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Snakes in New Zealand

If you have ever wondered if there are snakes in New Zealand, chances are that you got a negative answer. But the truth is a little different. While there are no native terrestrial species of snakes in New Zealand, there are two species of aquatic snakes that occasionally visit the area.

These two species are known as the yellow-bellied sea snake and the yellow-lipped sea krait. Of course, there are occasional sightings of other species, but they are always dealt with quickly – the government of New Zealand has strict laws regarding snakes, but more on that later.

Snakes in New Zealand

1. Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake

Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Hydrophis platurus) on beach in sand
Yellow-bellied Sea Snake (Hydrophis platurus) on beach in sand
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Elapidae
  • Scientific Name: Hydrophis platurus (formerly Pelamis platura)
  • Other Names: pelagic sea snake
  • Adult Size: 28in (males), 35in (females)
  • Lifespan: 3.5 years in captivity
  • Price Range: N/A

The yellow-bellied sea snake has such a unique appearance that it is practically impossible to mix it up with any other snake species. Obviously, there is the yellow belly that earned the species its common name. The back is of a much darker shade – usually black with a blue tint. Aside from the belly, the tail makes this species stand out as well. It is paddle-shaped and yellow with black irregular blotches of different sizes that might remind you of cowhide.

This is one of the most widely distributed snake species in the world, and it is completely adapted to live its life in the open sea. Aside from the tail that looks and works like a paddle, its nose and throat can close in order to keep the water out. The species has also developed what is known as cutaneous respiration – basically, this snake breathes through the skin. It also has a potent venom.

The yellow-bellied sea snake travels a lot, usually following warm currents. They can be found pretty much anywhere in the tropical Indo-Pacific region. It is not too common for this snake to end up near the New Zealand islands. Despite that, it is the most commonly seen snake in the country (yes, New Zealand has that few snakes). It is believed that yellow-bellied sea snakes wander off to this part of the ocean following the El Niño currents.

2. Yellow-Lipped Sea Krait

Yellow lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) underwater
Yellow lipped sea krait (Laticauda colubrina) underwater
  • Experience Level: N/A
  • Family: Elapidae
  • Scientific Name: Laticauda colubrina
  • Other Names: banded sea krait, colubrine sea krait
  • Adult Size: 30in (males), 50in (females)
  • Lifespan: N/A
  • Price Range: N/A

This thin and long sea snake is just as venomous as its yellow-bellied cousin, if not more. Its venom is not only potent, but the snake also produces it in large amounts. Luckily for us, the species is pretty docile and will often choose not to bite even if it feels threatened. Since it mostly feeds on eels, it is interesting to note that some eel populations that share their habitat with the species have developed somewhat of a resistance to the venom.

The banded sea krait is very easy to recognize – it is grey with a blue tint with evenly distributed black bands (hence the name – banded sea krait). As you may have guessed, the upper lip and the snout are of a yellowish shade, as is the belly. Like in other sea snakes, the tail is shaped like a paddle. 

Much like the yellow-bellied sea snake, the banded sea krait is only an occasional visitor in New Zealand, although both are considered native in legal terms for the purpose of protection. However, unlike the previous entry on our list, this species isn’t strictly aquatic. The yellow-lipped sea krait occasionally leaves the water in order to digest food, mate, lay eggs, and shed skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some of the venomous snakes found in New Zealand?

Both species of snakes that are encountered often enough to be considered native are venomous. The venom of the yellow-bellied sea snake is composed of a number of different neurotoxins (substances that attack the nerves), but it can also damage the muscles. Luckily, your odds of running into the species are very low. On the other hand, the yellow-lipped sea krait is a more common occurrence, because it does spend time on land. The venom is also neurotoxic and causes paralysis.

What is the most dangerous snake in New Zealand?

Although both species are venomous, it can be argued that the banded sea krait is the more dangerous of the two. The bite of a banded sea krait can kill the average human easily. In fact, one dose of venom would be enough to kill around ten people. The species is generally considered docile, likely because it doesn’t see humans as prey nor predators, and there haven’t been any recorded deaths resulting from its bite. Even so, we wouldn’t put that to the test. If you happen to run into a banded sea krait, it’s better to stay away.

Are snakes in New Zealand illegal?

It is illegal to keep snakes as pets in New Zealand. It is also illegal to import them, sell them, or catch them. We’ve already mentioned that New Zealand has very strict laws concerning snakes, and we weren’t kidding. In fact, this is such a big deal that even zoos and research centers are prohibited from owning snakes. 

Basically, snakes as such are illegal in New Zealand. If you come across one in the wild (which, trust us, you won’t), the authorities will deal with it swiftly. And yes, that means exactly what you think it means. 

On top of the complete ban on the existence of non-native snake species in New Zealand, there is also the Wildlife Act 1954, which fully protects sea snakes and kraits from hunting and any other form of harassment. 

Wrapping Up

That about does it for the snakes that are common in New Zealand. Again there aren’t any native ones, but there are a couple that can be seen from time to time.

If you’re living in New Zealand, or have been there and seen some other snake species, let us know below in the comments.

More snakes abroad


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