Two huge rattlesnakes block hiker’s path in Indiana forest
A hiker was stopped in his tracks by two huge rattlesnakes blocking his path as they coiled around each other in a bizarre dance.
Nick Engler was hiking along the Grubb Ridge Trail near Bloomington, Indiana when he captured multiple videos of the two snakes waving back and forth with their heads raised off the ground. He then posted the videos to Facebook, where they garnered many excited and terrified comments.
“So apparently it’s two males,” Engler captioned her post. “They’re competing for the breeding rights of a female who’s probably nearby. And there’s also probably other males waiting to compete as well. I didn’t know that at the time and wouldn’t have not shot for 8 minutes if I had had.”
Rattlesnakes, so called because of the keratin rattle at the end of their tails, are venomous and account for a large proportion of snakebite injuries in the United States. There are 36 species of rattlesnakes, but many people in the comments of the videos have suggested that these two snakes may be timber rattlesnakes, the only species of rattlesnake found in most of the northeastern United States.
Timber rattlesnakes, immortalized on Gadsden’s ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag, are currently in their breeding season, which means males will compete for mating rights with females.
Timber rattlesnakes can grow up to 60 inches long and are viviparous, giving birth to 13 live young rather than laying eggs. They are threatened across much of their native range, so the sight of two males performing a mating ritual is a rare occurrence.
Male timber rattlesnakes perform a courtship dance to compete for females. When a female is nearby, the two competing males face each other and intertwine their necks, trying to push the other to the ground to establish their dominance and mating suitability. Although the female is not visible in Engler’s videos, she is likely hiding nearby.
Many other species of animals use dancing as a means of signaling their mating quality both to other males and to difficult females. This is most noticeable in birds, which often use their bright plumages and loud songs to capture attention: a male sage-grouse, for example, will puff out the white feathers around its collar and puff out two yellow air sacs, making popping and hissing noises as they dance for a woman.
During their breeding season, as shown in videos posted by Engler, the snakes may be encountered more frequently by humans on hikes or their pets. Although it does not generally act aggressively unless provoked, the timber rattlesnake is venomous: In early August, a famous West Virginia rattlesnake expert died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake.
Indiana State Parks advises wearing closed shoes, using a flashlight after dark, and keeping pets on a leash to avoid rattlesnake bites during their active season.