Mating season causes some strange behavior in many species, but one of the most curious to be affected is the rattlesnake, which embarks on a series of combat “dances” or fights.
The images used here are of timber rattlesnakes, a species that can be found in the north-east of the United States.
When a female is receptive, she lays a trail of pheromones as she moves around. Males can sense these chemical messages from a long way away with their tongue and a special sensory organ called Jacobson's Organ.
Of course, this also means that two males can arrive at the same time, both wanting to mate with the female. If they are of approximately the same size, they will fight or combat dance. The word dance is used because they use their bodies in dance-like moves.
The rattlesnakes don't actually try and kill each other. Instead of using their lethal venom or their fangs they rise up vertically and then twine their upper bodies around each other – then each tries to push the other to the ground.
The snakes' combat dance is like arm wrestling but snake-style and with much more at stake of course!
Even though they look like dancers because of the way they both hold their heads high, they really do slam each other into the ground while in combat. Not nearly as gentle as it looks from afar.
Our own Andrew Hoffman had this to say about the fight he witnessed: “I watched that pair of large males (each nearly 4ft in length and as thick around as my forearm) for around an hour as they wrestled and rolled, carried downhill by the force of their own pushing and slamming. I walked and knelt quite close (often less than a foot away) as they fought, but neither snake paid me much attention.”
When one of the males finally tires he retreats, although it has been known for a male to return and fight again. The winner of course gets to mate with the willing female who is normally near the combat area.
Another interesting thing about rattlesnake mating is that the male will often follow the female around, caressing and rubbing against her to try and stimulate her... not so different from ourselves.