Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes are a common sight in the forests and hiking trails in Southern California, so it was no surprise that a group of mountain bikers - who were also National Park Service volunteers - came across a pair of the rattlers last week. They were, however, treated to a unique bit of snake behavior.
In a post on Facebook, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area suggests that the bikers had come across a pair of mating snakes. Some suspect that it may actually be an instance of the "combat dance" characteristic of male rattlesnakes, especially because they were found coiling around eachother vertically, something which is not characteristic of mating behavior.
As herpetologist Charles C. Carpenter explained in a 1976 article in the journal Copeia:
The typical actions, postures, and features of the sequence of events, many occurring simultaneously, involve investigation, ascent, and descent of the anterior trunk columns, vertical display with swaying of the anterior trunk column, bending over backwards, and head flexion sharply at the neck. One male primarily orients on the other, which is displaying…The sequence of these actions and postures appear to be a ritualistic form of aggression for social communication.
Usually the larger male winds up driving the smaller one away.