Snake orgy! (We're serious.)

Snake orgy! (We're serious.)

 

After passing the long Subarctic winter curled and nearly comatose in a limestone nook in Wood Buffalo National Park, red-sided garter snakes emerge, understandably frisky. Though they haven’t eaten in eight months, males awaken with just one thing on their mind. And every spring, visitors pack a picnic and gather at the snake "hibernaculum" near Fort Smith to watch the reptilian love-making spectacle, both gruesome and fascinating.

It starts with the male snake's tongue, which gropes the air for her musky scent. Once he tracks down his fatter, swifter counterpart, he hurls himself on top of her. Then the scenario gets spirited. Nearby suitors jump in and jostle for position, forming a pile of squirming garden hoses. But as soon as one of the lucky bachelors has successfully sealed the deal, his brutish buddies promptly unravel themselves, and slither away in search of better prospects.

“It’s a fascinating scene,” says Stuart Macmillan, a park biologist who helps track the harmless garters. During the love-in, Macmillan ensures enough distance between the lustful snakes and spectators, and sometimes reaches into the writhing tangle to tag a few snakes for population studies. Wood Buffalo’s unique limestone-studded karstlands are thought to be the snakes’ northernmost range. The garters burrow through deep cracks into a rocky den, where they sleep the winter away until their springtime foray.    

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