bars (bands) that streak an otherwise white body. Unlike some other sea snakes that complete their entire lifecycle in the ocean (e.g., olive sea snake), the sea kraits spend more time on land.
Like the sea turtle, saltwater crocodile, and other reptiles, these snakes must come ashore to nest. They must also occasionally drink freshwater and seek out coastal sources of water for that purpose. Furthermore, they often digest their food and rest on land and use terrestrial rocks to shed their skin. Though they spend much of their time on land, banded sea kraits are well adapted for hunting on coral reefs. They can hold their breath for long periods of time, and they have a paddle-like tail that improves their swimming ability.
Banded sea kraits are active predators that specialize on hunting eels, which they are able to locate by snaking through crevices and cracks in the reef. They paralyze their prey with powerful venom and swallow it whole. Sea birds, sharks, and some bony fishes feed on banded sea krait. Other predators follow banded sea kraits and attack any small fishes that the snakes scare out of the reef while hunting for eels. Like all snakes, this species reproduces through internal fertilization. After mating, a female lays a clutch of approximately ten eggs in a nest on land. Eggs hatch after an incubation period of at least four months.
There are few interactions between banded sea krait and people, and scientists believe the species to be of little or no threat of extinction. Occasionally, banded sea krait are captured in fishing nets or traps targeting other species, and they may drown if they are trapped for too long. However, these interactions seem to be relatively infrequent. Though banded sea kraits have potent venom, an old wives’ tail claims that their mouths are too small to bite a person. This claim is untrue; instead, banded sea kraits are apparently docile snakes that often choose to not bite, even if provoked. Some people, however, are bitten each year (most notably fishermen who accidentally capture them).
1. Banded sea kraits are named for the black vertical stripes (bands) that streak their white bodies.
2. Banded sea kraits are venomous snakes. They use their venom to paralyze prey.
3. Banded sea kraits are considered marine reptiles because they hunt for eels on coral and rocky reefs.
4. Despite being much smaller than the eels they feed on, banded sea kraits swallow their prey whole, then return to land to digest their meal, which may take several weeks.1
5. Female banded sea kraits can be up to three times heavier than males. They typically eat larger conger eels, while males eat smaller moray eels.2
6. Female banded sea kraits are 50 inches (128 cm) long, while males are 30 inches (75 cm) long.
7. Banded sea kraits can spend an average of 15 to 30 minutes underwater before returning to the surface for air.3
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.