Relationships between sexual dimorphism and niche partitioning within a clade of sea-snakes (Laticaudinae)

R. Shine*, R. N. Reed, S. Shetty, H. G. Cogger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

83 Citations (Scopus)


Previous studies in Fiji have shown that females of the amphibious sea-krait Laticauda colubrina are much larger than males, and have larger heads relative to body size. The dimorphism has been interpreted in terms of adaptation to a sex divergence in prey-size: females primarily eat large (conger) eels rather than smaller (moray) eels. The hypothesis that dimorphism is affected by niche divergence predicts that the degree of sex dimorphism will shift when such a species invades a habitat with a different range of potential prey sizes. On the island of Efate in Vanuatu, L. colubrina and a regionally endemic sibling species (L. frontalis) both consume smaller eels (in absolute terms, and relative to the snake's body size) than do the previously-studied Fijian snakes. Patterns of morphology and sexual dimorphism have shifted also. Both Vanuatu taxa are slender-bodied, and frontalis is smaller and less dimorphic than L. colubrina. Females grow larger than males in all taxa, and have larger heads (relative to body length), but the degree of sexual divergence is lower in Vanuatu (especially in frontalis). Dietary overlap (in prey species as well as size) is high between adult frontalis and juvenile colubrina, but the two taxa differ in prey size/predator size relationships. In particular, male frontalis eat very small prey and have very short heads. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that sex differences in the mean adult body sizes and relative head sizes of laticaudine snakes are linked to sex differences in feeding biology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-53
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Diet
  • Laticauda colubrina
  • Laticauda frontalis
  • Niche
  • Vanuatu


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