Even snakes can fall in love

I was with fellow docents for the Greater Lovell Land Trust, plus four remarkable children, looking for dragonflies hatching. Two people had seen two water snakes earlier in the week, and to our delight, one emerged from the pond:

This is a Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon, not poisonous, but quite bad-tempered, and a distinct deterrent to what is now (in the UK) called “wild swimming”. This was about 2 feet long, but they can grow to 5 feet. It meandered around, and disappeared. But not long after, it reappeared alongside a much larger one, and they headed for the hills:

The bigger one is the female. They didn’t go far, and curled up in a very cosy embrace:

We watched as they bundled up together, impossible to disentangle one from tother:

The two snakes encircled each other, looking unnervingly like a solitary two-headed snake:

At intervals the smaller male endearingly rested his smaller head on the female’s larger one:

All of this is part of the foreplay, really; the male rests his cheek on the female and rubs her gently. Eventually, he aligns his body with hers, and tries to get the crucial parts into alignment.

From time to time they convulsed, briefly, and this video makes it pretty clear what was afoot; we were nothing but voyeurs:

Then they moved off, now twisted into a braided skein:

As they moved, the smaller male lay almost motionless balanced on the back of the powerful female:

How do the mechanics work? Snakes have openings under their bodies near (but not at) the tail, called cloaca. The mechanics of mating involve lining these up so that the make can insert one of his two hemipenes to deposit his sperm, and then seal it in with a copulatory plug (which also keeps any other males out).

Since the action all happens underneath, closeups are heard to get. Here I think they are just disconnecting; the female’s tail is on top, and the male’s body is belly-up.

I’ll end with one more video:

We left them alone. In 3-5 months she will give birth to as many as 36 live babies, each about a foot long..

PS For 2000 years, intertwined snakes have been a symbol of faithful love. This bracelet is from the 1st century AD, from Roman Egypt:

Prince Albert gave Victoria a snake engagement ring , here is the inscription on the inside:

Some of this jewelry does not appeal to my 21st century taste, but this 19th century enamel and diamond bracelet is on my wish list, though occasions to wear it would be rare:

6 thoughts on “Even snakes can fall in love”

  1. I am glad to realize that snakes can inspire such beautiful jewelry and that they apparently have tender sensibilities. When we were children my little brother and I encountered two, what we called “Gopher snakes,” entangled like this. We did not understand what they were up to, but were quite fascinated.


  2. I’m surprised your post has not been taken down by the League of Decency, or some other organization of like thinking.


  3. Fantastic photos & videos. I wonder about a few things: how do the male & female find each other? Scent marking? I also wonder how long the ‘plug’ stays in & how can she ‘go to the bathroom’ with that in? The bracelet is beautiful! I can’t imagine having so many baby snakes wiggling around inside.


  4. How amazing!! New knowledge for me. I’ll be sharing this with my granddaughters. I hope to see you in person this summer, end of July.


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