Year of the Yin Water Snake

Gong Xi Fa Cai  恭禧發財 Happy New Year

Here in Edinburgh, no fireworks nor drums mark 2013’s celebration of Chinese New year, but nevertheless, the year of the Snake has arrived – MY YEAR! – and I hear its going to be BRILLIANT. After a 13-hour shift at the restaurant which overflowed with rugby fans after the Italy vs. Scotland 6 Nations match, my year kicked off  – pun intended – with a well-deserved sleep in.  I’m not usually a bookworm, but given the frosty weather lately, a hot chocolate, flannel pajamas and copy of Thor Heyerdahl’s “Early Man and the Ocean (1978) were in my opinion the most appropriate companions for welcoming in the new lunar year.

In honour of the year of the WATER snake, I thought it would be most appropriate for my first post be quite serpentine. After stumbling through official websites for accurate zoological information, here’s a little sea-snake 101:

Although land snakes can swim, sea snakes cannot slither on land (except for Laticauda) since their tail vertebrae is flat, shaped like a nifty paddle for swimming. Talk about unfair evolution!

According to, sea snakes dwell in shallow water because they, unlike fish, travel to the surface to breathe; they use their lungs to control their buoyancy – like scuba diver!? – and have little flaps that seal over their nostrils underwater.

These critters aren’t your typical wrap-around-your-arm-at-the-zoo kind of critters. Similar to their terrestrial counterparts, their contrasting stripes and colours are nature’s way of saying “look, but don’t touch,” although it is common belief that they don’t attack unless provoked.

Sea snake venom is said to be twice as toxic as land snake venom, however they only seem to bite their prey (fish, fish eggs and eels) with enough to stun them and let their small but effective fangs do the rest of the dirty work.

I’ve seen a few sea snakes myself while diving, and remember one cheeky in  particular from a dive in Manado, Indonesia; it came wriggling towards me while I was taking its photo! If I had known at that time that sea snakes are highly venomous, I probably wouldn’t have hovered so long for a snapshot – but what do you expect for a 13-year-old diver to do? I was so seduced by its hypnotic dance that fear itself was a non-existent concept!

up close and personal with a sea snake 2013

banded sea snake 2003

Wishing you and your loved ones a prosperous year of the Snake!


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