We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Snake-in-the-Grass Lover

By Jocelyn Selim
Feb 1, 2002 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 4:11 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Acting tough may work for Clint Eastwood, but for male garter snakes acting girly is the path to success, says Oregon State University zoologist Robert Mason. Every spring tens of thousands of garter snakes emerge from under rocks and deep within caves across the northern United States and Canada, cold and sluggish from a winter's sleep. Males slither out first, feverishly attempting to warm up so they can be first in line to surround the emerging females. The suitors end up in a wriggling mass of 10 to 100 snakes.

But sometimes the girl is a guy: The snake at the center of the ball may be a male emitting fraudulent female pheromones. Mason believes these she-male snakes use the ruse to warm up quickly so they can escape birds and other predators. "They keep it up for a day or so and drop it when they're warm enough," he says. "There are very few cases in the animal kingdom where female mimicry is used to increase overall fitness rather than just to dupe other males. But in this case it accomplishes both tasks nicely."

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.