Monday, April 14, 2008

Sexy Snakes

Sorry for the lack of activity around here, I've been pretty busy with PhD stuff (i.e. my life) lately. However, one of the most enjoyable aspects of my PhD is the abundant fieldwork I get to do. With the weather improving steadily around here, I've been out in the University of Guelph Arboretum to collect assorted invertebrates. I need to clear up some methodological questions before my away-from-Guelph field season, which is approaching rapidly.

Anyway, on my way back from clearing my beetle traps I nearly literally stumbled on a tangle of garter snakes (Thamnophis sp.), which I think was a mating tangle (perhaps these are referred to as "mating balls"?). Does anyone know what species these might be? I gather there are lots of colour-pattern variants among species of garter snakes, and I couldn't find a good picture that resembles these guys. There was one larger individual, possibly a female, in the middle of a cluster of perhaps seven or eight individuals, most of whom were smaller. The largest was about a meter long and maybe 2cm diameter, with others down to about 40cm x 1cm. I stood on a small patch of boardwalk and just watched them for about ten minutes, and snapped many pictures. I also recorded a few minutes of video; if I can figure out software issues I'll try to post it to YouTube and to then here. This happened around 12:30 today, so the lighting is pretty boring, just high-in-the-sky bright sunlight on a forest floor covered with rather uniform and drab-coloured dead leaves. I hope the snakes are fairly clear in these pictures.

Some of my favourite pictures:
The large individual coming down from the top of the picture poked around for a bit then joined in the action. A large, dominant male, perhaps?

The mating tangle about five minutes after the previous picture was taken. I moved a few metres on the path to remove that tree shadow from the pictures. Note the cluster of tails - they were moving around, twisting over each other, for most of the time I was watching.

This guy was moving around in the dry leaves on the other side of the path, making quite a bit of noise. I suspect he (she?) could smell or otherwise detect the mating ball, and was looking for the action.

Another individual from the other side of the path, slightly larger than the one in the previous picture. That's the toe of my right boot in the bottom of the picture, these snakes didn't seem to care that I was there.


Carlo said...

I used to see a lot a snakes when I was kid, probably because I played in the woods a lot more. I haven't seen an actual living, non-zoo inhabiting snake in like a decade... Umm, that's all I got.

King Aardvark said...

Wow, Carlo, you've got to get out into nature more. Last year, my 5 year old niece was running around the woods grabbing snakes by the tail in Croc Hunter fashion. If she can do it, so can you.

Brummell, I've never seen a mating ball myself. I feel like I should come up with some sort of voyeurism joke here, but I can't think of one.

It's interesting that these snakes didn't care that you were right there while they were doing it. I once saw a couple of birds (species unknown - I'm very bad at bird identification) mating on my lawn and they didn't care that I was so close by either.

Steph said...

Whoa, Martin. This stuff should have an NSFW tag. Seriously. Hot stuff.

Love you long time.

Anonymous said...

Very Cool,
I'm glad someone is getting nice weather.


Chris Harrison said...

Hurray. I love snakes. Nice pics Martin

Unknown said...

I'm not sure if this is better or worse then your guppy pr0n.