Have you ever wondered how snakes breed?
How do snakes even meet each other and decide to mate in the first place?
Every living thing on Earth has a way of mating.
Snakes are no different, but how do snakes reproduce?
Snakes reproduce by males inserting their genitalia into the female’s, sometimes while in giant “mating balls” as males vie for the opportunity. Male snakes have two hemipenes used only for mating. Some females may store sperm for months or even years until environmental conditions are right.
Reproductive Anatomy In Snakes
Contrary to what you might have thought, snakes aren’t just one long tube.
Well – they are, but there’s a lot more to it!
Snakes have complex sex organs with nuance and variation between species.
All snakes have a cloaca.
This is a pocket near the base of the tail. Depending on the sex of the snake, the cloaca houses different sex organs.
Inside a female snake’s cloaca are ovaries, as well as an oviduct.
The oviduct is where the female’s eggs will develop when she is impregnated.
Males have a forked penis, one fork for each testicle.
These forks are each known as a hemipenis.
The hemipenes are housed inverted inside the cloaca.
Hemipenes have a unique shape, which only fits inside a female of the same snake species.
This prevents crossbreeding between different species.
Male snakes’ hemipenes are, in most cases, rigged, which ensures a stronghold on the female’s cloaca during copulation.
Snakes have a vomeronasal system, which allows them to sense pheromones.
Pheromones play a crucial role in snake mating.
Snakes rely on them to know anything about each other – it’s the only way they’ll know whether another snake is male or female, for example.
After hibernation or brumation, mating is the often first thing a lot of snakes do.
However, they don’t necessarily mate every year.
Some species will mate multiple times each year, others once every two or three years.
Females will shed and begin to emit pheromones to attract males.
As she travels through the area, slithering across the ground, she leaves them behind for the males to find.
Pheromones don’t travel through the air; male snakes have to happen upon them, licking their tongue to pick up on the scent.
The larger the female, the more attractive she is to the male snakes.
Pheromones tell male snakes the size of the female – the more of them, the larger she is.
Males Fight For Mating Rights
While snakes aren’t territorial the way many other animals are, they do compete for mates.
Males will sometimes take part in a dance-like fight to win the admiration of a nearby female.
Typically, these fights are not deadly.
The loser will concede and move on to another area, while the winner gets to mate with the female.
How Snakes Do It
Once a male snake has won the female’s approval, he will slide up alongside her until he aligns with her, head to head, tail to tail.
In some species, the male will wrap himself around the female to ensure a tight grasp.
The snakes will bump heads, and the male will wrap his tail around the female.
Once he finds her cloaca, his hemipenes will extend.
One hemipenis has to come in contact with the female’s cloaca for his sperm to start traveling to her eggs.
Mating can last for hours or even a full day for some snakes.
Interestingly, snakes do not bond when they mate.
Once mating is complete, both snakes move on.
How Do Snakes Reproduce In Groups?
Snakes aren’t shy when it comes to mating.
Certain species even mate in giant groups!
Many males will attempt to mate with one female, twisting and writhing around her and each other, resulting in what’s called a snake orgy or a mating ball.
These mating balls create competition among males, so only the strongest snakes will get the chance to mate.
The female must still approve of the male; even if he beats the other guys to the punch, she ultimately decides who mates with her.
However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Some males will give off false pheromones, disguising themselves as female and drawing the competition away from their mate!
As in the case of the red-sided garter, other male snakes will create a mating plug after copulating.
This plug is a gelatinous hunk of snake sperm blocking the female’s cloaca, preventing her from mating with other snakes.
What Role Do Females Play?
In most species of snake, the females are larger than the males.
They control the mating rituals and copulation itself.
A female can open or close her cloaca at will, and she can interrupt sex if she’s not happy with the way things are going.
Anacondas are becoming known to researchers as sexual cannibals.
Male anacondas are incredibly overpowered by the females, who, on average, are 4.7 times larger.
Females may eat the males they mate with after sex, perhaps motivated by boosting their nutrition levels as they become pregnant.
This discovery has led researchers to wonder if we misunderstand sex among other snake species, as well.
Polyandry In Snakes
Male snakes tend to have one female partner each mating season, but females don’t have such a tendency.
This is known as polyandry, multiple male partners for one female.
There are good evolutionary reasons for polyandry in snakes.
The sperm from several male snakes is forced to compete, leading to stronger and healthier offspring.
Knowing how snakes reproduce is an essential aspect of ownership.
Even if you don’t breed them, reproducing is a normal part of their biology and affects their behavior.
Females will leave a scented pheromone trail for males to find, and males will duke it out to earn the opportunity to mate with her.
Males will intertwine into a giant, squiggly mating ball while the female sits back and enjoys the ride.
If you enjoyed this article check out why snakes are important.