Garter Snakes: Mating Balls

A giant pit full of writhing snakes? Well, it’s fact not fiction. Right now in North Central Manitoba thousands upon thousands of Garter Snakes are enacting their rites of spring. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

“Yes literally, this is the largest aggregation, by far, of any type of snakes anywhere in the world.”

Bob Mason is a principal investigator with the Earthwatch Institute. Every spring he travels to Manitoba to witness Red-Sided Garter Snakes coming out of hibernation in their dens in limestone pits. We’re listening to the sounds of the snakes rubbing up against each other.

“You walk…ten feet down the steep banks of this den and all of a sudden you’re literally shin deep in fifteen to twenty thousand male garter snakes; they’re writhing around. They’re all waiting very patiently for the females to emerge from their underground hibernation. The females, though, only emerge just a few at a time and as they wake up, the females emerge onto the ground and before they even get to the surface of the ground, the males set upon them and they form what are called mating balls where they writhe around the female, and they’re courting the female by rubbing their chin up and down along the female’s back and tongue-flicking pheromone cues, which are odor cues which animals use to communicate with one another. Now these mating balls can have anywhere from ten to 100 males around a single female. But she will mate with one and only one of those males and all the rest of them will have to move off and seek another unmated female.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Our thanks to NPR’s Carolyn Jensen and National Geographic’s Radio Expeditions for the sounds of the Garter Snakes.

Garter Snakes: Mating Balls

Thousands of male garter snakes are out of hibernation and ready to woo females with romantic chin rubbing and other slithery tricks.
Air Date:05/29/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

A giant pit full of writhing snakes? Well, it's fact not fiction. Right now in North Central Manitoba thousands upon thousands of Garter Snakes are enacting their rites of spring. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

"Yes literally, this is the largest aggregation, by far, of any type of snakes anywhere in the world."

Bob Mason is a principal investigator with the Earthwatch Institute. Every spring he travels to Manitoba to witness Red-Sided Garter Snakes coming out of hibernation in their dens in limestone pits. We're listening to the sounds of the snakes rubbing up against each other.

"You walk...ten feet down the steep banks of this den and all of a sudden you're literally shin deep in fifteen to twenty thousand male garter snakes; they're writhing around. They're all waiting very patiently for the females to emerge from their underground hibernation. The females, though, only emerge just a few at a time and as they wake up, the females emerge onto the ground and before they even get to the surface of the ground, the males set upon them and they form what are called mating balls where they writhe around the female, and they're courting the female by rubbing their chin up and down along the female's back and tongue-flicking pheromone cues, which are odor cues which animals use to communicate with one another. Now these mating balls can have anywhere from ten to 100 males around a single female. But she will mate with one and only one of those males and all the rest of them will have to move off and seek another unmated female."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.

Our thanks to NPR's Carolyn Jensen and National Geographic's Radio Expeditions for the sounds of the Garter Snakes.