Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Snake sex!

You've probably seen a photo or video of two snakes standing on their tails, intertwined, swaying back and forth, and may have thought this was a picture of snakes copulating. Nothing could be farther from the truth--when two snakes engage in this sort of "dance," as it is called, they are most likely males engaged in ritual combat. 
Oregon rattlesnakes, via Wikipedia
 The snakes I have observed having sex are much more sedate: generally they lie next to one another, with the male's tail wrapped around the female, holding their bodies close together while the male inserts his hemipenes (two penises) into the female's cloaca. The beautiful kingsnakes (Lampropeltis splendida) below began their romantic activities in the afternoon a couple of days ago, and I was told they were still together at sunset, but were gone by the next morning.

Photo by RobandUrsula Garrwald
The pair of western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) in the photo below began copulation during a live music show at Tohono Chul Park one Sunday afternoon, and were still at it when I took the photo the next day. I was told that the female occasionally wandered off (to eat?) and then returned to resume activity.

Here is the possible outcome of such amorous activity: several baby diamondbacks from a group of eight that were born in a hole underneath an organpipe cactus a few months later, not far from the scene of the mating.

Note that the baby rattlers are so young their eyes are still cloudy

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