Moving in two worlds: aquatic and terrestrial locomotion in sea snakes (Laticauda colubrina, Laticaudidae)

R. Shine*, S. Shetty

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Citations (Scopus)


Yellow-lipped sea kraits (Laticauda colubrina) are amphibious in their habits. We measured their locomotor speeds in water and on land to investigate two topics: (1) to what degree have adaptations to increase swimming speed (paddle-like tail etc.) reduced terrestrial locomotor ability in sea kraits?; and (2) do a sea krait's sex and body size influence its locomotor ability in these two habitats, as might be expected from the fact that different age and sex classes of sea kraits use the marine and terrestrial environments in different ways? To estimate ancestral states for locomotor performance, we measured speeds of three species of Australian terrestrial elapids that spend part of their time foraging in water. The evolutionary modifications of Laticauda for marine life have enhanced their swimming speeds by about 60%, but decreased their terrestrial locomotor speed by about 80%. Larger snakes moved faster than smaller individuals in absolute terms but were slower in terms of body lengths travelled per second, especially on land. Male sea kraits were faster than females (independent of the body-size effect), especially on land. Prey items in the gut reduced locomotor speeds both on land and in water. Proteroglyphous snakes may offer exceptional opportunities to study phylogenetic shifts in locomotor ability, because (1) they display multiple independent evolutionary shifts from terrestrial to aquatic habits, and (2) one proteroglyph lineage (the laticaudids) displays considerable intraspecific and interspecific diversity, in terms of the degree to which they use terrestrial vs. aquatic habitats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)338-346
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Crawling
  • Elapidae
  • Laticaudidae
  • Locomotor speed
  • Sea kraits
  • Swimming
  • Trade-off


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