Aipysurus foliosquamaLeaf-scaled Seasnake

Geographic Range

Aipysurus foliosquama (leaf-scaled seasnake) is endemic to the Ashmore Reef and the Hibernia Reef located in the Timor Sea off the Northwestern coast of Australia (Cousteau, 2008). Recently, a new population was discovered in Shark Bay (D’Anastasi et al., 2016). Several scattered reports exist of A. foliosquama being seen outside of these three locations, however it is believed that these individuals do not represent breeding populations (Cogger, 2000). (Cogger, 2000; Cousteau, 2008; D'Anastasi, et al., 2016)


Aipysurus foliosquama prefers the shallow areas along the edges of reefs and has never been recorded at depths greater than 10 meters (Minton et al., 1975). A new, recently discovered population of leaf-scaled seasnakes was recently discovered to be living in the sea grass beds of Shark Bay in Australia (D’Anastasi, 2016). (D'Anastasi, et al., 2016; Heatwole, 1999; Minton, et al., 1975)

  • Range depth
    10 to 0 m
    32.81 to 0.00 ft

Physical Description

Leaf-scaled seasnakes were named for the shape and pattern of their closely overlapping scales, which resemble leaves (Cousteau, 2008). These snakes are typically 60 to 90 centimeters long (Cogger, 2000; Heatwole 1999). The dorsal side is often dark reddish brown to purple, with lighter bands down the back (Cousteau, 2008). While males and females are similar in appearance, females often tend to be larger than their male counterparts (Cousteau, 2008). (Cogger, 2000; Cousteau, 2008; Heatwole, 1999; Minton, et al., 1975)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range mass
    500 (high) g
    17.62 (high) oz
  • Range length
    60 to 90 cm
    23.62 to 35.43 in


Leaf-scaled seasnakes are viviparous. Females give birth to small numbers of young at a time after a gestation period of approximately six months (Cousteau, 2008; Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012). It takes up to two years for individuals to reach maturity and they have long life spans, 8 to 10 years (ICUN Red List, 2017). ("Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake", 2012; "ICUN Red List", 2017; Cousteau, 2008)


There have been no published studies that describe the specific mating systems of A. foliosquama. Other sea snakes, in addition to most squamate reptiles, have been observed to be polygynandrous (Madsen et al., 2005). Fertilization is internal, and males have hemipenes which are used during mating. The male and female entwine during mating, which involves the snakes having to come to the surface for air multiple times. The female snake seems to determine when the mating pair takes breaths of air and when the mating process is concluded (Heatwole, 1999). (Heatwole, 1999; Madsen, et al., 2005)

Leaf-scaled seasnakes are viviparous and give birth to small numbers of offspring at a time after a gestation period of approximately 6 to 7 months (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012). Due to the length of this interval, it is believed that Leaf-scaled Seasnakes may breed less frequently than once a year (Cogger, 2000; Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, 2006; Heatwole 1999). ("Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake", 2012; " Final Report Survey 2005: Sea snakes of Ashmore Reef, Hibernia Reef and Cartier Island", 2006; Cogger, 2000; Heatwole, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Leaf-scaled seasnakes may breed less than once a year.
  • Range gestation period
    6 to 7 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

There is little research to date on the parental investment of A. foliosquama specifically, however most sea snakes (and reptiles in general) produce highly precocial young and it can be assumed that this is true of the Leaf-scaled Seasnake as well (Voris and Jayne, 1979). Females certainly provision their young by yolking eggs, and may also provision growing embryos with bodily nutrients as well, though this needs further study (Heatwole 1999). (Heatwole, 1999; Voris and Jayne, 1979)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female


A. foliosquama has a presumed life span of approximately 8 to 10 years. This long life span is believed to compensate for the long time that it takes for these snakes to reach sexual maturity, at roughly 2 years (ICUN Red List, 2017). ("ICUN Red List", 2017)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    8 to 10 years


The three known populations of A. foliosquama are believed to represent three largely isolated breeding populations separated by open ocean waters that are difficult for individuals to cross (ICUN Red List, 2017). Leaf-scaled sea snakes are solitary creatures with the exception of mating and occasional sightings of small groups (Guinea and Whiting 2005). ("ICUN Red List", 2017; Guinea and Whiting, 2005)

Home Range

There is apparently no specific published information to date on the home range or territorial inclinations of individual Leaf-scaled Seasnakes.

Communication and Perception

There is little information available on communication in leaf-scaled seasnakes. They are a solitary species (Guinea and Whiting 2005). Little specific information exists on how this species perceives its environment but in other species of sea snake, vision is important (Hibbard and Lavergne, 1972). In addition, sensing water vibrations probably plays a key role in their marine environment (Westhoff et al. 2005), and the vomeronasal organ (sensing chemical "odors" and supplied by the tongue) is undoubtedly important to these snakes, as it is other snakes. (Guinea and Whiting, 2005; Hibbard and Lavergne, 1972; Westhoff, et al., 2005)

Food Habits

Leaf-scaled seasnakes feed primarily on shallow reef dwelling fish such as Halichoeres species and Eleotridae. In addition, they eat certain types of eels (Anguilliformes) which are found in the same shallow, reef habitats (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012). Leaf-scaled seasnakes find prey by sticking their head into holes and crevices in coral reefs. They then bite and immobilize prey through envenomation (McCosker 1975). ("Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake", 2012; McCosker, 1975)

  • Animal Foods
  • fish


The predators of A. foliosquama have not been described in the literature.

Ecosystem Roles

Leaf-scaled seasnakes are top predators and may play a role in the population control of the species that it eats, such as small fish and eels (McCosker 1975). Occasionally algae and barnacles use this snake as a host. To prevent this, leaf-scaled seasnakes shed their skin frequently, approximately once every 2 to 6 weeks (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012). ("Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake", 2012; McCosker, 1975)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • algae
  • barnacles (Cirripedia)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Leaf-scaled seasnakes may play a role in controlling the populations of various reef fishes and eels that it eats, although the types of fish that these snakes eat are generally of little or no commercial importance to people (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012). ("Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake", 2012; McCosker, 1975)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The venom of A. foliosquama is potentially fatal to humans. Reported instances of envenomation are apparently rare (Cogger, 2000; Heatwole, 1999). ("Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake", 2012; Cogger, 2000; Heatwole, 1999)

  • Negative Impacts
  • injures humans

Conservation Status

Leaf-scaled seasnakes are listed as critically endangered (ICUN Red List, 2017). ("Aipysurus foliosquama SMITH, 1926", 2014; "ICUN Red List", 2017)


Molly Schools (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

intertidal or littoral

the area of shoreline influenced mainly by the tides, between the highest and lowest reaches of the tide. An aquatic habitat.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


specialized for swimming

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


an animal that mainly eats fish


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


an animal which has an organ capable of injecting a poisonous substance into a wound (for example, scorpions, jellyfish, and rattlesnakes).


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate


reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.


Department of the Environment and Water Resources, Canberra
Final Report Survey 2005: Sea snakes of Ashmore Reef, Hibernia Reef and Cartier Island
. Canberra: 2006.

2014. "Aipysurus foliosquama SMITH, 1926" (On-line). Reptile Database. Accessed December 03, 2017 at

Australian Government-Department of the Environment and Energy. Aipysurus foliosquama — Leaf-scaled Seasnake. Canberra: Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. 2012.

2017. "ICUN Red List" (On-line). Accessed December 03, 2017 at

Cogger, H. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia. Sanibel: Ralph Curtis Books.

Cousteau, F. 2008. Ocean. London: Penguin.

D'Anastasi, B., L. Van Herwerden, J. Hobbs, C. Simpfendorfer, V. Lukoschek. 2016.

New range and habitat records for threatened Australian sea snakes raise challenges for conservation
. Biological Conservation, 194: 66-70.

Guinea, M., S. Whiting. 2005. Insights into the distribution and abundance of sea snakes at Ashmore Reef. The Beagle, 1: 199-206.

Heatwole, H. 1999. Sea Snakes. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Hibbard, E., J. Lavergne. 1972. Morphology of the retina of the sea-snake, Pelamis platurus. Journal of anatomy, 112: 125.

Madsen, T., B. Ujvari, M. Olsson, R. Shine. 2005. Paternal alleles enhance female reproductive success in tropical pythons. Molecular Ecology, 14: 1783-1787.

McCosker, J. 1975. Feeding behavior of Indo-Australian hydrophiidae. The biology of sea snakes, 1: 217-232.

Minton, S., H. Heatwole, W. Dunson. 1975. Sea snakes from reefs of the Sahul Shelf. University of Maryland Press, 1: 141-144.

Voris, H., B. Jayne. 1979. Growth, reproduction and population structure of a marine snake, Enhydrina schistosa (Hydrophiidae). Copeia, 2: 307-318.

Westhoff, G., B. Fry, H. Bleckmann. 2005. Sea snakes (Lapemis curtus) are sensitive to low-amplitude water motions. Zoology, 108: 195-200.