A highly venomous yellow-bellied snake was found on a South California beach for the second time in more than 4 decades, authorities have recently announced.
The discovery was made on Saturday, December 12, by a team of volunteers who was carrying out a cleanup at Bolsa Chica State Beach, in Orange County, on behalf of the Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation.
The sighting, which occurred just around 30 miles south of Los Angeles, was announced on Saturday, December 19 in a Facebook post published on the nonprofit organization’s official page.
Yellow Bellies snakes, scientifically known as pelamis platura, can be recognized because of their bright yellow ventral region, coupled with a much darker dorsal area and a flattened tail.
They are the most frequently encountered species of sea snake, and normally inhabit tropical coastal waters, from the Pacific and Indian Ocean. They are considered to be extremely venomous, their bites leading to muscle paralysis and kidney failure.
The aquatic reptiles have only been spotted on the Californian shoreline twice, the first time being in San Clemente more than 40 years ago, back in 1972.
The second time was earlier this year, back in October, on Silver Strand Beach, from Ventura County. Upon making that discovery, researchers announced that it was the northernmost point that a sea snake had ever reached on the North American Pacific coast.
The exotic reptile, which was around 2 feet long, was initially found alive but died soon after being transported to the local office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Given that it had traveled so far away from its usual habitat, it was believed to be one of the earliest signs of El Niño, a phenomenon marked by an excessive warming of the central and east central portion of the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
Normally, yellow-bellied snakes live several hundreds of miles farther south, requiring higher water temperatures, but as the ocean has been heating considerably lately, the aquatic creatures have ventured further north, foraging for prey such as eels and fish.
Now, another member of this species has washed up on the Californian shore during one of the strongest phases of El Niño. As witnesses report, the reptile, which measured around 27 inches in length, had already died when it was spotted by the beach clean-up crew.
Initially, volunteers didn’t realize what species it belonged to, and Tony Soriano, chairman of the Huntington Beach Surfrider Foundation, simply placed the dead creature in a Ziplock bag, storing it in the fridge while trying to correctly categorize it.
Eventually, on Friday, December 18, representatives of the Museum of Natural History of Los Angeles took the reptile to their headquarters and determined that it was actually a yellow-bellied snake.
Given the fact that El Niño is particularly potent this year, authorities are expecting more such encounters in the future, which is why they are now warning locals to steer clear of such marine creatures if they identify them on the beach.
According to Greg Pauly, affiliated with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles as an assistant curator of herpetology, the reptiles are seldom deadly to humans, since they have relatively small fangs and mouths, which can’t deliver high enough quantities of venom.
Nevertheless, it’s still best to avoid the snakes, and to abstain from trying to pick them up or tackle them. Instead, authorities should be immediately alerted regarding the sighting, at email@example.com or on the official websites of Herp Mapper or iNaturalist.
Image Source: KTLA