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Is melanism adaptive in sea kraits?

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Ontogenic melanism (progressive darkening of the skin) has been documented in snakes. Black coloration of the skin often compromises the cryptic effects associated with other patterns (e.g. zigzags) and exposes individuals to predation; however, the mortality risk can be balanced, for example by a thermoregulatory advantage during sun basking. Such adaptive context has been proposed to explain the appearance and the maintenance of melanism within snake populations. Based on a very large captures and re-captures sample (>8000 observations) gathered on two species of sea-kraits (Laticauda saintgironsi and L. laticaudata in New Caledonia), we observed that melanism occurred in only one species (L. laticaudata), was infrequent and concerned adult snakes solely. None of three adaptive hypotheses respectively linked to thermoregulation, predation, or protection against sun radiations, provided a satisfactory account for the occurrence of melanism in our study populations. Therefore, we suggest that melanism was a fortuitous phenomenon.

Affiliations: 1: Centre d'Études Biologiques de Chizé – CNRS, 79360, Villiers en Bois, France; 2: Centre d'Études Biologiques de Chizé – CNRS, 79360, Villiers en Bois, France;, Email:; 3: Centre d'Études Biologiques de Chizé – CNRS, 79360, Villiers en Bois, France, Université François Rabelais, 3 rue des Tanneurs, 37041 Tours, Cedex 1, France


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