Saturday August 26, 2017
Sea snake adapts to pollution by turning black
more stories from this episode
- Did you hear that voice? It could be your brain looking for patterns
- Pro fighters help scientists understand evolution of concussions
- Sea snake adapts to pollution by turning black
- Mysterious disappearance of a civil war sub solved
- 'They eat away your nose and your lips until they fall off'
- How is melatonin regulated in people who are blind? Quirks Question
- Full Episode
The turtle-headed sea snake is found on and around coral reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific Ocean. It is about a metre long and usually covered in black and white bands or speckles.
But lately, scientists, including Dr. Richard Shine from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at the University of Sydney in Australia, have been puzzled for years about a population of turtle-headed sea snakes that are jet black. This population was first observed in the waters of a tourist region of New Caledonia, a French archipelago in the southern Pacific Ocean.
After ruling out camouflage and mate attraction, the researchers hypothesized the black skin may be an adaptation that helps the snake deal with the pollution as a result of human activity in that environment.
In an experiment, it was determined that the black skin attracted more potentially harmful minerals including zinc, nickel and arsenic, than the skin of the banded or speckled snakes. The colour black also attracts more algae, which slows the snakes as they swim. As a result, the jet black turtle-headed sea snake has evolved to shed its skin more frequently to remove the algae, but in doing so also removes the harmful pollutants.
Paper in the journal Current Biology, "Industrial Melanism in the Seasnake Emydocephalus annulatus"