Terrestrial locomotion in sea snakes: the effects of sex and species on cliff-climbing ability in sea kraits (Serpentes, Elapidae, Laticauda)

X. Bonnet*, I. Ineich, R. Shine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Ecomorphological theory predicts a match between an organism's environment and its locomotor abilities, such that animals function most effectively under the conditions they experience in nature. However, amphibious species must simultaneously optimize performance in two different habitats posing incompatible demands on locomotor morphology and physiology. This situation may generate a mismatch between environment and locomotor function, with performance optimized only for the more important habitat type; alternatively, selection may fine-tune locomotor abilities for both types of challenges. Two species of sea kraits in New Caledonia offer an opportunity to examine this question: Laticauda laticaudata is more highly aquatic than L. colubrina, and males are more terrestrial than females within each taxon. We examined an aspect of locomotor performance that is critical to coming ashore on steep-walled rocky islets: the ability to climb steep cliffs. We also measured the muscular strength of these animals, a character that is likely critical to climbing performance. Laticauda colubrina was heavier-bodied and stronger (even relative to its body mass) than the more aquatic L. laticaudata; and within each species, males were heavier-bodied and stronger than females. The same patterns were evident in cliff-climbing ability. Thus, the ability of different species and sexes of sea kraits to climb steep cliffs correlates with their body shape even though these primarily aquatic animals use terrestrial habitats only rarely.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)433-441
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Body shape
  • Escape tactic
  • Muscular strength
  • Sex dimorphism


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