Foraging behaviour and energy budgets of sea snakes: insights from implanted data loggers

T. R. Cook*, X. Bonnet, T. Fauvel, R. Shine, F. Brischoux

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Information on the foraging behaviour of sea snakes has the potential to clarify adaptive pathways involved in the evolutionary invasion of marine habitats by terrestrial vertebrates. However, logistical obstacles have precluded studies in this field. To obtain preliminary data of diving behaviour, we surgically implanted temperature-depth loggers into two sympatric, amphibious, benthic foraging sea krait species from New Caledonia. Based on logger recovery from three snakes (1 Laticauda laticaudata and 2 L.saintgironsi), we obtained data on a total of 1850 dives carried out over eight foraging trips and 39.6 days at sea. Almost 99% of dives were <30m deep. Average dive depth was 10.7±7.0m, but snakes dived as deep as 82.6m. Maximum dive duration was ≥123.7min. At sea, snakes dived continuously, with over 90% of surface recovery periods lasting less than 3min in L.saintgironsi (n=1). Periods at the surface (between successive dives) were longer at night than by day, plausibly reflecting more intense hunting activity by the snake. Locomotor speed, as measured by the rate of vertical descent or ascent during diving, was low (0.15ms-1). In combination with other data on these species, we estimate that metabolic expenditure was about 10 times greater while the snakes were at sea than on land; and their overall field metabolic rate (70-145kJkg-1day-1) was an order of magnitude less than has been reported for diving endotherms. Despite low sample sizes, our study shows that implanted data loggers can provide novel insights into sea snake biology. Our data emphasize the behavioural and ecological consequences of ectothermy for secondary marine vertebrates. In particular, they illustrate how ectothermy allows species to thrive on rates of energy intake vastly lower than are required for their endothermic competitors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)82-93
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • sea snakes
  • foraging behaviour
  • diving behaviour
  • ectothermy
  • energetics
  • top predators
  • coral reefs
  • bio-logging


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