Lillywhite and his team studied a population of yellow-bellied sea snakes inhabiting the Gulf of Papagayo located off of northwestern Guancaste, Costa Rica.
After bringing the snakes to a lab, the scientists determined that the snakes could tolerate an incredible amount of dehydration. In the wild, the snakes remain in this state for six to seven months at a time.
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Snakes captured following seasonal periods of heavy rainfall, however, were properly plumped up with water.
The snakes spend most of their time at various levels in the water column, coming to the surface periodically to breathe. The researchers suspect that the snakes also come to the surface after heavy rains. There, they likely drink the freshwater that accumulates for a short while on the ocean's surface.
When drinking, snakes do not lap. "The snake simply gulps water and then closes the mouth while water is forced into the stomach," Lillywhite explained.
Seasonal changes are therefore a life or death matter for these snakes. Unfortunately, some sea snakes have experienced population declines or have even gone extinct due to prolonged drought. This has, for example, happened in some areas off of northern Australia.