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Rattlesnake Wrestling - The Ophidian Combat Dance

Saturday 16 October 2021

It looks as if these snakes are dancing with each other, perhaps in courtship but this graceful exhibition is anything but friendly. Most frequently witnessed in the diamondback species this is ruthless combat: both rattlers are male and they are engaging each other for the right to mate.

Adult males will, in their twice yearly breeding season have only one thing on their mind – to pass on their genetic material to a new generation. When they encounter other males the result is often combat, albeit rarely mortal. They raise the forward portion of their body off the ground and engage each other – the aim is to force the opponent to the ground, either through fluid movements designed to make the other fall or by sheer brute force.

It can end in several ways. If the size difference is great then the larger rattlesnake will invariably win. If the opponents are equal in size and strength then this display can last for a long time. Sometimes, however, if the snakes realise that there will be no immediate winner they slope off on their separate ways fairly quickly.
Yet the fight has a real prize.

There are normally females around and the winner gets the right to breed. The loser doesn’t just give up on one particular female. Such is the psychological stress of being beaten that he will lose interest in breeding for the season.

This behavior is only ever seen in the breeding seasons. Snakes do not have territories, just a range in which they live. They do not defend any territory against members of their own species. Breeding itself is rather gentler – the male will rest his head on the female and rub his chin on her. If the female is receptive to breeding it will go ahead then – there is no violence involved at all!

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