Both males, they were intertwined in a dominance dance on a popular dirt trail along the Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach on Friday afternoon, prompting onlookers to stop in their tracks and watch in awe at the National Geographic-worthy moment.
“It was pretty amazing. I’ve seen a lot of rattlesnakes, but never doing their ritual there,” said photographer Lance Lawson, who has been going to the wetlands for about 40 years.
Lawson was on the lookout for eagles and owls in the area, a popular spot for photographers looking to capture images of local wildlife near the northern end of the wetlands. He noticed two other photographers with their lenses focused on something interesting, so stopped to check it out.
And there they were, the snakes wrapping their slippery, slithering bodies around one another. Onlookers speculated the snakes were mating, but local expert Jason Magee, owner of OC Snake Removal in Laguna Niguel, said the photos show two males battling over dominance during breeding season.
“Likely there was an ovulating female nearby and the males picked up the scent and went into battle mode to determine who was more the dominant snake,” he said via e-mail. “The more dominant snake will be the breeding male. Very neat to see in the wild!”
Magee said the recent rains have made business busier than ever. During heavy downpours, he received a high volume of removal calls from rain pushing rattlesnakes out of their hibernation spots and into people’s homes, garages and yards.
“The rain has made habitat bloom and snakes’ prey abundant and healthy, in turn bringing more snakes out,” he wrote. “This year is gonna be a doozy.”
The two battling snakes continued for about 20 minutes, drawing the attention of about 20 other photographers who stopped to shoot.
“They were still real passive, they were not aggressive at all,” Lawson said.
At one point, another snake nonchalantly passed behind the intertwined duo. Magee said it was a San Diego Gopher Snake, based on the image.
Lawson said he stayed about 40 feet away to shoot the images. But when the snakes tired of the attention and ducked into nearby bushes, Lawson peeked down to see what they were up to. They continued to be engrossed in one another’s company.
“It was very unique, I’ve never seen anything like that,” he said. “It was kind of an eye-opener. I’ve gone there a lot, I’ve seen a couple snakes in the distance, but never on the trails.”
Rattlesnakes have a hemotoxic venom and are fairly docile and won’t strike without a reason. But they will aggressively defend themselves and can deliver a lethal bite if necessary. Most snake bites occur when snakes are undetected or being unprofessionally handled, according to Magee.
The California Poison Control System last year issued a reminder that rattlesnakes are more likely to be found along hiking trails with warm weather, and even baby rattlesnakes have dangerous venom. Most bites occur between April and October.
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