Year of the Snake: How Snakes Make Babies
It’s the topic on everyone’s mind: Where do snake babies come from?
Considering a snake’s shape and lack of appendages, it’s not surprising to question “Well, how do they do that?” Additionally, male and female snakes are virtually identical (although females are typically larger than males), so you can’t tell what sex they are just by looking at them.
During the breeding season, female snakes release pheromones into the air to attract mates. The males detect the alluring scent with a unique anatomical trick called the Jacobsen’s organ, which translates air molecules that stick to the snake’s tongue as it flicks in and out. By broadcasting her availability to breed in such a fashion, the female often finds herself as the object of desire for more than one suitor. Males will often congregate around the female and sometimes battle for dominance, as they attempt to breed. Male snakes have two sex organs, called hemipenes. Once she is fertilized, the females either lay a clutch of leathery-shelled eggs or give live-birth, depending on species. Among the types in this region that give birth to babies are, garter snakes, northern watersnakes, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes. Egg-layers include ringneck snakes, corn snakes, rough green snakes and black rat snakes.
Eggs are most often laid in loose soils, rotting logs or under leaves. In some species, the females protect the eggs until they hatch. In others they are left to develop on their own. Many animals eat snake eggs and baby snakes. Raccoons, opossums, skunks, minks, hawks and owls all prey upon snakes in their early stages of development.
By mid- to late summer we will start encountering the first baby snakes of the season. Some species look like tiny versions of the adults while others have different patterns than they will as they grow older.
With good habitat and abundant resources, snakes can thrive and occupy an important piece of the natural world.