Snakes are on the move, although not on planes or in ruins being explored by Indiana Jones but in the water. A species of sea snake thought to be extinct has reappeared off the coast of Australia while a poisonous slithery swimmer popped up off the coast of California far north of its usual habitat. Why did it have to be snakes? Because there’s no good spider stories in the news today.
The short-nosed sea snake (Aipysurus apraefrontalis) was last seen over 15 years ago near the Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea and is listed as “Critically Endangered” on the roster of threatened species. So a Western Australia Parks and Wildlife officer had to rub his eyes before reaching for his smart phone to take pictures of a pair that appeared on Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Western Australia. According to their report in the journal Biological Conservation, officials are not sure why the species disappeared from Ashmore Reef or why the pair picked Ningaloo to reappear. And by “pair” they mean a breeding pair, so it looks like the Ningaloo Marine Park may help hatch some babies and bring the species back from what is now near extinction.
Residents of southern California weren’t as excited about the yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platura) whose body washed ashore at Bolsa Chica State Beach in the Orange County area of southern California. It’s the second of these poisonous sea snakes to show up in the area in two months but only the fifth ever, with the previous sighting occurring in 1972. The yellow-bellied sea snakes are common elsewhere but extremely rare north of Baja California, Mexico.
Why are SoCal swimmers nervous? Yellow-bellied sea snake venom is highly potent, causing muscle destruction, neuromuscular paralysis and kidney damage. Anti-venom is available, but who keeps that around when the snakes are so rare?
Rare until now, when the current El Nino is warming the California beach waters to sea snake temperature and climate change threatening to keep them there. So, even though the experts tell SoCal residents not to worry because “the snakes have small mouths” and “they probably won’t breed here,” the real danger is the reason why they’re moving north … climate change and unnatural weather patterns.
Let’s hope future snake stories are about more species coming back from extinction and climate change moving closer to it.