Thursday, June 14, 2012

Snake sex...in case you wondered...

I was walking home from work the other day, and spooked a pretty little garter snake basking on the sidewalk. Because they're active during the day, garters are by far the most encountered snakes in the Northwest.

Garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis
And like other Northwesterners, these snakes appreciate spring sunshine. They've spent the winter hibernating, often in communal groups tucked into rock crevices. After emerging in the spring, female garters leave scent (pheromones) trails in their wakes, which males follow, flicking their tongue to pick up the taste/smell.

When a male tracks down a female, he rubs his chin along the length of her back, and attempts to lie beside her. Eventually, after the males repeated twistings and attempts at alignment, a convinced female opens her vent and allows him to insert one of his two hemipenes (twinned penises) into her cloaca. Her body will store his sperm until the eggs are ready for fertilization.

Rather than laying eggs, garter snakes retain the eggs within their bodies and birth live young, usually between July and October. With the birth of her snakelets, the mother's duties are finished, and family members go their separate ways...maybe to hang out on a nice warm sidewalk.

Seen any snakes lately?

13 comments:

  1. Well yes, believe it or not, I actually had wondered. Veddy eentedestimg. Hemipenes!!

    Here's hoping this post doesn't predict what's in store for my bluebirds in the same way your bumblebee queen foresaw the future for my chickadees! Madame Blue is still sitting on eggs, here in the Atlantic Southeast.

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  2. I must be hanging out on the wrong sidewalks.  It's been years since I've seen a garter snake.  And it looks as if you have a menage a trois going on there.  Do males compete for feminine approval?  (Why am I thinking of lawyers in the bar at Jake's CrawfishHouse?)

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  3. It's cold-blooded, but pretty hot, too!

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  4. Once I worked at an environmental ed center that had two corn snakes, one male and one female, that were kept in the same cage. We all really enjoyed watching them doing it. Hooray for snake voyeurism!

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  5. We used to see several kinds of snakes, especially garter snakes, hanging out in the backyard. The garter snakes are still around, though the only time I see one nowadays is when a cat has caught one. Once separated from the cat, usually the snakes are only a little worse for wear and happily go on their way.

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  6. I haven't seen any snakes yet this year. I have been seeing lots of really long alligator lizards, but no snakes.  I haven't had an opportunity to watch lizards mating, but I have seen them doing lonely push ups!

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  7. Just Tuesday I just saw a garter snake lying on the steps to my front door.  He startled me when he moved away onto the rocks.

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  8. Snake pick up lines: "Hey, baby, wanna open your vent?"

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  9. Very interesting indeed! I enjoy learning about snakes since I'm not afraid of them, unless they're poisonous, that is. :-)

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  10. Holy cow!  Your comment here popped up in my Disqus settings (because you're a follower--thank you) and I HAD to link to see what this is about.  hahahaha!  I was not afraid of them as a child but I squeal like a pig when one slithers across the dirt now.  We have garter snakes.  Harmless, I know.  Just stay off my bare feet.  

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  11. we have garter snakes in the Northeast as well (see my response to DJan).  I don't think I've heard the term "snakelets" before.  I like it.
    Now I'll have to be even more on the lookout during our warm months for mamma & babies.  eek.

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  12. Now that you mention them, I don't recall seeing many like I remember when I was a youngun' in the mountains.  I have seen them rarely in the garden, but none basking.  Garter snakes don't scare me, but don't want to meet a rattlesnake face to face if I go to central Oregon where my son lives and do some rockhounding.
    Thanks, Pat, for jolting our memories and keeping our awareness skills tweeked! 

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