Jun 20, 2019 | Updated: 03:45 PM EDT

How Pollutions Are Causing Urban Sea Snakes To Lose Their Stripes

Aug 13, 2017 07:16 PM EDT

A Wild Explanation For Why These Sea Snakes Are Losing Their Stripes
(Photo : USA news & more/YouTube) Sea snakes are a striking sight on the sun-dappled Pacific and Indian Ocean coral reefs they call home. They swim with deliberate, yet graceful winding movements above the reef, and they are often conspicuously-colored, with many species sporting patterns flush with yellows, oranges, and blues, broken up by stripes, blotches, and spots. This scaly skin, delicately painted by evolution, is part of what makes encounters with them so memorable. However, one species of sea snake—the turtle-headed sea snake (Emydocephalus annulatus)—is losing its captivating stripes. The culprit behind this robbery? Pollution.

By sea snake standards, the turtle-headed sea snakes found across Indo-Pacific coral reefs are unusual. They are picky eaters, with squat and blunted heads evolved to accommodate a diet of fish eggs laid on surfaces near or on reefs—features that make their faces adorably turtle-like. While most sea snakes are quite venomous, the turtle-headed sea snake has lost much of its venom potency, because fish eggs aren’t exactly hard to kill. Normally adorned in handsome black and white striping, the wardbrobe of the turtle-headed is turning completely black in some locations. Now, a newly published study in the journal Current Biology has revealed that in certain locations—usually near cities or human activities—the sea snakes are adapting to presence of human pollution, darkening their skin as a means of avoiding the effects of pollutants...

A recent study on sea snakes that live nearer to humans indicates, they are tending to lose their stripes. Researchers from the University of Sydney have first found some unusual difference in color patterns while studying on the turtle-headed sea snakes living on coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific ocean.

Study finds, sea snakes living in pristine parts of the reef where human activities are not involved have more prominent black-and-white bands or blotches than the snakes of those places with regular human activity. In the journal of Current Biology, researchers explained that snakes of those places have a blackish body and less prominent stripes due to the exposure to pollution. The changing of color patches has become the part of their evolution that help them to adopt the environmental condition of their native place.

Lead researcher professor Rick Shine said,“The animals I study continue to astonish me. I think it's remarkable to find industrial melanism in organisms as different as moths and sea snakes”. He also explained that the deep blackish tones allow them to keep their body safe from toxic contaminants, including Zinc and Arsenic. With this discovery, sea snakes got placed on the list of species that show industrial melanism.

According to the report by MailOnline, urban sea snakes shed their skin more often. Researchers examined the trace elements of pollutants in the shed skins of sea snakes. The thing industrial melanism first caught the attention of scientists when they have found higher contamination of Zinc in the feather of pigeons in Paris.

It was also proved sea snakes with heavily pigmented with melanins have an advantage over their lighter relatives in polluted areas. This finding is the another example of the rapid evolutionary change in action. Professor Shine also added that the adaptation is a reminder of the effect humans can have on wildlife.

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