Lapemis curtus

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Shaw's Sea Snake
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Elapidae
Genus: Lapemis
Species: L. curtus
Binomial name
Lapemis curtus
(Shaw, 1802)

The Shaw's Sea Snake (Lapemis curtus, but often includes Lapemis hardwickii[1]) is a species of sea snake. Like all Hydrophiinae sea snakes, it is a viviparous, fully marine, and front fanged elapid that is highly venomous.[2] It is collected for a variety of purposes including human and animal food, for medicinal purposes and for their skin.[3]


This species is characterized by a wide variation in number of ventral scales and degree of parietal scale fragmentation.[1] Both sexes possess spiny scales along their bodies but males have more highly developed spines. This sexual dimorphism in spines may play a role in courtship or in locomotion by reducing drag.[1]


It is a widely distributed species and like most sea snakes is restricted to warmer, tropical waters. Its range includes:

  • Persian Gulf (Oman, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Iran)
  • Indian Ocean (Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India)
  • South China Sea north to the coasts of Fujian and Shandong
  • Strait of Taiwan
  • Indoaustralian Archipelago
  • North coast of Australia (North Territory, Queensland, West Australia)
  • Philippines (Panay, etc.)
  • Pacific Ocean (Myanmar (= Burma), Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan, New Guinea)


Originally considered to be two species of the genus Lapemis: Lapemis curtus and Lapemis hardwickii. Gritis and Voris (1990) examined the morphological variation of over 1,400 specimens across its geographic range and concluded it is most likely a single species.[1][3] As is convention, the species name reverts to the first description by Shaw in 1802. Recent DNA and morphological analysis has confirmed its phylogenic status as a single species.[4]

Hydrodynamic sense[edit]

L. curtus have corpuscles (scale sensillae) concentrated on the front of their head which may be a hydrodynamic receptor.[5] A study measuring brain response to water vibration found that L. curtus is sensitive to low amplitude (100–150 Hz) water motions.[6] Sensing water motion is useful in locating prey, predators, or potential mates and has been demonstrated in other aquatic animals (e.g. lateral line in fish, whiskers in harbour seals).[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Gritis, P. & H. K. Voris 1990 Variability and significance of parietal and ventral scales in the marine snakes of the genus Lapemis (Serpentes: Hydrophiidae), with comments on the occurrence of spiny scales in the genus. Fieldiana Zool. n.s. (56): i-iii + 1-13.
  2. ^ Heatwole H. 1999. Sea Snakes. University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
  3. ^ a b Lukoschek, V., Guinea, M., Cogger, H., Rasmussen, A., Murphy, J., Lane, A., Sanders, K. Lobo, A., Gatus, J., Limpus, C., Milton, D., Courtney, T., Read, M., Fletcher, E., Marsh, D., White, M.-D., Heatwole, H., Alcala, A., Voris, H. & Karns, D. 2010. Lapemis curtus. In: IUCN 2014. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.1. <>. Downloaded on 26 June 2014
  4. ^ Sanders, K. L., Mumpuni, Lee M. S. Y. 2010 Uncoupling ecological innovation and speciation in sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae, Hydrophiini. J. Evol. Biol. 23 (12):2685-93
  5. ^ Povel, D. , Kooij, J.v.d. 1997. Scale sensillae of the file snake (Serpentes: Acrochordidae) and some other aquatic and burrowing snakes. Neth. J. Zool., 47, 443–456
  6. ^ Westhoff G, Fry BG, Bleckmann H. 2005. Sea snakes (Lapemis curtus) are sensitive to low-amplitude water motions. Zoology 108, 195-200.
  7. ^ Dehnhardt G, Mauck B, Bleckmann H (1998) Seal whiskers detect water movements. Nature 394, 235-236.
  • Anderson, J. 1871 A list of the reptilian accession to the Indian Museum, Calcutta, from 1865 to 1870, with a description of some new species. J. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, Calcutta, 40, part 11(1): 12-39.
  • Rasmussen, A. R. & I. Ineich 2000 Sea snakes of New Caledonia and surrounding waters (Serpentes: Elapidae): first report on the occurrence of Lapemis curtus and description of new species from the genus Hydrophis. Hamadryad, 25(2): 91-99.
  • The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (