Mistaken identity may explain why male sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis, Elapidae, Hydrophiinae) “attack” scuba divers

Lynch, Tim P., Alford, Ross A., and Shine, Richard (2021) Mistaken identity may explain why male sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis, Elapidae, Hydrophiinae) “attack” scuba divers. Scientific Reports, 11 (1). 15267.

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Abstract

Scuba-divers on tropical coral-reefs often report unprovoked “attacks” by highly venomous Olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis). Snakes swim directly towards divers, sometimes wrapping coils around the diver’s limbs and biting. Based on a focal animal observation study of free-ranging Olive sea snakes in the southern Great Barrier Reef, we suggest that these “attacks” are misdirected courtship responses. Approaches to divers were most common during the breeding season (winter) and were by males rather than by female snakes. Males also made repeated approaches, spent more time with the diver, and exhibited behaviours (such as coiling around a limb) also seen during courtship. Agitated rapid approaches by males, easily interpreted as “attacks”, often occurred after a courting male lost contact with a female he was pursuing, after interactions between rival males, or when a diver tried to flee from a male. These patterns suggest that “attacks” by sea snakes on humans result from mistaken identity during sexual interactions. Rapid approaches by females occurred when they were being chased by males. Divers that flee from snakes may inadvertently mimic the responses of female snakes to courtship, encouraging males to give chase. To prevent escalation of encounters, divers should keep still and avoid retaliation.

Item ID: 69948
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2045-2322
Keywords: behaviour, sea snake, diver, mistaken identity
Copyright Information: Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Funders: Lions Clubs of Australia
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2021 03:54
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3109 Zoology > 310901 Animal behaviour @ 100%
SEO Codes: 11 COMMERCIAL SERVICES AND TOURISM > 1101 Environmentally sustainable commercial services and tourism > 110199 Environmentally sustainable commercial services and tourism not elsewhere classified @ 50%
28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 50%
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