A volunteer taking part in a beach clean-up campaign in Southern California last week stumbled across a rare find: a yellow-bellied sea snake washed up on the sand. The 27-inch venomous snake was already dead when it was found and has since been handed over to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County for further study.

El Niño has possibly brought another "highly venomous" yellow-bellied sea snake to Southern California, this time to an...

Posted by KTLA 5 News on Saturday, 19 December 2015


We're rarely surprised anymore by the things we find during our beach clean-ups but this one was a shocker!" the Surfrider Foundation posted on their Facebook page.

This is the second time in two months that a yellow-bellied sea snake has washed up in southern California raising questions about why these pelagic animals are venturing so far from their preferred habitat. According to Greg Pauly, the herpetological curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, weather patterns may have something to do with it. Yellow-bellied sea snakes are typically found in tropical parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Unusually warmer water temperatures in North and South America caused by El Niño may result in more tropical species making their way to the California coastline.

But before you board up the windows and run in terror from the inpending 'Snakenado', Pauly stresses "this is not an invasion, and no one has ever died from the bite of this animal. Their fangs are tiny and they can barely open their mouths wide enough to bite a person,” he told the LA Times. “So, unless you pick one up, the biggest safety concern with going to the beach is with driving there and then driving home."

Yellow-bellied sea snakes spend their entire lives in the ocean, so if they do make to ashore, it's likely that they will be injured or sick (still, don't touch them!). If you do come across a snake, try to snap a photo and send it to the NHM.

Yellow -bellied _sea _snake _California _2015-12-21
Image © Lisa Gonzalez, NHMLA

Header image: Aloaiza