A new study suggests male olive sea snakes in the Great Barrier Reef have been regularly approaching divers who they believe to be potential mates

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Olive sea snake
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Highly venomous sea snakes are displaying misdirected sexual attraction toward scuba divers, according to a new study.

A study published by Scientific Reports on Thursday suggests that male olive sea snakes in Australia's Great Barrier Reef have been approaching divers they believe to be potential mates. Divers have regularly reported unprovoked "attacks" by the snakes, who display aggressive and agitated behavior, such as flicking their tongues, wrapping around limbs, and even biting.

Per the study, the behavior was most common during the winter breeding season and was mostly displayed by males rather than by female snakes. The males made repeated advancements, spent more time with the divers, and exhibited behavior usually seen during courtship.

"Like dogs, snakes mostly rely on scent, not vision, to work out what's going on in the world around them," the study's co-author Rick Shine told CNN.

Olive sea snake
Credit: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty

The "attacks" often occurred when a diver attempted to flee, mimicking the responses of female snakes to courtship. During sea snake mating season, females often encourage males to give chase. The research team advises divers to remain still and avoid retaliation when approached by a sea snake.

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"Having a giant snake hurtle towards you and start checking you out can be life-threatening even if the snake doesn't try to bite you," Shine said. "Panic is deadly."

"Our study shows that keeping calm is the key," he continued. "The snake is not attacking you. He just thinks that you may be a female snake. And once he works out that's not the case, he'll wander off to look for love elsewhere."