I would like to begin saying, these two reptiles are, MATING…yes, indeed, mating! Although this is not akin to the warm and fuzzy photos I have posted before, I feel it is important to share the magical, and sometimes very misunderstood, energies and symbolism of snake. You see, over the years of being a nature photographer, I have (hopefully) cultivated a close enough relationship with wildlife, whereby they call upon me as their messenger. In my heart of hearts, I know that the creatures that present themselves to me are ready to have their stories told—even if it’s just a small aspect of their life—they have showed up and trust that I will not hold any bias and that I will honor each creature equally, whether they are a warm and fuzzy duckling or a scaly, slithery snake.
With that said, these two “lovebirds” nearly tripped me as I took my afternoon walk on a golf cart path, no less. Like most, my first reaction was, “Eeeeeek! A snake! And it’s eating……another……snake??? Wait…noooooo, it can’t be!” So I stood there for a few minutes and observed. First and foremost, I made sure these weren’t venomous snakes. They were, in fact, just Gopher snakes—completely harmless.
I’m going to deviate for a moment to make an important point here: Gopher snakes and Rattlesnakes look a lot alike in color and markings. I know there are people out there with snake phobia and I can understand that. But, my plea here is to not jump at the opportunity to kill these snakes because of their initial appearance. If given the chance, try to take a closer look. First, non-venomous snakes have ROUND pupils as opposed to VERTICAL/SLIT pupils of the venomous snake. In addition, non-venomous snakes have SMALLER ROUNDED HEADS (not much wider than the width of their bodies), while venomous snakes have LARGE TRIANGLE-SHAPED heads. And last, but absolutely not least, non-venomous snakes have TAPERED TAILS WITH NO RATTLES, while Rattlesnakes have a THICKER WIDER-TIPPED TALE WITH……WELL, RATTLES.
Now that we’ve cleared up some confusion, let’s get back to “love is in the air.” Ok, so I took out my handy dandy smart phone and Googled, the mating habits of Gopher snakes, because as you can imagine, and based on this telling photograph, I, too, like you, thought someone was having lunch. To my great surprise and wonderment, I learned they were in the “lying still” phase of their ritual, whereby once the male lines up their cloacas (part of the tail) and inserts the hemipenes (you get the point), they lie still for the duration of the
mating—usually about an hour. And yes, he does hold the female in place (ok, not in the most gentlemanly fashion) during this activity.
I didn’t stay long, as I wanted to give them their privacy; but, I have to say, this encounter evoked many feelings and emotions in me. I felt privileged to have come across something that, in my opinion, is sacred. I felt protective knowing that they were on a cart path. Even though there were no golfers at the time, I worried about their safety. I felt sad that my initial fear was that they were Rattlesnakes, and I pondered the fate of so many like them that are mistaken as a threat and killed as a result. I felt a great sense of awe for the springtime and how life is being created and blossoming in every aspect of life.
As summer slowly creeps in and the days get warmer, we just may see our snake brethren quite often. But before we leap out of our shoes from fear, let’s take a new perspective and look at the symbolism of snake and see what we can learn from this ancient creature.
Snake has long been the subject of great controversy and paradox. Religions argue whether it is the symbol of the higher or the lower. Sometimes seen as the devil and sometimes as the healer, it is an animal that has truly earned its mythical reputation.
But what I find most interesting is that snake has historically been a symbol of death and rebirth. It sheds its skin as it outgrows the old. This death and rebirth cycle is part of what snake represents. It has ties and significance to the ancient alchemists and their symbolic transmutation of lead into gold. This is associated with higher wisdom that comes with the passing of time.
In Eastern traditions, the serpent and snake has long been a symbol of the sexual/creative life force (the root/kundalini chakra) within humans. The kundalini or serpent fire lies coiled at the base of the spine. As we grow and develop, the primal energy is released, rising up the spine. This in turn activates energy centers in the body and the mind, opening new dimensions and levels of awareness, health and creativity.
Snake symbolizes transition—a rebirth, a change in conditions and a movement to new life. When snake shows up, you can look for a renaissance into new powers of creativity and wisdom. What a lovely gift snake has to offer–I’ll take it!
Seize the opportunities of new beginnings that snake signifies. When the time is right, gopher it!