07 November 2009

Snakes in a fish feeding frenzy

As the tide turned and I started heading back to the high shore, I heard a splash.
Looking around, I saw a snake with a fish in its jaws!

Very rapidly, the snake swallowed the fish. Here it is with just the tail of the fish sticking out of its jaws. Amazing. I couldn't catch a fish that fast, much less kill and swallow it - and all without having any limbs!
Here is what the whole Dog-faced water snake (Cerberus rynchops) looks like. This rather stout snake has a short tubular tail (yes, snakes have a tail, although they look like they are all tail).
A little further along and I met another snake also in the process of swallowing a fish.
In total I saw six of these snakes, most were busy hunting among the shallow pools on the sandy upper shore near the mangroves. The Dog-faced water snake is a gentle creature that is only mildy venomous to humans and will not bite at all if we don't handle or disturb them.

And wow, this is a different snake altogether! How nice to finally see the Yellow-lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina)! It was quite a large one, about 80cm long.
Like other snakes, it has a forked tongue that it sticks out of its mouth now and then to sense its surroundings.
Unlike the Dog-face water snake, the sea krait has a paddle shaped tail that it uses to swim with. The sea krait was hunting in deeper water among the coral rubble.
Although the sea krait is highly venomous and a bite can be fatal for humans, this snake is a peaceful creature that will not harm you if you leave it alone. As we watched respectfully, the snake gracefully went about its business and soon swam off into the murky in-coming tide.

Andy saw these snakes too although he was much further away. He took a really great video clip of the Yellow-lipped sea krait! So perhaps this is a good shore for the snakes. There sure were a lot of fishes! A veritable fish buffet for snakes. This is the pretty Head-stripe goby (Amblygobious stethophthalmus) that the snake in the first photo was eating. It is quite commonly seen on our reefs.
This little Brown-stripe wrasse (Halichoeres bicolor) was lying the sand (I've often seen them this way) while a Dog-faced water snake slithered right past it.
There was also a little Yellow-banded damselfish (Dischistodus fasciatus).
And another one that was a little bigger with a slightly different body pattern. Damselfish juveniles often look very different from the adults.
I saw several but only managed to photograph one of these Variable fang-blennies (Petroscirtes variabilis).
While I have no idea what this fish is.
In deeper water among the coral rubble were more fishes. Like this False scorpionfish (Centrogynes vaigiensis). Although very common on many of our other shores, this is my first photo of this fish on Semakau!
Also abundant were Toadfishes (Batrachomoeus trispinosus).
And here's a fish that I keep seeing but which I have yet to identify.
Alicia spotted this Burrowing snake eel (Pisodonophis crancrivorous) which indeed resembles a snake! In both form and behaviour. It too was wriggling about among the rubble looking for tasty titbits. Before we could take a better photo, it disappeared into a crevice.
Seeing all these predators prowling about on the reef, I now understand why it's good to be a Clownfish. It's certainly much safer hiding among the tentacles of a giant stinging anemone, than to huddle in a crevice.
There were at least three of these False clown anemonefishes (Amphiprion ocellaris) in the Giant anemone (Stichodactyla gigantea).
These wriggly fishes are hard to shoot. And this was my best shot of the bigger of the anemonefishes.
It was most exciting to see these snakes!

As we chatted with Patrick, he confirmed that a Smooth otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) has been regularly sighted on Pulau Semakau too. Wow! Michell spotted an otter when we went to Semakau a few weeks ago to clean up some of the rubbish there.

Here's more of what I saw on this shore.


  1. Hi Ria;
    What was the depth of the water when these pics were taken?


  2. Langkawi, It was a low tide at night (about 9pm). The dog-faced water snakes were hunting on the exposed sand flats checking out shallow pools left behind at the low tide. The yellow-lipped sea krait was hunting in about ankle-deep water but zoomed off eventually into deeper water.

    It was awesome to see them!

  3. Andy has a great video clip of the sea krait swimming in the water that day.



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