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The Breeding Rat SnakesPage
Warning: One heap o' pictures. You can see larger versions of some shots by clicking on the image.


I wandered out to pick up my mail last week and came across a shiny black mass at the end of my driveway. My first thought was that it was trash, but as I bent to pick it up, I saw that it was two large black rat snakes going at it hot and scaly.

Naturally, I ran stright back in the house and got the QuickTake so I could share this event with the whole world


Breeding

At first, the two snakes were coiled into a tight mass. They were coiled together so that it was often difficult to see the heads of the two snakes. I've seen garter snakes breeding, and they tend to be more stretched out, with the smaller, more slender males chasing the larger females. Here both snakes were large. The best measurements I got on the female put her at 70 inches. The male came in at 49 inches. And the arrangement was much more entangled than with garter snakes.

At several points during the mating, the female appeared to be trying to break free. Each time the male quickly entwined himself around her, holding her back. At one point, the male bit the female and held on with his mouth until he could get his coils around her again. The female made no aggressive moves toward the male. In all, the direct, tightly coiled phase persisted for just over 15 minutes.  But since the snakes were already in this position when I came out, it's hard to say how long they really went at it.

Finally the ball o' snakes loosened up a bit. The male began to move rapidly back and forth above the female. The male also trembled all along its length. After one last violent tremor, the male released its grip on the female. The male's movements then became less frantic. The female didn't try to get away at this point, and for several minutes both snakes lay very still.



Respite

After a pause, the two snakes began to slowly disentangle themselves. The movement of both snakes was very slow and deliberate as they gradually straightened. There were frequent pauses, so that over ten minutes passed before the snakes were completely apart from each other. These shots give the best chance to see just how big these snakes were. The driveway width is just over ten feet at the mouth, so the female can here be seen as almost six feet in length.

After lying side by side for a few minutes longer, the snakes began to slowly move apart. The female went straight across the road and moved slowly across the grass on the other side before vanishing downslope into the woods. By the way, some of these two pictures are shown at a reduced size. If you're Netscaping, right click on them and select "View image" take see the pictures at full size. The QuickTake is not the world's sharpest camera, and I don't have my close up lens, so there are no tight shots, but hey, it was cheap.

After the female had gone her way, the male finally crawled off the blacktop and sprawled in the little flower bed beside my mailbox. There he spent over an hour recooperating from his hard work. During this time, he was very tolerant of my hauling out my measuring tape. He wasn't stretched out completely straight, but the measurement of 49" is bound to be within a couple of inches of the true length. To measure the female, I had to chase her down and drop sticks beside her head and tail tip. Her length, nearly six feet, was impressive.


Rodent

After resting, the male cut across my yard to an opening the ground. This opening has been the long time home of a group of chipmunks. The chipmunks are busily destroying my yard, undermining the foundations of the house, and eating everything in the garden.

I might not be effective at stopping these little buggers, but the rat snake was quite effective. Ten seconds after he went in, this little guy popped out and sat above the hole. A few minutes later, the snake struggled out -- now witha prominant bulge in his belly. He moved slowly away and vanished in the woods.






This page last updated on June 15, 1996

 Copyright © 1996Mark C. Sumerc.