Why sea snakes are so much more deadly than their land-based counterparts

Sea snakes are far more venomous than land snakes, including Australia’s infamous inland taipan and eastern brown snake; number one and two respectively on the deadly land snake index.

Just 1.5 milligrams of venom from the hook-nosed sea snake is estimated to be enough to kill 22 people. It’s considered the most venomous snake in the world and is found is found in the ocean off Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.

HOOK-NOSED SEA SNAKE Enhydrina schistosa. Close up showing head detail and scales. Specimen from coast of Mumbai, Maharashtra, India. stock photo
The venom of the hook-nosed sea snake is rated eight times as toxic than the cobra. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Sean Cade, owner of Australian Snake Catchers, said residents on the east coast don’t need to worry about the hook-nosed too much, as the most common species to wash up are the yellow-bellied sea snake, the olive sea snake and the elegant sea snake.

All are highly venomous, but not more so than the hook-nosed.

Yellow-bellied Sea Snake
Yellow-bellied sea snakes are one of the species commonly found on beaches in eastern Australia. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“Always call a handler if you find a snake on the beach — with storms and the influx of water it could potentially push species closer to shore,” Mr Cade said.

“Sea snakes only come onto land when they’re injured. People think, ‘it’s a sea snake oh easy, just needs to be popped back into the ocean’, but often they need help.

“Barnacles on sea snakes are a common sign one is unwell.”

In December 2020, Mr Cade assisted with the rescue of two yellow-bellied sea snakes at Kurnell near Cronulla.

The smaller yellow-bellied sea snake was 'quite active' and only had a tail injury. It went into care to be later released back into the ocean.
The smaller yellow-bellied sea snake was ‘quite active’ and only had a tail injury. It went into care to be later released back into the ocean. (Australian Snake Catchers)

One unfortunately died before his arrival, but that allowed him to photograph the position of the snake’s fangs.

They are set back further in their jaw and are bigger than their land-based counterparts’.

A close-up of the fangs of a yellow-bellied black snake.
A close-up of the fangs of a yellow-bellied black snake. (Australian Snake Catchers)

Mr Cade said this is part of the reason why sea snakes are so deadly.

“Being underwater the venom gets diluted, so it has to be more potent,” he said.

“The way the jaw has evolved allows for more venom to be delivered.

“They deliver more venom volume as the teeth are set back, allowing them to grip down harder. This also prevents slippery prey from escaping.

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