Breathing Easy: Do Sea Snakes Breathe Air?

do sea snakes breathe air

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The vast and mysterious oceans of our planet are home to an incredible array of creatures, each with its unique adaptations and survival mechanisms.

Among these captivating marine inhabitants are the sea snakes, serpentine wonders that glide gracefully beneath the waves.

But one question that often surfaces when discussing these aquatic reptiles is: “Do sea snakes breathe air?

It might seem counterintuitive given their marine habitat, but the answer is more fascinating than you might think.

Let’s take a look…

Do Sea Snakes Actually Breathe Air?

Yes, sea snakes do breathe air. Despite living in the ocean, sea snakes are reptiles and, like all reptiles, they have lungs and need to breathe atmospheric oxygen to survive

Unlike sharks, sea snakes do not have gills that allow them to extract oxygen from the water. Meaning that sea snakes need to surface to breathe air in order to stay underwater.

Sea snakes are among the most completely aquatic animals that breathe air, so it may seem strange that they need to breathe as they spend most of their lives in the ocean.

sea snake
Image by Daniel Kwok

With a single breath of air, they are able to dive up to depths of 800 feet, which is deeper than human scuba divers can go.

However, this is rare, as they much prefer to swim closer to the surface in search of prey.

How Do Sea Snakes Breathe?

Sea snakes have multiple nostrils on their forehead which allow them to briefly surface and inhale oxygen whilst still keeping their body submerged.

The nostrils are sealed by valves that close when they go underwater and open when they surface, very similar to the blowhole of a whale.

These valves have evolved over time to ensure that sea snakes do not accidentally breathe in any unwanted saltwater.

Although sea snakes do not drink salt water, they still consume quite a lot whilst in the sea hunting for prey.

Sea snakes have special evolved sublingual glands which sit under the snake’s tongue to push out salt from the bloodstream into the mouth!

When the snake has the salt in its mouth, it will simply spit it out and remove the unwanted salt from its body. Pretty cool, right?

But what about when sea snakes need to drink freshwater?

Well, believe it or not, many sea snakes actually die from thirst as they sometimes don’t get the freshwater they need to survive.

Spending all day in saltwater isn’t ideal if you need to drink fresh water to survive.

This is why some sea snakes will make the venture onto land to drink, but many will wait for the rain to fall and drink the freshwater that sits on top of the sea instead.

How Long Can Sea Snakes Hold Their Breath?

Many sea snakes can hold their breath for around 30 minutes, which means that they also need to surface every 30 minutes or so.

However, some sea snakes are able to hold their breath for as long as eight hours!

This is because some sea snakes are able to absorb up to 33% of the oxygen they need through their skin, as well as expel around 90% of carbon dioxide through the same method.

Do Sea Snakes Have Lungs?

So how do sea snakes manage to hold their breath for up to eight hours for such small animals? They must have huge lungs, right?

Well, over the many years these snakes have existed, they have evolved one single lung that is almost the length of their whole body.

sea snake
Image by Joi Ito

This lung fills with air when the sea snake breathes and allows the snake to stay submerged for long periods of time.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, sea snakes DO breathe air. They need oxygen to survive which means they must surface to breathe air like many other marine animals.

However, some sea snakes are able to hold their breath for up to eight hours, allowing them to dive into the depths in order to hunt for prey.

Sea snakes have unique nostrils on the top of their heads which means they don’t need to actually come out of the water to breathe.

This is super efficient and ensures they stay out of danger from predators that could be flying above looking for a quick snack.

Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you now know a little more about how sea snakes breathe and how they do so.