[Update February 28, 2012: Thanks to a most-excellent comment by Bryan Hughes, I now know that this is a post about aggression between two male rattlesnakes, not a male and female snake mating.]
A few weeks ago some friends and I camped overnight in Crystal Cove’s Lower Moro Campground. The morning was beautifully foggy, and I took a bunch of flower closeups while the dew was still around. But the sun eventually burned through the fog, and we packed up and headed for home.
As I was hiking I heard some rustling in the grass next to me beside the trail. Accustomed to hunting for lizards, I turned and looked to see what it was. Lizard? Bird? Rodent?
About that time my legs decided that they really didn’t like being about two feet from two writhing rattlesnakes, so my hiking partners and I quickly moved away. But luckily for us, the snakes were in the throes of passion, and didn’t seem to notice us at all. So, I pulled out my camera and started snapping.
My favorite shot of the bunch is this one:
There the two have just picked themselves up after reaching up vertically and coiling around each other so much that they fell over. To see the entire sequence of them coiling, here’s a five-image composite:
Shortly after that, however, either they were done or they noticed us. One of them slithered off into the bushes, while the other almost seemed to stand guard, staring out at us with tongue flicking.
We took the hint and started to move off, and the guard snake did the same, giving us a nice rattle as it crawled into the brush.
It was easily one of the most exciting animal encounters I’ve had while hiking or backpacking. They were incredibly fast as they coiled and writhed, and their ritual was entrancingly beautiful.
To see more pictures from the trip, head to my Crystal Cove State Park Wilderness Gallery or take a look at my Flowers of Crystal Cove State Park: The joys of a foggy morning and A new self portrait: candlelight at night posts.
Crystal Cove State Park: Located along Pacific Coast Highway (Highway 1) between Corona Del Mar and Laguna Beach in Orange County, California. I camped at the Lower Moro Campsite, which is about a 2 mile hike in from the parking lot. Parking is plentiful at a new parking lot and picnic area past the Moro Campground (for RV’s), but you must pay either a day use fee for the state park or an overnight fee. The park is currently open from 6am – sunset; their website has lots of good information on it.
5 thoughts on “Rattlesnake mating: frantic sensuality in the grass”
Great photos! That is a very rare sight. I must give a small (relatively) correction, however, in that these snakes are not mating. They are two males in combat. The actual mating and courtship is nowhere near this much activity. The male does a sort of head-bobbing dance along the back of the female, who reciprocates by flopping her tail around in wide arcs if she’s into it. If you’d ever like to see a video of it, let me know.
We have 15 minutes of video (taken from our front door) of two snakes writhing and entangled and standing tall. We thought it was mating. Was it actually 2 males? Does that mean we probably have females close by? With 2 young childen, we are not thrilled by this visitation! Thanks for your comments.
I’m not sure; maybe someone else would know?
Thanks so much, Bryan! I really appreciate the correction; not being a snake guy, I wasn’t certain exactly what the behavior was, but googling mating images brought up many similar poses. Probably lots of confused folks 🙂
I’d love to see videos of both the mating and the aggression!