Most people would probably run away if you said there were two massive snakes fighting nearby in a swamp. Buddy Rogers headed straight for them.

While working on a farm in eastern North Carolina last year, Buddy's friend David Pearce noticed a commotion in a canal and called him over to see. There in the water were two giant cottonmouths reaching towards the sky, intertwining their bodies and slamming each other into the swamp. These venomous snakes, common pit vipers throughout the southeastern United States, threw each other around in dramatic splashes as Buddy began to take pictures.

Image: Buddy Rogers
Image: Buddy Rogers
Image: Buddy Rogers

What Buddy and David witnessed was a rarely seen but fascinating behaviour. Although it took some time for herpetologists to figure out why some snakes battle like this, it is now generally accepted that males do it not to hurt or kill each other, but to establish dominance and mating rights to a nearby female. And sure enough, as Buddy was photographing the two fighting snakes, David noticed a third snake silently watching the rumble from the shore, probably the female that the snakes were competing over.

Combat between pit vipers typically involves the two snakes swaying back and forth before one hooks the other with his neck and smacks him to the ground. Sometimes they'll become intertwined as they wrap around each other and attempt to gain an advantage over their opponent. Eventually, a victor is declared when one of the snakes bids a hasty retreat. This is exactly what Buddy and David saw.

Image: Buddy Rogers
Image: Buddy Rogers
Image: Buddy Rogers
Image: Buddy Rogers

These clashes can last up to a couple of hours. And while we don't know how long the cottonmouths had been fighting before Pearce spotted them, the two friends watched the snakes going at it for about seven minutes, at which point the lighter-coloured individual swam off in surrender.

Many years ago, some herpetologists decided to call this behaviour a mating dance; this may help to explain why lots of people today believe that fighting snakes are actually amorous males and females. However, courtship and reproduction is generally a more tranquil experience, with the snakes seldom raising their bodies repeatedly into the air as they do during fights.

Buddy knew he had a captured a fascinating moment with his camera, but he was still surprised at the reaction his photos sparked when he shared them on Facebook: his album now has over 13,000 shares!

As is often the case when it comes to snakes, commenters have been quick to share questionable information, with some saying the animals were mating, or not even cottonmouths at all. Sadly, of the 2,000 (and counting!) comments posted, Buddy says the most common have been from people wanting to know why he didn't kill the snakes, with some even chastising him for not doing so.

Kill a couple of snakes minding their own business? The thought never crossed his mind.



Top header image: Kenneth Cole Schneider/Flickr