Screencap via USGS

The United States Geological Survey’s @USGS_Seismic Twitter account is the best place on the world wide web for news and updates about earthquakes and other seismic activity around the globe. If you want to know about glacial seismological activity, and why wouldn’t you, it’s got you covered. This morning, however, things changed. Whomever is the master of this account posted the following short .gif of these two snakes, entangled in, uh, well I’m not sure.

I’m only here for the earthquake stuff, not the snake stuff, but I can’t tell if these snakes are fighting or doing it. As a member of the Gawker Media blog with the most experience in covering snake fucking, I sought out answers. Here is what I learned.

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A video entitled “Snake mating” was published four years ago, and it appears to show the snakes winding themselves into a coil, just as our friends up top are. However, there are many snake species across this green Earth (I can name like nine of them, not to brag), so we need some rattlesnake-specific results to make this study more rigorous.

National Geographic published a video in 2008 about rattlesnake fucking, and in it, the host notes that two competing male snakes stretch themselves out, Exeggutor style, to see whose scaly body is longer for domination reasons. Could be that the two snakes at the beginning of this investigation were fighting for fucking reasons. However, Nat Geo does just about the worst thing possible and only shows the actual penetration without any of the coiling that could help us.

I don’t know how much to trust the sexual validity of this 2007 video, but it appears to show two snakes in a sexual congress that looks not unlike what the USGS snakes are up to. However, neither of the coupling snakes got as violent as the USGS snakes, so I remained skeptical that they were doin’ it. A video of rattlesnakes fighting looked much more like the behavior exhibited in the video that started this whole affair.

I asked UC Santa Barbara herpetologist Sam Sweet about the video, and he told me that, yep, these are two dude snakes who are fighting for domination. Apparently, rattlesnakes in combat can fight their way right over a sleeping person without stopping or anything.

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Those are western diamondback ratttlesnakes (Crotalus atrox), two males involved in a combat ritual that establishes a pecking order during mating season. The objective is for one snake to throw the other’s head downward and eventually to press the loser to the ground for a short time. Usually the longer (larger) snake can reach a little higher and wins, but snakes well-matched in size can go on like this for several hours, and even repeatedly over several days until there is a clear winner. Snakes never bite each other during these bouts, and it is rare that one is injured (other than pride). Snakes do recognize other individuals, and the results of a fight will probably last at least one season. Combatting snakes usually ignore their surroundings and will fight right over a person lying on the ground without any consequences.

Hope that helps.

There you have it. The snakes aren’t fucking.