The dwarf sea snake is a marine species which inhabits many of the coastal waters and coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region. It grows no longer than 74 centimeters in length, and besides being venomous, few reports of envenomous bites have been recorded.
The scientific name of this snake is Hydrophis caerulescens. It belongs to the Hydrophis genus of sea snakes along others such as Belcher’s sea snake. The genus belongs to the Elapidae family which comprises of both Hydrophiinae members or sea snakes as well as land snakes such as the mamba, cobra and adder.
This snake earns its name as the dwarf sea snake due to its small size. Its body is slim and not longer than 74 centimeters in general. Colors may vary from grayish blue on the dorsal side to yellow or whitish on the ventral side. There are often bluish crossbands on the back of the snake which tend to get wider than the spaces between them. These crossbands are usually more pronounced and better defined in young specimens while in older adults they tend to fade. The scales or the back or dorsal scales are typically arranged in 38 to 54 rows. The ventral scales are much smaller in size and are arranged in 253 to 334 rows. The head of this snake is very small. The mouth contains two hollow fangs that are used to inject poison as well as 14 to 18 maxillary teeth which are solid and used to get ahold of the prey.
Venom and toxicity
There are few reports of dwarf sea snake bites and information regarding toxicity is scarce. Judging from many closely related sea snakes in the Hydrophiinae family, it is highly likely that the venom consists of neurotoxins and myotoxins. Neurotoxins can damage nerve cells and dendrites while also preventing the ionizing of the membrane, thus disabling nerve signaling. Myotoxin is composed of protein precursors named peptides which act as enzymes, causing cell death and necrosis within the muscles. This type of toxin is the one responsible for the paralyzing of mostly small prey. Despite few reports regarding bites, the small size of the snake and the miniature fangs people might confuse them with insect stings and not realize they have been envenomed.
The dwarf snake can usually be found in the Indian Ocean, on the coastlines of Pakistan, India, Burma, Indonesia and Malaysia. It also inhabits the warm water of South China Sea as well as Northern Australia and New Caledonia.
Dwarf sea snake – behavior and feeding
This snake is not aggressive towards large animals including humans. The snake usually dives in shallow waters at depths no more than 10 meters. It hunts in the seagrass and muddy bottoms for small fish such as eels as well as mudskippers.
These snakes are ovoviviparous, giving birth to young snakes. Females usually give birth in mid to late summer to 2 to 6 young. The dwarf sea snake can live for 10 years or longer, although adults face many dangers from larger predators.