The snakes’ poor vision is believed to be behind the confusion.
A scuba diver off Australia noticed some odd behavior whenever he came into contact with male sea snakes: The venomous reptiles would coil around his fins, licking the water around him and even sometimes chasing him underwater. Now, he knows why: It was mating season, and the males thought he was a potential mate.
In a new study, the diver and another researcher analyzed 158 of these interactions with olive sea snakes (Aipysurus laevis) over several years in the Great Barrier Reef and found that interactions were more common during the reptiles’ mating season. The sexually frustrated snakes also displayed elaborate behaviors that are often used during courtship between the sea serpents.
“Males are very aroused and active while looking for ‘girlfriends,'” lead author Rick Shine, an evolutionary biologist and reptile expert at Macquarie University in Australia, told Live Science. But because the males can’t tell the difference between female snakes and scuba divers, it can lead to some comical interactions, he added.