Annie was right when she said the black-and-gray striped critters I saw popping up on the surface of the ocean all around us were not, technically speaking, snakes. They were indeed sea kraits. (So what’s the difference, right? As far as I can figure it, sea kraits like the Niuean katuali return to the land in order to mate and lay their eggs while sea snakes pretty much just stay in the water—but don’t hold me to this.) And it’s also true that while they’re one of the most deadly creatures in the world, they don’t really bother people. Mostly because they have these itty-bitty fangs (if fangs can be itty-bitty) and they’re in the back of their mouth. So basically you’d have to jam a finger down their throat to get bitten.
That said, there was still something a little spooky about snorkeling over a cave-riddled and coral-covered lagoon and watching as hundreds of banded sea snakes (I’m going to insist on calling them that) uncurled themselves and, in lazy loops, slithered towards the surface—sometimes just a foot or two away from where I nervously floated—to take a breath of air and have a look around. Then, just as quickly, they’d slither back down to the bottom where they’d curl up with a dozen or so of their pals.
I was not tempted to touch one (Annie says their ventral scales, needed for slithering on the shore, feel “creepy”). I was not tempted to stick my fingers in any of the little holes in the rocks where the small coral fish they like to feed on hide. In short, I behaved myself. Which is why I was so surprised, after our successful outing, to get out of the water and step directly on a sea krait. Which did indeed feel creepy. Fortunately, the katuali was very cool about everything. And did not bite. Even as I screamed like a little girl. Which brings us to another Niuean Rule: Just because there are snakes in paradise, that doesn’t mean you will necessarily end up being banished. It’s all up to you. Nonetheless, watch your step.