Thursday, August 26, 2010

May the Best Rattlesnake Win

photo by Michael Schwartz

For the second day in a row I'm posting a photo taken by someone else. Call me a slacker, I don't care. When the photos are this remarkable, you can call me whatever you want to.

Many thanks to Michael Schwartz for this one. You know Michael--he and his family are the famous hosts of Pie Night. They were hiking in Big Santa Anita Canyon the other day when they came across two rattlesnakes deeply involved in a twisted, passionate drama in the middle of the trail. The family was unable to pass for a solid twenty minutes. Knowing it's better to be inconvenienced by a rattlesnake than to inconvenience one (nevermind two), they passed the time taking pictures and being fascinated.

Later, Michael did some research and learned that despite appearances, the snakes were not mating. From Aquarium of the Pacific's page about the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake: "If two males compete for the same female, they may perform a combat dance. In this display the two males coil around each other and push up to a third of their bodies over the ground. Since the snakes have no limbs to maintain their balance, both snakes promptly topple over. This encounter can be repeated for over 30 minutes. Eventually, one snake, usually the smaller of the two, retreats."

Or, in Michael's words, "two males doing some kind of boy-thing - ritualistic competition for the favors of a female."

Thanks for not being a slacker under the circumstances, Michael. I don't think I would have been able to hold the camera steady.

39 comments:

J+P said...

Slacker!

… oops …

Latino Heritage said...

Two snake comments -
A former student of mine, who is autistic, was hiking with his family and came across a rattler. As it happens he had a stuffed snake as a toy. There was a real challenge to help him not go up to it and not to have him panic.
Vivid memory - Girl Scout camp, dead rattler, beheaded, body writhing for some time after its death.

I respect, or perhaps, fear, rattlers.
They should always be given a wide berth.

Dina said...

Yah Allah! I've never heard about such a combat, let alone seen it!
What a dramatic picture!

Shell Sherree said...

Petrea, I'd never in a month of Sundays consider you a slacker! What a spectacle ~ thank you, Michael. I'm glad to be seeing it from far, far away.

Bellis said...

What a treat to have been allowed to see this while on a hike - though the two guys were probably too busy with their wrestling match to notice they were being watched.

I wonder if a similar sight in Greece led to the legend of the Gorgons?

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Amazing photo! I had never heard of the male combat thing (with rattlesnakes). So glad that Michael took the shots!

Jean Spitzer said...

Wow! Does bring up myth allusions, as Bellis said.

lewi14 said...

Wow! What an amazing shot, Petrea. It looks very perilous.

Katie said...

Wow that's a stunning and somewhat fear-inducing photo. Thanks for the info so we know what's going on. I wonder if there was a female Rattler off to the side rolling her eyes and tapping her tail waiting for them to finish. (FYI, I'd hardly call you a slacker as I've cut back to blogging once a week.)

Petrea said...

Michael took mesmerizing videos. They're not posted to the web yet. You can go to youtube.com and find similar videos (erroneously posted under "rattlesnake mating"). They're not as dramatic as Michael's but they give an idea of what this movement looks like.

Bellis, something tells me the Greeks were indeed inspired by this.

Susan C said...

Wow! Michael's kids are going to have a great "what I did this summer" story to tell at school.

Throw in some wings, and this could be a Caduceus.

Susan Campisi said...

Okay, I'm going to be the 5th person to say it but it was the first thing out of my mouth when I saw that photo so here it is: Wow!

I'm happy to be looking at the photo rather than running into the battle on a trail.

Hardly a slacker, Petrea. Thanks for posting. Remarkable!

Petrea said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus

Let's all give Michael, Susan, Natalie Rose and Molly a big "Thank You" for their patience, bravery and good luck.

ben wideman said...

That is amazing.

Greg Sweet said...

When I was packing donkeys in Big Santa Anita Canyon for Adams' Pack Station, I would sometimes have to move the rattlers. There was more danger in letting six or eight loaded donkeys get anxious on a narrow hillside trail than in giving the snake a nudge. I would keep a telescoping trekking pole on the lead animal for such occasions.

The competing males are more concerned with each other than with getting scooped up. But not having a string of donkeys, Michael behaved wisely.

What's much worse than a snake, is running across a Yellow Jackets' nest that has been disturbed by a bear. The lead animal also carries a can of 30 foot wasp spray; I don't know what they did in the old days.

BTW, a California fishing license allows you one rattlesnake per year.

Petrea said...

Ben, I agree.

Greg, I was hoping you'd check in. I always like your stories. In the old days they probably turned tail and/or got stung. And thanks for the fishing license tip but I don't need a rattlesnake.

Greg Sweet said...

When the rattlers came into the pack station itself, I still tried to relocate them. Usually I could throw a garbage can lid like a Frisbee to trap snake. Then I'd slip a piece of cardboard under the lid to scoop it up, take it to the can, then slide the cardboard out to leave the snake in the can w/ lid.

But sometimes I had to make a hard decision, as top of the food chain.

When my kitty, Blossom, wouldn't believe me that she ought not taunt the rattler, I discovered a secondary use for a long-handled concrete-mixing hoe; and yes, LH, they do wiggle for a while without a head.

Another snake tip: Arcadia Methodist Hospital is the SGV dispenser of anti-venom.

Trish said...

In some countries (or states), I bet this male on male thing could get them arrested! Or churches, for that matter...

@Katie...love the eye rolling thing! "are you guys done yet, I'm kinda sitting over here just waiting...guys? guyyyyyys? yoooo hoooo! sigh...too bad I don't have nails to paint....".

and should my father ever read this blog, SEE I TOLD YOU SO! One year, back when the earth was still cooling, Dad tried to take me on a hike...can't remember where now---want to say heading towards Mt Lowe. Someone coming down said they saw a rattler up the hill. I, being +/-6 was terrified & would not go, no way, no how, nuh-uhhh. Can only imagine had I seen something like this---I would have RUN all the way home!

Margaret said...

Way cool. And so educational!

Petrea said...

I love that Blossom has her own email address.

Trish, all you needed was leather anklets like the Altadena Hiker's.

Margaret, when I don't know anything usually someone else does. Michael found a lot of other interesting stuff I didn't have room for here.

mark said...

I guess we are safe to assume that there are at least three rattle snakes in California. That would be enough for me. I've been told there are rattlers in Minnesota. I have not seen one myself.
ps That is indeed a very interesting photo. I have heard that rattlers really dont want to bite people. Most bites are to males who are teasing them. Rattlers would much perfer to bite a rodent.

Ms M said...

Amazing (and fearsome) photo! And interesting to learn about how male rattlers fight over their women :)

Paula said...

I would have been happy to witness that dance. Thanks for sharing this, one in a million.

-K- said...

One glance at this photo and I realize what a city boy I am. And will always be.

Greg Sweet said...

@ Michael: my guess is that this was on Lower Winter Creek Trail, near a cabin or near a former cabin site.

Petrea said...

I agree, Ms. M and Paula, it's a special shot. Thanks again, Michael, for letting me post it (and call the nature journals!)

K, we ought to drag you up a mountain one of these days.

Greg, I know they hiked up out of Chantry Flats, via Sturtevant Camp and past Sturtevant Falls. That's where they saw the snakes. I don't know the name of the trail.

J+P said...

Ok, now I really want to drag -K- up a mountain. He'll have to leave his hyphens behind. I'm ready any time. Sunday's open.

Greg Sweet said...

Rattlesnakes can't see too well, but they have an acute sense of smell. They do, in fact, sniff out hyphens. I've never known a hyphenated guy to do well in the woods. It's more of a city thing (not that there's anything wrong with that!).

J+P said...

Greg, see here.

pasadenapio said...

In the annals of passionate love stories, this one takes the cake. I can't wait to see which celebrity spokessnakes will pose for the cover of the r omance novel

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Slacker? I don't think so. I refert to it as allowing someone else to do the heavy lifting (or guest blogger). With that said this is so fantastic. I've never come across a snakey ritual yet. I hope to. And I also thought this was a mating dance.

Petrea said...

It looks like it, too. It's so sinuous.

TheChieftess said...

Wonderful shot!!! I grew up in the foothills of Glendale and we had many rattler encounters...but this one takes the cake!!! And I too love the image of the female rolling her eyes!!! Now that I think of it...where was she???

Petrea said...

Chieftess, as I mentioned, Michael did a lot of research that I wasn't able to fit into the post. One link he found about reproduction in the Western Rattlesnake mentions that the female need not be present for the dominance ritual to take place.

Speedway said...

'Snakes on the Plain'? Have you ever heard of a big ball of snakes rolling around on the ground? I guess it's one female being pursued by many males, everyone entwined and trying to mate the female. In the end, no matter who or how many of the males have their way, she still chooses which of them will or will not be the daddy. I saw it in a PBS film a couple years ago and have completely forgotten where to find it. Maybe someone else could confirm or discard.

Nathalie said...

Wow, what a story and what a shot. I don't mind guest photographers when something like THIS comes along!

Petrea said...

Speedway, PBS has the goods.

Nathalie, my two most popular posts this week have been from guest photographers. That should tell me something.

Christina said...

What a fantastic image and definitely worth sharing, whether you took it or not. Thank you for teaching me something new!

Petrea said...

I agree, Christina. A fantastic image, and I'm glad Michael shared it with all of us. My neighbors were still talking about it today.