Are There Snakes in New Zealand?

Written by Brandi Allred
Published: March 25, 2022
Image Credit Nokuro/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Snakes are ancient reptiles that have been around for over 100 million years. Today, they live on every continent except Antarctica. All snakes are carnivores, some eat only eggs, and others are capable of eating deer and other medium-sized mammals. They range in size from as tiny as four inches, to over twenty feet long. One extinct snake, the titanoboa, even exceeded 40 feet in length.

Snakes are famous for their flexible jaws and legless, scale-covered bodies. Some even spit venom, while others have hollow fangs capable of injecting venom into prey and people. Here, we’ll discover whether or not there are snakes in New Zealand. We’ll go into detail about pet snakes, as well as captive zoo snakes in New Zealand. Then, we’ll take a look at New Zealand’s other reptiles. Finally, we’ll take a look at all the snake-free places in the world.

Why There are No (Land Dwelling) Snakes in New Zealand

New Zealand’s two main islands are known as the North Island and the South Island.

Stargrass/Shutterstock.com

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If you’re a snake buff, and you’re traveling to New Zealand, then you’re out of luck. New Zealand is one of the only completely snake-free countries in the world. This is because snakes never evolved in New Zealand, and no snakes ever made their way across the ocean to make the islands their home. Neighboring Australia is chock full of snakes, both venomous and non-venomous, but none of those snakes ever hopped the pond to New Zealand.

The sole exception to this comes from two types of saltwater-dwelling sea snakes – the yellow-bellied sea snake and the yellow-lipped sea krait. These snakes can be found swimming in the waters around New Zealand, though they’re not native to the area. Yellow-bellied sea snakes and kraits are tropical species and only come to New Zealand seemingly by accident. The waters around New Zealand are a little too cold for them, and they don’t generally last long.

Let’s take a closer look at each species in turn.

Yellow-Bellied Sea Snakes

Most Venomous Snakes in the World - Yellow-bellied Sea Snake
The yellow-bellied sea snake, Hydrophis platurus, grows to about three feet long.

Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

Yellow-bellied sea snakes actually live in tropical waters in all the world’s oceans, except for the Atlantic Ocean. They’re frequently seen swimming in the waters around New Zealand’s North Island. They live their entire lives at sea (even giving birth at sea). Yellow-bellied sea snakes get their name from their very distinct coloring; they have glossy black backs and sides and bright yellow bellies. 

These snakes also have flattened tails that help them swim. Unlike the rest of the body, the tail is mostly yellow, with black splotches. All in all, they’re very pretty snakes, even if they can’t technically be counted as snakes in New Zealand

Yellow-lipped Sea Kraits

The yellow-lipped sea krait, Laticauda colubrina, grows to nearly five feet long, though females are about twice as long as males.

dwi putra stock/Shutterstock.com

Unlike the yellow-bellied sea snake, the yellow-lipped sea krait actually spends much of its life on land. They’re endemic to the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific region, though they’ve only been seen in New Zealand a handful of times. Like the yellow-bellied sea snake, they prefer warmer waters but sometimes drift into the colder waters surrounding New Zealand.

Yellow-bellied sea kraits are highly venomous, though bites to humans are rare. They’re so named for the yellow coloring around their mouths and noses. The rest of their body is a light blue, with regular black bands from their head to their tail. Like the yellow-bellied sea snake, yellow-lipped sea kraits have flattened tails designed for swimming. 

So there aren’t any wild snakes in New Zealand, but what about pet, or zoo snakes? Unfortunately for snake buffs in New Zealand, there is a total ban on the importation of snakes into the country for any reason. Anyone caught trying to bring snakes into New Zealand faces heavy fines and potential jail time. So, if you live in New Zealand and just have to see a snake, hop on over to Australia—they’ve got plenty.

Why Are Snakes Illegal in New Zealand?

You may be wondering – why don’t New Zealanders want snakes in their country? Well, the answer is that introducing snakes to a previously snake-free ecosystem would cause disastrous environmental consequences. The native wildlife of New Zealand never evolved to handle snakes, so even a single snake could severely impact native wildlife populations. This would cause a chain reaction that would destroy much of New Zealand’s natural beauty, something no one wants.

Does New Zealand Have Any Reptiles?

With such a paucity of snakes, you may be wondering if New Zealand has any reptiles at all. The answer is yes. New Zealand is home to four kinds of frogs, geckos, skinks, and one lizard-like creature called a tuatara. 

The tuatara is actually exceedingly rare—they’re found nowhere else in the world. They’re New Zealand’s largest reptile that reaches up to 1.8 feet long when fully grown. They feed primarily on insects, small lizards, and bird eggs. Shockingly, they keep growing until they’re around 35 years old, and most live to be at least 60.

Other Islands That Have No Snakes

Tuatara on ground
There may not be snakes in New Zealand, but it’s not the only snake-free place in the world.

Knutschie – Public Domain

As you might have guessed, there are a few other places in the world that harbor no snakes. These include the icy islands of Antarctica, Greenland, and Iceland. Ireland also lacks snakes, as do the Hawaiian Islands and many of the smaller islands across the Pacific ocean.

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