Iranian coastal waters: New home to a rarely seen venomous sea snake

October 10, 2016
The head of an adult Günther's sea snake. Credit: Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour

Günther's sea snake (Microcephalophis cantoris), a rarely seen venomous sea snake with distribution thought to stretch from the Malay Peninsula to Pakistan, has now been recorded from Iranian coastal waters off the western Gulf of Oman, more than 400 kilometers away from the westernmost boundary of its previously known range.

In 1864, German-born British zoologist, Albert Günther (1830-1914), discovered a new species of highly venomous viviparous (giving live birth) sea snakes, thereafter named Günther's sea snake. The species is famous because it has a very small head, compared to its body and is, therefore, sometimes called Günther's narrow/small-headed sea snake. It is a rare species, and, since its discovery, it has only been recorded from the coastal waters of a few countries in the western Malay Peninsula and the Indian subcontinent.

Scientists Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour, Qeshm Environmental Management Office, Qeshm Island, Iran, Parviz Ghezellou, Medicinal Plants and Drugs Research Institute, Shahid Beheshti University, Iran, Dr. Nicolas Vidal, Département Systématique & Evolution, Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, France, and three Iranian fellows, are collaborating on a project on the biodiversity of sea snakes in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.

During their survey, an adult Günther's sea snake was caught by a fishing trawler (a fishing vessel pulling a baglike net) in Iranian coastal waters off the western Gulf of Oman. This was the first record of this rarely seen venomous viviparous sea snake in the area. The specimen is deposited and available in the Zoological Museum at the Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman, Iran.

Map shows the first locality of Günther's sea snake in the western Gulf of Oman. Credit: Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour

As a result, the researchers have now published a checklist of the sea snake species in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, including this new record, in the open access journal ZooKeys.

There are about 60 living species of highly venomous viviparous sea snakes in the world, distributed throughout the tropical and subtropical coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region. Out of them, nine have been previously recorded from the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Following the discovery of the Günther's , the total number of sea snakes in the area is ten.

Günther's sea snake is caught in Iranian coastal waters of the western Gulf of Oman. Credit: Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour

Explore further: 'Ghost snake' discovered in Madagascar

More information: Mohsen Rezaie-Atagholipour et al, Sea snakes (Elapidae, Hydrophiinae) in their westernmost extent: an updated and illustrated checklist and key to the species in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, ZooKeys (2016). DOI: 10.3897/zookeys.622.9939

Related Stories

'Ghost snake' discovered in Madagascar

September 2, 2016

Researchers discovered a new snake species in Madagascar and named it "ghost snake" for its pale grey coloration and elusiveness. They found the ghost snake on a recently opened path within the well-traveled Ankarana National ...

New species of sea snake discovered

February 21, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists have discovered a new species of sea snake in the Gulf of Carpenteria, northern Australia, which is unique in having raised scales.

New snake species found in a museum

October 25, 2012

Scandinavian scientists have discovered a new species of snake in a Copenhagen museum, which they have called the Mosaic sea snake, a Swedish university said on Thursday.

Snake venoms have not revealed all their secrets

March 23, 2011

For several decades, snake venoms have been used in pharmacology to make new drugs. But a French team of pharmacologists, clinicians, systematists and conservation biologists, headed by Nicolas Vidal of the Laboratory “Systématique, ...

Recommended for you

New discovery challenges long-held evolutionary theory

October 19, 2017

Monash scientists involved in one of the world's longest evolution experiments have debunked an established theory with a study that provides a 'high-resolution' view of the molecular details of adaptation.

Gene editing in the brain gets a major upgrade

October 19, 2017

Genome editing technologies have revolutionized biomedical science, providing a fast and easy way to modify genes. However, the technique allowing scientists to carryout the most precise edits, doesn't work in cells that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.