Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Snake-snake Interactions: do they have meaning?

When multiple species of snake live in the same habitat, how do they interact? Do they communicate with each other? At the Blue Oak Ranch Reserve where human presence is greatly reduced, snake diversity is high and many species occur at high population densities (see species accounts one and two). Our cameras have captured a few rattlesnakes investigating other species of snake. On June 22, Mace Windu, a male Northern Pacific rattlesnake interacted with a king snake and a gopher snake (at separate times). Below are recordings of these interactions (you may want to watch on YouTube to view better video quality). 

A king snake bumps into Mace while slithering through the grass. Mace is sitting in ambush in the shadow as the king snake moves through the grass. The king snake retracts its head after it realizes that a rattlesnake is there. It quickly flees and Mace extends his head, as if curious.  

A couple of hours later, a gopher snake runs into Mace. The camera is not directly pointed at Mace, but he is partially visible resting in the shade of a rock. A gopher snake moves toward Mace and stops once it realizes that a rattlesnake is there. It quickly takes off, and Mace extends his head and body toward the gopher snake. Is Mace just curious or is he communicating with the gopher snake?

These recordings make me curious about snake-snake interactions: 
How often do different species of snake interact, and when they do, what are the nature of these interactions?
Can different species of snake communicate with each other? 
King snakes are predators of young rattlesnakes, but how do they interact with adults like Mace? 

At BORR, many species of snake live in the same habitat and must interact in some way. Our cameras have been catching glimpses of these interesting snake-snake interactions so hopefully with more video footage we can learn more about them!


  1. Very cool stuff! Multiple species of snakes often share a den, but these are the first interactions I've seen during the active season. I guess Mace could have just been responding to movement near him, but it does make you wonder...

    1. Melissa, I was inspired to post this after seeing your photos of other snakes cruising near rattlesnake dens. Hopefully we can capture more community-wide interactions

  2. These are amazing. I've seen a King Snake eat a young rattlesnake, but I've never seen a King Snake high tail it when it comes across an adult rattler. There's obviously still some apprehension about the dose that a grown rattlesnake can provide!

    Also impressed by your species accounts. You obviously have quick hands... you caught a bunch of species that have made me look stupid (racers, skinks...)

    1. Dave, I am glad to see someone else as excited by these videos as I am. I agree that the adult rattlesnake and king snake interaction is very interesting. Also, many of the species listed on the species accounts were caught using drift fence traps. My adviser takes DNA samples from them for a diet study that he is performing (he uses the DNA to see who is eating who). Don't worry, you probably have quicker than you think!