Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Planet Earth

Snake-in-the-Grass Lover

By Jocelyn SelimFebruary 1, 2002 6:00 AM

Newsletter

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."

    2 Free Articles Left

    Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

    Want unlimited access?

    Subscribe today and save 70%

    Subscribe

    Already a subscriber? Register or Log In