Relocated Sea Snakes Cross Seas to Go Home

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2

Shetty gradually came to realize that many of the snakes marked as having come from Toberua were being sent to Mabualau a second time. The researchers found that most snakes were returning home within a month or so.

"In the end, it turned out that the snakes [originally] marked on Mabualau Island never showed up in the Toberua catch," said Shetty. "None of the Toberua snakes were found on Mabualau either."

This is "pretty strong evidence that translocation isn't going to work over small distances," said Robert Reed, a reptile ecologist at the University of Georgia's Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. "For some reason, these guys really like to go home."

Natural Navigators

Homing behavior is known to occur in other reptiles, such as crocodiles and sea turtles.

"Some turtles migrate 3,000 to 4,000 miles (4,800 to 6,400 kilometers) between nesting beaches and foraging sites," said Reed. "Some types of snake can relocate winter dens [year after year] even if their summer range is several miles away."

There are two types of homing behavior. Some animals are able to find their way home by memorizing landmarks and plotting a mental map of the local area.

Homing behavior seen in turtles, whales, and homing pigeons involves some innate ability to pinpoint a location irrespective of where the animal is. Researchers believe that these animals may be using the positions of stars or the Earth's magnetic field to point them in the right direction.

"We can't tell at this stage which of these two types of homing behavior the sea kraits are displaying," said Reed. However, they range quite widely over these reefs, so it may well be that they know their way around, he said.

It's possible that snakes learn how to recognize home at some early stage in their lives, said Reed. If this is true, he suggested, it might be possible to translocate eggs, instead and circumvent the problem.

Of course, this won't help Toberua's resort owners, who may just have to learn to live alongside the sea kraits.

National Geographic Resources on Snakes

Photo Essay: Snakes and How They Have Impacted Culture
Go >>

News Stories
New Snake Footage Uncoils Mystery of Flying Serpents
New Snake Footage Uncoils Mystery of Flying Serpents
For-Profit Cobra Breeding May Aid Wild Populations
Save the Scales?—Experts Push for Snake Protection
India's Snake Charmers Fade, Blaming Eco-Laws, TV
Life Is Confusing For Two-Headed Snakes
Fear of Snakes, Spiders Rooted in Evolution, Study Finds
Some Snakes Find Safety In "Cross-Dressing"
Anaconda Expert Wades Barefoot in Venezuela's Swamps
Female-Mimicking Male Snakes Are Out to Get Warm, Study Says

Interactive Features
King Cobra
Snake Island

National Geographic Magazine
Wild Gliders
Snake Eyes? What Snake Eyes?

For Kids
Coloring Book: Emerald Tree Boas
The Cartoon Factory

<< Back to Page 1   Page 2 of 2


SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES

ADVERTISEMENT

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S PHOTO OF THE DAY

NEWS FEEDS     After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.   After installing a news reader, click on this icon to download National Geographic News's XML/RSS feed.

Get our news delivered directly to your desktop—free.
How to Use XML or RSS

National Geographic Daily News To-Go

Listen to your favorite National Geographic news daily, anytime, anywhere from your mobile phone. No wires or syncing. Download Stitcher free today.
Click here to get 12 months of National Geographic Magazine for $15.