Wrestling Roughnecks

October 2009

Why do snakes fight?

We saw two brown snakes; each was around 2.5 metres long. They both reared up, sometimes thrashing and striking at each other. On the ground their bodies were twisted together. And although they were generally similar, why were the patterns underneath their bodies different?

Answer

Heads up! Writhing and twisting Your fighting snakes are male Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textilis). During spring, the males of some snake species wrestle to establish a dominance hierarchy. The top male gains access to a receptive female. The aim of the match is to hold one's head higher than that of the competition. Very rarely, when snakes are so closely matched that there is no clear winner, they may resort to biting.

Generally, Brown Snakes are shy, retiring creatures. However male snakes that are engaged in combat often become oblivious to their surroundings, and can be observed from a safe distance! Despite a common misconception, they do not become more aggressive towards humans.

Why the colour difference?

Although the body colour and belly pattern of Eastern Brown Snakes are highly variable, the difference in colour between your combatants is due to the greyish specimen being close to the end of the sloughing cycle and preparing to shed its old skin.

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