While exploring the trails in California's Cheeseboro Canyon recently, a mountain biker stumbled across a pair of tussling rattlesnakes and stopped for a moment to capture the sighting on camera.


The video was uploaded to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Facebook page earlier this month and it stars two western or southern Pacific rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus). At this time of year, it's not unusual for males to be twisted in battle as they compete for the right to mate with females. "The goal of these fights are not to hurt or kill each other, but to establish dominance," explains wildlife ecologist Dr David Steen.

The behaviour is often misconstrued as mating; in fact it is sometimes referred to as a mating dance, which adds considerably to the confusion. A typical rattlesnake showdown involves much raising of the body and head as the rivals attempt to prove to a nearby female that they are the stronger individual. It's not clear who won this tussle – our money is on the rattlesnake on the right.

Header image: Ken-ichi Ueda