Aquatic and terrestrial locomotor speeds of amphibious sea-snakes (Serpentes, Laticaudidae)

Authors


* R. Shine. E-mail: rics@bio.usyd.edu.au

Abstract

Amphibious animals may be subject to strong but conflicting selective pressures to enhance locomotor performance both on land and in the water. Biomechanical models suggest that in snakes, adaptations to swimming (e.g. reduction of ventral plates, flattening of tail) will reduce their ability to move on land. The locomotor speeds of six taxa of amphibious (laticaudid) sea-snakes, plus one entirely marine (hydrophiid) species were measured. Because the relative dependence on aquatic vs terrestrial habitats varies with a laticaudid's species, sex and body size, a previous study predicted that these factors should generate significant variation in locomotor speeds within laticaudids. Measurements of swimming and crawling speeds supported this prediction. Some species were faster than others and, within each species, males were faster than conspecific females. The degree of locomotor superiority of males was greater for terrestrial (>40%) than for aquatic (20%) locomotion. Smaller snakes were faster than larger animals in relative speed (body lengths/s) but slower in absolute terms (m/s). The hydrophiid Emydocephalus annulatus was slow in water as well as on land, perhaps because it eats immobile prey and thus, does not depend on speed for foraging. The diversity of locomotor abilities within laticaudid sea-snakes provides a remarkable opportunity to identify factors that influence evolutionary trade-offs between conflicting evolutionary optima.

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