Could a Bite from This Tiny Snake Kill a Blue Whale or Killer Whale?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: August 21, 2022
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Of all the 3000-plus species of snakes worldwide, some have evolved to become sea snakes. The term “sea snakes” describe numerous snakes belonging to the Elapid family that learned to adapt to living on land and in marine habitats. Despite this general categorization, sea snakes do not all look the same or have the same unique abilities. Sea snakes all primarily inhabit the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and all 60 known sea snakes are venomous.

Belcher’s sea snakes are some of the most dangerous, and some people think of them as the most venomous snakes in the world. However, there have been arguments about the potency of the venom of this species and questions on whether or not it can kill a great white or blue whale with one bite. Keep reading to find answers!

How To Identify A Belcher’s Sea Snake

World's Scariest Animal: Belcher's Sea Snake

Venom from the Belcher’s Sea Snake is so toxic, that a single bite can kill a human being in less than thirty minutes.

©SaltedLife/Shutterstock.com

The species got its name in 1849 from John Edward Gray, who named it after Sir Edward Belcher, a British explorer who first discovered it in the mid-1800s. The Belcher’s sea snake (Hydrophis belcheri), also known as the faint-banded sea snake, is a member of the elapid family. Some people regard this species as the most dangerous due to the potency of its venom. Adult Belcher’s sea snakes can grow as long as 20 to 40 inches (0.5 to 1 meter). This species also usually has yellowish skin with dark-green crossbands and a short, flat head with the same pattern as the skin. 

Like other snakes that shed their skin now and then, Belcher’s sea snakes are like other water-based snakes that shed at least once a month. The constant shedding helps them swim better underwater and remove unwanted marine organisms. The shedding also helps remove algae or barnacles that grow on their skin from spending so much time underwater. Unlike other snakes, the scales of a Belcher’s sea snake overlap. Surviving out on the ocean is easy for this species because of how fast they can move underwater. Records show that a Belcher’s sea snake can move as fast as 12 miles per hour! – because its tail looks like a flapper. This species also has a lifespan of at least four to five years.

Where Can You Find A Belcher’s Sea Snake?

The Belcher’s sea snake inhabits parts of Indonesia, the Gulf of Thailand, New Guinea, and Australia.

©SaltedLife/Shutterstock.com

Belcher’s sea snakes usually inhabit more tropical areas and can be found in parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. This species also inhabits parts of Indonesia, the Gulf of Thailand, New Guinea, the coastline of the Philippines, and Australia, specifically the Solomon Islands and the Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea. Like other snakes, they breathe with their lungs, but their left lung is enlarged and takes up most of their body length. Because they spend most of their lives underwater, they can also respire with their skin and stay submerged for as long as seven to eight hours. They can absorb up to 33% oxygen through their skin and expel the rest of the carbon dioxide that is not needed. 

What Do Belcher’s Sea Snakes Eat?

Living most of their lives in water means occasionally ingesting salt water even when they need freshwater to survive. Belcher’s sea snakes, like most sea snakes, have special sublingual glands under their tongues to help them get rid of excess salt, especially when they eat. Even in the deep, dark parts of the ocean, it is easy to find food because they have mechanoreceptors that help them sense vibrations and movements. Their diet usually consists of smaller fish, fish eggs, eels, and shellfish. As such, you can find Belcher’s sea snakes in shallow parts of the water because it is easier for them to find food there.

Also, the coral reefs in these regions make it easy to hide from predators. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Belcher’s sea snakes to maintain their natural habitat. The reason for this is that several human activities, like the dumping of chemicals into the ocean, are causing Belcher’s sea snakes to move from their natural habitat toward coastlines, putting them in contact with more humans.

Are Belcher’s Sea Snakes Aggressive?

Belcher's Sea Snake

Although most of them are timid, all sea snakes are venomous.

©SaltedLife/Shutterstock.com

Generally, all sea snakes are dangerous because of the potency of their venom, but most are also very timid and would run rather than face confrontation. Belcher’s sea snakes are no different. Belcher’s sea snakes are docile and rarely inject their venom, even when they bite. They also hardly attack humans, and the only people that have ever suffered a bite from one of these snakes were fishermen that accidentally caught one in their nets, and even then, they had no encounter with the snake’s venom. It has become known that Belcher’s sea snakes can control how much of their venom they release per bite. 

Because they have a small head and consequently small teeth, bites from Belcher’s sea snakes are not usually painful and might go unnoticed. However, their venom contains neurotoxins and myotoxins that can kill within 30 minutes. Common symptoms of Belcher’s sea snake venom include stiffness, headaches, unresponsive muscles, vomiting, etc. After these initial symptoms, rhabdomyolysis (muscle degradation) and paralysis follow. Because bites from this species are uncommon, no anti-venom can stop the effects of Belcher’s sea snake bite. The final stage is death.

Could A Belcher’s Sea Snake Kill A Great White or A Blue Whale With One Bite?

Belcher's Sea Snake

Considering their sizes, it might seem more plausible for the Belcher’s sea snake’s venom to affect a great white shark than a blue whale.

©Roberto Romanin/Shutterstock.com

There is talk of whether a single bite from a Belcher’s sea snake can kill a great white or a blue whale. Belcher’s sea snakes are like almost all other sea snakes and prefer to run than face a confrontation, and they only bite as a form of defense in severe circumstances. Because of this, it would be impossible to find one in a stand-off with a whale.

Although the Belcher’s sea snake’s venom is strong enough to kill 100 people, a blue whale grows as long as 100 feet (30 meters) and can weigh up to 330,693.393lbs (150,000kg), which is a lot heavier than the weight of 100 men combined. This means that the venom of a Belcher’s sea snake would have a hard time affecting the blue whale if both animals were to have a face-off.

Great white sharks are relatively smaller than blue whales, and the females are usually bigger than their male counterparts and can weigh up to 5070 lbs (2300kg). Based on the size difference, it might seem more plausible for the Belcher’s sea snake’s venom to affect a great white shark more than a blue whale. Even with the size difference, the skin of these sea monsters is very thick, and the teeth of Belcher’s sea snakes are too small to do much damage. As such, before the venom of a Belcher’s sea snake can affect the great white or a blue whale, it would need to enter their bodies through different means and in large amounts. 

The photo featured at the top of this post is © SaltedLife/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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