In many populations of terrestrial snakes, the phenotype of an individual (e.g. body size, sex, colour) affects its habitat use. One cause for that link is gape limitation, which can result in larger snakes eating prey that are found in different habitats. A second factor involves thermoregulatory opportunities, whereby individuals select habitats based upon thermal conditions. These ideas predict minimal intraspecific variation in habitat use in a species that eats small prey and lives in a thermally uniform habitat, such as the sea snake Emydocephalus annulatus, which feeds on tiny fish eggs and lives in inshore coral reefs. To test that prediction, we gathered data on water depths and substrate attributes for 1475 sightings of 128 free-ranging E. annulatus in a bay near Noumea, New Caledonia. Habitat selection varied among individuals, but with a preference for coral-dominated substrates. The body size and reproductive state of a snake affected its detectability in deep water, but overall habitat use was not linked to snake body size, colour morph, sex or pregnancy. A lack of ontogenetic shifts in habitat use allows extreme philopatry in E. annulatus, thereby reducing gene flow among populations and, potentially, delaying recolonization after local extirpation events.
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- New Caledonia
- sexual dimorphism