This sea snake looks like a banana and hunts like a Slinky

The canary yellow reptile lives in the sea off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica

yellow sea snake

SEEING YELLOW  A newly discovered sea snake subspecies (top) is shorter — and a lot brighter — than its yellow-bellied brethren (bottom).

B. Bessesen

With its bright hue, this snake was bound to stand out sooner or later.

A newly discovered subspecies of sea snake, Hydrophis platurus xanthos, has a narrow geographic range and an unusual hunting trick. The canary-yellow reptile hunts at night in Golfo Dulce off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. With its body coiled up at the sea surface, the snake points its head under the water, mouth open. That folded posture “creates a buoy” that stabilizes the snake so it can nab prey in choppy water, says study coauthor Brooke Bessesen, a conservation biologist at Osa Conservation, a biodiversity-focused nonprofit in Washington, D.C. In contrast, typical Hydrophis platurus, with a black back and yellow underbelly, hunts during the day, floating straight on calm seas.

The newly described venomous snake has been reported only in a small, 320-square-kilometer area of Golfo Dulce. After analyzing 154 living and preserved specimens, the researchers described the reptile’s characteristics July 24 in Zookeys. The scientists hope that the subspecies designation will enable the Costa Rican government to protect the sunny serpent, which they worry is already at risk from overzealous animal collectors. 

Hydrophis platurus xanthos
SKINNY SWIMMING A Hydrophis platurus xanthos waits in the water, coiled in its distinct hunting posture. B. Bessesen

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