Species: Leaf-scaled sea snake (Aipysurus foliosquama)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The leaf-scaled sea snake is able to remain underwater for up to two hours before resurfacing for air.
Named for the characteristic leaf-like shape of its scales, the leaf-scaled sea snake is a relatively small snake which spends its entire life at sea. Like other sea snakes, it shows a number of adaptations to its aquatic lifestyle, including a flattened, paddle-like tail for swimming, valves in the nostrils which prevent water entering the lung, and a gland under the tongue which excretes excess salt from the body. The leaf-scaled sea snake lives in shallow waters and gives birth to live young. It feeds on small coral reef fish, which it immobilises with its venom.
The leaf-scaled sea snake has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea snake, occurring in just two reefs in the Timor Sea, and occasionally being seen off the northwest coast of Australia. This species was once one of the most commonly seen sea snakes in its range, but has not been recorded in surveys since 2001. The exact reasons for this are unclear, but could be to do with rising sea temperatures and the degradation of its reef habitat, which in turn reduces prey availability. All sea snakes are legally protected in Australia, and measures are underway to monitor and reduce any impacts of fisheries on sea snake species. One of the reefs the leaf-scaled sea snake inhabits is a nature reserve, but unfortunately none of the habitat management plans for this area specifically target this rare marine reptile.
Find out more about sea snakes at IUCN – Sea snakes.
Find out more about other sea snake species on ARKive.
Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author