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How Do Snakes Mate? 10 Facts Revealed

March 2, 2017
Two snakes mating together

You’ve seen a snake before, whether it was on television, in a book or even in person. Slithering quickly across the ground, a snake is a dominant force in the wild and is able to get around both land and water without arms or legs. And while admiring the beauty of a snake, you’ll often ponder how do snakes mate? I mean, do they have any reproductive organs? Do the females conceive without a male? How does it work? We’re going to find out.

The Mating Behaviors of Garter Snakes

The Gartner snake reaches sexual maturity at the age of 2. These snakes, all of 18 – 24 inches in length, go into brumation prior to mating. A sexually mature male will come out of brumation and begin preparing for mating.

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Males always come out first.  When the females wake from their sleep, they’ll find themselves surrounded by males. The sneaky female snake will release a pheromone in the air that produces a special scent that initiates snake mating season. Male snakes from all over will smell the scent and will attempt to mate with the female.

But an intense battle beginsUp to 25 males may choose to entangle themselves around the female in mating balls. This is an intense level of competition, and a very interesting fact is that the female can store the male’s sperm for years, allowing herself to reproduce in the future. Birth is given to live young, and 3 – 80 snakes are born in one litter.

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The Mating Behaviors of Green Anacondas

Gartner snakes are small, so it makes sense that they curl up in mating balls, but how do snakes mate when they’re huge? Well, the green anaconda is the world’s largest snake, and the females are bigger than the males.

If you want to understand how a large snake mates, it doesn’t get much larger than the green anaconda.

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When you find these massive snakes, they’ll initiate the actual mating process near the water. Anacondas are primarily solitary, so it makes sense that if you see more than one, they’re trying to get busy. The typical mating season begins in April and ends in May.

A scent trail leads the males to the females in a game of hide-and-seek.

Males will flick their tongue, zoning in on the scent. Females will actually lay motionless waiting for the males to swarm in. This phenomenon has been witnessed by scientists, so we know that this mating process does involve the female waiting.

A female will have up to 12 snakes wrap in a ball around her to try and mate. But it’s often the strongest and largest male that is the victor. This male will use the spurs to induce the female to raise her cloacal region, leading to the touching of the cloacae region. Females will get the ultimate say in the male that they choose, and their size makes the males no match for the female. Gestation lasts  6 –7 months. And litters can be between 20 and 40, with the green anaconda giving birth to live snakes.

The Mating Behaviors of Rat Snakes and Vipers

Rat snakes lay eggs, and there is little incubation time. The mating season for these snakes is late spring, and males attract the females in this species of snake. What’s interesting is that it only takes rat snakes 5 weeks before the female lays 10 – 20 eggs.

And the eggs are placed inside of a hollow log or compost pile.

The snakes will hatch in just 3 months, and they do not help their babies at this time. The young rat snake will need to learn the daily routine on its own.

Vipers are a bit different than their rat snake counterparts.

These are ovoviviparous females that lay their eggs. These snakes will be protective of their eggs, and all subspecies are believed to guard their eggs.

Male Snakes Have Two Penises

Male snakes have two skin glands or sex organs, called “hemipenes,” and the sperm of the snake will come from one of the two organs (right will come from the right testis). Hemipenes are found in the base of the snake’s tail.

See, since the female snake isn’t all about love life, she can store and choose a snake’s sperm at will.

She may be able to hold sperm inside of her, fertilizing any time over the next five years. It’s super impressive. Males that have inferior sperm will have their sperm discarded.

10 Facts About a Snake’s Mating Process

How do snakes mate? It’s a bit complicated. We’ll go through each part nice and slow so that you can understand the snake mating process.

And because of the snake’s unique body, it’s an interesting way to copulate and reproduce. It’s no wonder why these creatures have been so revered throughout history. The snake has organs that are internal, so when you view a snake without knowing what to do, you won’t be able to tell their sex from just a glance.

But professionals can tell using an in-depth procedure involving a special area on the tale.

When a snake goes to reproduce, they’ll go through a set of mating behaviors and a mating strategy that will be very foreign, primitive and oftentimes very confusing for a human who doesn’t know what the snake is doing.

1. Searching for Love

Snakes are looking for love, but not in the long-term way humans do. As animals, these snakes often only see their mate once, and then they go on their way. Most snakes are rather solitary in nature, so it makes sense that this is more of a one-night stand than a serious relationship.

With short active seasons, males often look for one receptive female to mate with.

A few key points to remember here are:

  • Females produce pheromones that the males follow
  • Males will seek out the female for intercourse
  • Multiple snakes will fight for the female’s attention
  • A snake ball, or mating ball, will form

This leads to a very interesting event. Can you guess what happens when all of these males get together for the same female?

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2. Fighting for Fatherhood

Females are very lucky in the snake world. See, all of the males will come to her, and she chooses who she wants to mate with. A battle of the snakes will ensue, and the males will begin an altercation that is half scary and a whole lot of fascinating.

Males will intertwine, forming a ball of snakes. It’s awesome. And then, on some special occasions, males may even start to bite each other, inflicting damage on other snakes with the goal of winning over the female. Every female is different, so she may choose to let the strongest and biggest snake win. Or she may choose another snake.

Breeding balls are also possible, and in this case, many snakes may initiate intercourse with the female.

3. Uncomplicated Courtship

The male initiates contact, but this is as far as the male extends his responsibility. When the female lays her scent down luring in males, she knows that this is a short-term relationship. The male will start using the fork of his tongue to sense the pheromones and find his female.

The goal is to find the female’s cloaca.

4. Male Reproductive Anatomy

How do snakes mate on the physical level? Well, as you already know, the male snake has two penises. These penises are divided into two sides: right and left. And they act as separate organs, meaning the left produces sperm and the right produces sperm.

The hemipenes will be inverted and held in the base of the snake’s tail when not in use.

Two chambers are present to allow the organ to exit the body, and these chambers are called cloaca. Interestingly, while the male has two organs, he often only uses one during the mating season.

Since females can store the male’s sperm for such a long time, there’s no reason to use the other penis in most cases. If you view a snake, you’re not likely to see a visible, external genitalia.

5. Snake Sex

Females and males have cloacas, but for the male, this is where the hemipenes will extend. Much like human intercourse, the male will insert the hemipenes into the woman’s cloaca. When snakes have intercourse, it’s a process that can last hours.

An interesting fact is that the males have evolved for intercourse.

How?

  • Hemipenes have protrusions
  • Hemipenes have hooks

And these two evolutions allow the snake to have the long intercourse it needs to have babies. The sperm will swim their way into the vents of the female, where she’ll store the sperm for later. Females may even choose to discard the semen if it’s not up to her standards.

6. Female Reproductive Anatomy

Female snakes have small entryways called oviducts where sperm will enter. Females have cloacas, and some have a special storage department for sperm. This storage allows the female to be selective and choose to fertilize now or wait.

And some females choose to wait, while others fertilize immediately.

7. Ovulation Occasions

Females have paired ovaries, and this is a place to practice internal fertilization. The eggs will mature in the ovaries, and when the eggs are just right, they’ll make their way to the oviducts where the female can send the sperm.

Once this occurs, the process will start by forming the egg shells.

Egg-laying snakes will start to create heavy levels of calcium that form thick shells around the unborn snake. Live births will not have this calcium but instead, a soft membrane that’s transparent.

8. Egg Deposition Mission

Deposition is when the mother will get rid of the eggs. This happens with most species that lay eggs, and some snakes never actually get the pleasure of meeting their offspring. You’ll find that plenty of snakes will lay their eggs and slither away, never to be bothered to care for their snakes.

Other snakes will be protective of their offspring, but even this is for a short duration.

Snakes are well-equipped animals, and they have the ability to care for themselves from birth. While babies may not eat the rodents or animals their adult counterparts will eat, they will go around eating anything they can – including insects.

And if the baby is venomous, it will have enough venom to harm its dinner. Deposition will take place in an area that is secluded. The mother snake will know to keep the eggs away from highly trafficked areas, and they will be strategic when placing their eggs. The good news is that the mom only holds onto these eggs for a short time.

And the thick shells are slightly protected. When the snakes are ready to be born, they will actually have a fang or tooth that allows them to break apart the egg and escape their shell.

9. Duration of Incubation

Incubation changes depending on the species of snake, and there’s a potential that the snake will protect the eggs during incubation. Pythons, for example, wrap themselves around the eggs of their babies to protect them.

No one wants to get between a python and her babies.

Incubation will take 2 – 3 months in most cases. When this period is over, the snakes will begin to emerge from their shells and start to live their lives. Depending on the species of snake, the snake may take a period of three years before entering adulthood.

10. Virgin Births

We’ve heard of virgin births before, but most people view the virgin birth as some sort of myth. After all, most animals and insects need a male and female to be able to reproduce. But some scientists are breaking the mold and finding that some snakes may be giving virgin births at least sometimes.

But, if the snake can hold their eggs and sperm until the opportune time, could it be that the snake mated already without the scientist’s knowledge?

Maybe. Studies show that 2.5% – 5% of snake litters may be the result of a virgin birth.

Now you never have to ask how do snakes mate? An interesting animal, the snake is able to kill animals as large as an elephant, depending on the venom it contains, strike in less than a second and go into brumation for months to survive.

The more we study snake mating, the better we’re equipped to help the non-venomous snake species (and venomous, too) live longer.

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