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Hydrophis major (SHAW, 1802)

IUCN Red List - Hydrophis major - Least Concern, LC

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Higher TaxaElapidae (Hydrophiinae), Colubroidea, Caenophidia, Alethinophidia, Serpentes, Squamata (snakes)
Common NamesE: Olive-headed or greater seasnake 
SynonymHydrus major SHAW 1802: 558 (part.)
Disteira doliata LACÉPÈDE 1804: 199
Pelamis shavii MERREM 1820: 139 (nom. subst. pro Hydrus major)
Hydrophis mentalis GRAY 1842: 62
Disteira doliata — DUMÉRIL & BIBRON 1854: 1331
Disteira dumerilii JAN 1859: 149
Hydrophis lacepedei JAN 1859
Disteira major BOULENGER 1896
Distira nasalis DE VIS 1905: 48
Hydrophis major — SMITH 1974: 103
Disteira major — COGGER 1983: 245
Disteira major — WELCH 1994: 55
Hydrophis major — RASMUSSEN 1997: 22
Disteira major — COGGER 2000: 707
Hydrophis major — BAUER & SADLIER 2000
Disteira major — KHARIN 2005
Disteira major — WILSON & SWAN 2010: 524
Hydrophis major — SANDERS et al. 2012
Disteira major — WALLACH et al. 2014: 240 
DistributionIndian Ocean, S Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Australia (New South Wales?, Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia)

Type locality: Indian Ocean (as Indian Seas); designated by COGGER 1983.  
TypesLectotype: BMNH 1946.1.9.24; for the identity of paralectotype see Astrotia stokesii.
Holotype: lost (presumed), from Australia [Disteira doliata].
Holotype: BMNH 1946. 1. 9. 24, from Indian Ocean [Hydrophis mentalis].
Holotype: MNHP 7705, from Australia [Disteira dumerilii].
Holotype: QM J203, from Qld. coast [Distira nasalis]. 
DiagnosisDiagnosis: Maxillare teeth II + 3 – 9, palatinum 8 – 9, pterygoideum 14 – 27, dentale 20 – 22. Diameter of the eye about equal its distance from the mouth. 1 pre- ocular, 1 – 2 postoculars and 2 anterior temporals. 7 – 8 supralabials: third and fourth touching the eye. 8 – 9 in- fralabials: the first pair partly, sometimes almost completely, separating the anterior pair of supralinguals. Posterior pair supralinguals ill-developed or almost. An- terior chin shields not or scarcely contacting the mental groove, from which they are largely separated by the elongated first infralabials. A series of small cuneates at the oral margin after the third infralabial. Scale rows around neck 30 – 36, scale rows around midbody 37 – 45. The scale imbricate and keeled throughout, strongly keeled in adults. Ventrals 210 – 270. Preanals considerably enlarged. [KHARIN 2009] 

Synonymy after COGGER 1983.

Type species: Disteira doliata Lacépède, 1804 is the type species of the genus Disteira Lacépède, 1804. Disteira is also the type genus of the tribe Disteirini KHARIN 2009.

Burger and Natsuno (1974) included Disteira (sensu McDowell, 1972) in Hydrophis, arguing that the shape of the venom gland muscle did not differ enough to justify placing them in separate genera. Soon after, Cogger (1975) resurrected the genera Enhydrina, Astrotia and Disteira, assigning Hydrophis nigrocinctus, H. hendersoni, and H. walli to the latter. Cogger (1975) further opposed Burger and Natsuno by arguing that the morphological characters separating the three latter genera were too pronounced to include all the species in one genus [from RASMUSSEN et al. 20].

Comparisons: Smith 1926: 194 presents a key and comparisons across the members of what was then considered to be Distira.

Habitat: marine.

Genome: Ludington et al. 2023. 
EtymologyPresumably named after the Latin major (greater), relating to the large size of the species. (G. Shea, pers. comm., 9 Feb 2024) 
  • Bauer, A. M. & SADLIER, R. A. 2000. The herpetofauna of New Caledonia. Contributions to Herpetology, 17; Society for Study Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca, New York.
  • Bauer, Aaron M.;Vindum, Jens V. 1990. A checklist and key to the herpetofauna of New Caledonia, with remarks on biogeography. Proc. Cal. Acad. Sci. 47 (2): 17-45 - get paper here
  • Cogger, H. G. 1975. The sea snakes of Australia and New Guinea. pp. 59-139 in Dunson, W. (ed. ) The Biology of Sea Snakes. Baltimore: University Park Press
  • Cogger, H. G. 2014. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 7th ed. CSIRO Publishing, xxx + 1033 pp. - get paper here
  • Cogger, H.G. 2000. Reptiles and Amphibians of Australia, 6th ed. Ralph Curtis Publishing, Sanibel Island, 808 pp.
  • de Vis, Charles Walter de 1905. A new genus of lizard. On Typhlops torresianus. Ann. Queensland Museum (Brisbane) 6: 48 - get paper here
  • de Vis, Charles Walter de 1905. A new genus of lizard. Ann. Queensland Museum (Brisbane) 6: 46-52
  • Duméril, A. M. C., Bibron, G. & DUMÉRIL, A. H. A., 1854. Erpétologie générale ou histoire naturelle complète des reptiles. Tome septième. Deuxième partie, comprenant l'histoire des serpents venimeux. Paris, Librairie Encyclopédique de Roret: i-xii + 781-1536 - get paper here
  • Gray, J. E. 1842. Monographic Synopsis of the Water Snakes, or the Family of Hydridae. Zoological Miscellany 2: 59-68. - get paper here
  • Hallermann, J. 2020. An annotated list of reptiles and amphibians from the 1905 Hamburg expedition to southwest Australia deposited in the Zoological Museum Hamburg. Evolutionary Systematics 4: 61 - get paper here
  • Jan, G. 1859. Plan d'une iconographie descriptive des ophidiens et description sommaire de nouvelles espèces de serpents. Rev. Mag. Zool., Paris (2) (11-12): 122-130 - get paper here
  • Jan, G. 1859. Plan d'une iconographie descriptive des ophidiens et description sommaire de nouvelles espèces de serpents: les Serpents de mer. Rev. Mag. Zool., Paris (2) 11: 148-157 - get paper here
  • Kharin, Vladimir E. and Vladimir P. Czeblukov 2009. A Revision of the Sea Snakes of Subfamily Hydrophiinae. 1. Tribe Disteirini Nov. (Serpentes: Hydrophiidae). Russ. J. Herpetol. 16 (3):183-202 - get paper here
  • Kharin, Vladimir E.; Jakob Hallermann 2009. Annotated catalogue of sea kraits (Laticaudidae) and sea snakes (Hydrophiidae) of the herpetological collection of the Zoological Museum, University of Hamburg. Mitt. hamb. zool. Mus. Inst. 106: 51-67
  • LaCépède, B. G. E. L. 1804. Mémoire sur plusieurs animaux de la Nouvelle- Hollande dont la description n’a pas encore été publiée. Annales du Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, 4:184-211 - get paper here
  • Ludington, A.J., Hammond, J.M., Breen, J. et al. 2023. New chromosome-scale genomes provide insights into marine adaptations of sea snakes (Hydrophis: Elapidae). BMC Biol 21, 284 (2023) - get paper here
  • McDowell, S. B. 1972. The genera of sea-snakes of the Hydrophis group (Serpentes: Elapidae). Trans. Zool. Soc. Lond 32: 189-247 - get paper here
  • Merrem, B. 1820. Versuch eines Systems der Amphibien I (Tentamen Systematis Amphibiorum). J. C. Kriegeri, Marburg, 191 pp. - get paper here
  • O'Shea,M. 1996. A Guide to the Snakes of Papua New Guinea. Independent Publishing, Port Moresby, xii + 239 pp. - get paper here
  • Porter, Robert; Irwin, Steve; Irwin, Terri;Rodrigues, Keith 1997. Records of marine snake species from the Hey-Embley and Mission Rivers, far North Queensland. Herpetofauna (Sydney) 27 (2): 2-7
  • Rasmussen, A. R. & I. INEICH 2000. Sea snakes of New Caledonia and surrounding waters (Serpentes: Elapidae): first report on the occurence of Lapemis curtus and description of new species from the genus Hydrophis. Hamadryad 25 (2): 91-99 - get paper here
  • RASMUSSEN, ARNE REDSTED; KATE LAURA SANDERS, MICHAEL L. GUINEA & ANDREW P. AMEY 2014. Sea snakes in Australian waters (Serpentes: subfamilies Hydrophiinae and Laticaudinae)—a review with an updated identification key. Zootaxa 3869 (4): 351–371 - get paper here
  • Rasmussen,A.R. 1997. Systematics of sea snakes: a critical review. In: Thorpe,R.S., Wüster,W. & Malhotra,A. (eds.) Venomous snakes - ecology, evolution and snakebite. Clarendon Press (Oxford)/Symp. zool. Soc. Lond. 70: 15-30 - get paper here
  • Redfield, J. A., Holmes, J. C. & Holmes, R. D. 1978. Sea snakes of the eastern Gulf of Carpentaria. Aust. J Mar. Freshwat. Res. 29: 325-334 - get paper here
  • Sanders, K.L.; Michael S.Y. Lee, Mumpuni, Terry Bertozzi, Arne R. Rasmussen 2012. Multilocus phylogeny and recent rapid radiation of the viviparous sea snakes (Elapidae: Hydrophiinae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 66 (3): 575-591 - get paper here
  • Shaw, G. 1802. General Zoology, or Systematic Natural History. Vol.3, part 2. G. Kearsley, Thomas Davison, London: 313-615 - get paper here
  • Shine, Richard; Claire Goiran, Catherine Shilton, Shai Meiri, Gregory P Brown 2019. The life aquatic: an association between habitat type and skin thickness in snakes. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, blz136 - get paper here
  • Smith, L. A. 1974. The sea snakes of Western Australia (Serpentes: Elapidae: Hydrophiinae) with a description of a new subspecies. Rec. West. Aust. Mus. 3: 93-110 - get paper here
  • Smith, M. A. 1926. Monograph on the Sea Snakes. (Hydrophiidae). London: British Museum, xvii + 130 pp.
  • Stejneger, LEONHARD H. 1907. Herpetology of Japan and adjacent territory. Bull. US Natl. Mus. 58: xx, 1-577 - get paper here
  • Swan, G.; Sadlier, R.; Shea, G. 2017. A field guide to reptiles of New South Wales. Reed New Holland, 328 pp.
  • Udyawer V, Goiran C, Chateau O, Shine R 2020. Swim with the tide: Tactics to maximize prey detection by a specialist predator, the greater sea snake (Hydrophis major). PLoS ONE 15(10): e0239920 - get paper here
  • Wall, F. 1909. Monograph on the Sea Snakes. Mem. Asiatic Soc. Bengal 2 (8): 169-251 - get paper here
  • Wallach, Van; Kenneth L. Williams , Jeff Boundy 2014. Snakes of the World: A Catalogue of Living and Extinct Species. [type catalogue] Taylor and Francis, CRC Press, 1237 pp.
  • Wilson, S. & Swan, G. 2010. A complete guide to reptiles of Australia, 3rd ed. Chatswood: New Holland, 558 pp.
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