No, snakes do not mate for life and are not monogamous. The mating habits of snakes are a little cloudy. However, the general consensus is that snakes practice polygyny as the dominant mating system in snakes.
Studies show new data showing the behaviour of snakes in terms of paternity and life history. For a diverse array of snakes, scientists support the view that polyandry (having many mates at the same time) is not an uncommon situation in snakes.
How do Snakes Find Mates?
Snakes find mates once they come out of hibernation. So instead of looking for food, the first thing they do is to look for a mate.
When a female snake is ready to mate, she releases a special kind of scent. This scent is called a pheromone. The pheromone comes from skin glands on her back. As she travels, she leaves a trail of this scent.
Males now have a signal, and then they will follow that scent trail to locate the female. Unfortunately, if there is no male snake in the area, then no mating would happen. Conversely, if there is no female in the area, there is no scent for the male snake to follow.
One unusual thing in the mating pattern of serpents happens with garter snakes. After the hibernation, which is called a brumation, the female snake would come out and leave a scent.
However, unlike other snakes, many male snakes would swarm over the female snake. This swarming activity forms a “mating ball.”
In this frenzy, each snake will do his best to get the female to open her cloaca. The cloaca is the opening for both the waste and reproductive organs of the snake. On some occasions, the males will try to stress the female.
If they succeed in causing the female to get stressed, she will be forced to open her cloaca to release musk. Once the cloaca opens, some opportunistic males will use this window to mate.
How do Snakes Mate?
Mating begins between two snakes once the male snake wraps his body, particularly his tail, around the female. It is a necessary process, so the cloaca of the male meets that of the female.
In the case of the garter snakes, all the males would try to wrap their tails around the female’s tail area. It is a frenzy, and the first male to successfully get in position will succeed in the mating process.
As far as reproductive organs go, males have two of them. These are called hemipenis. They extend to release the sperm inside the female snake’s cloaca. These two organs are the equivalent of the human testes.
One wonder of nature is that female snakes have the ability to store sperm for up to five years. The female snake also has the option to get pregnant or not after the mating process has ended. Snakes can mate for a day. However, most snakes mate for an hour only.
In addition, there is a recorded case of a boa that had babies without mating. In this study, the scientists know that the female boa never had the influence of a male boa to reproduce.
When is Snake Mating Season?
There is no definite date as to when snakes will mate. There are many snake species—about 3,000—and their mating habits depend on their environment.
For snakes that live in temperate environments, they get out of brumation in spring. Tropical snakes mate any time of the year, as they do not hibernate. For snakes that live in temperate areas, they are likely to lay eggs or give birth in summer.
Some snakes are dependent on food supply. They will not mate unless there is no abundance of food. Giving birth or laying eggs is not easy as it requires a lot of energy. Only females that have energy reserves would be willing to mate and reproduce.
When do Snakes Reach Sexual Maturity?
There is variation in times when snakes can reach sexual maturity. Some snakes can start reproducing as early as two years, while some take four years.
One of the snakes that take the longest to reach sexual maturity is the black rat snake. It takes seven years before it can reproduce.
In reserves, the length of time is not an issue. Snakes can live up to 30 years in the wild, provided that no intervention would destroy their habitat.
How do Snakes Mate in the Water?
Scientists conducted observational experiments for sea snakes to determine how they mate. They noticed that male snakes used a combination of senses to detect the female. These senses include visual and tactile.
Some snakes, like the turtle-headed one, has a specialized prong at the tip of their snout. The male snake uses this to probe the female on her back.
Underwater, the snakes may come up for air to breathe. During the copulation, the male snake would insert both of its penis in the female’s cloaca. Once this happens, the male is stuck with the female until the process is over.
During this intercourse, it is the female who would decide when to come up for air. If the male snake fails to get enough air, it can die.
Male snakes underwater do not plug the female’s cloaca after mating. From an evolutionary perspective, there is less competition in the water for mating.
Read Also: Baby Snake Guide
Summary: Do Snakes Mate for Life?
Snakes are not monogamous animals. They mate as the season and environment dictate and may never see each other again. Some females mate with many males and choose when to get impregnated.
Snakes mate with their cloaca. A male snake has a penis, and the female can take sperm and keep it for five years. There is one recorded phenomenon where a boa reproduced asexually. Snakes that live in temperate environments mate after winter and lay eggs or give birth in the summer. Snakes that live in tropical areas mate any time of the year, albeit their behaviour is influenced by the environment and food supply.