This Sea Snake Can Live for Months Without Drinking Water

by Owen James Burke


The yellow-bellied sea snake (H. platurus), which drifts in open ocean currents feeding on small fish, might be able to survive six or seven months without drinking water, research suggests.

Some sea animals that have evolved from land — such as whales, turtles, and seals — can extract water from their food, or have salt glands that are able to make due with seawater. However, this is not the case for the yellow-bellied sea snake, which has to take its fresh water when and where it can get it. This means rising to the sea’s surface to collect from the “freshwater lens” during rainfall, when the less dense rainwater sits on top of the ocean water.

“Instead of adapting to marine environments like many other vertebrates have, these animals, sea snakes, have taken a different approach,” said Coleman Sheehy III, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Florida.

Scientists collected several hundred wild sea snakes during both rainy and dry seasons off the coast of Costa Rica and put them into freshwater aquariums. Some snakes collected during dry season were very skinny from dehydration and immediately approached the surface of the tanks to drink (even in freshwater habitats, these snakes rise to the surface to drink). Others, which were collected during rainy seasons, were observed not drinking at all. It seems that, after a good fill of rainwater, it may take months for thirst to redevelop enough for them to even bother drinking at all.

Researchers hypothesize that the yellow-bellied sea snake has adapted to prevent the loss of freshwater through its skin.


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