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Photos: Two Rattlesnakes Get It On In The Santa Monica Mountains [Update: Or Not!]

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Some volunteers with the National Park Service on patrol in Point Mugu State Park caught a pair of rattlesnakes in the act.

The photos, taken Sunday and posted Friday morning by the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on their Facebook page, show two rattlesnakes entwined and getting cozy with each other in the middle of the Two Foxes Trail. The trail, which goes through Sycamore Canyon, was closed by the volunteers for about five minutes in both directions to let the two serpents finish their deed.

According to the National Park Service's Ranger Kate in the Facebook comments, it is impossible to tell just from the photos whether or not the two were actually a male and female hooking up in plain sight or two males letting out a little aggression.

While not common in the urban landscape, the southern Pacific rattlesnake does live in the region. Hikers should exercise a little caution when one is encountered and never try to kill them.

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Point Mugu is a state park within the Santa Monica Mountains NRA, and is on the western end of the park boundaries that sits in Ventura County.

UPDATE 8/18: Well, it looks like the theory that these rattlesnakes were lovers not fighters is incorrect. Greg Pauly, a herpetologist at the Natural History Museum, analyzed the photos and said it's two male rattlesnakes duking it out over a lady. It turns out that figuring out what snakes are doing is an ancient problem:

They are not mating. This is male-male combat and occurs in several groups of snakes, most notably in many viper species including the rattlesnakes. However, the confusion about what is going on is quite common. Klauber in his tome on rattlesnakes even argued that written evidence of this confusion dates at least as far back as Aristotle. Klauber also suggested that the caduceus is often interpreted as two snakes intertwined as they would be in mating, but more likely represents male-male combat in European adders. So confusion about male-male combat in snakes is common. This male-male combat is generally interpreted as one form of mate guarding behavior. Male rattlesnakes will often spend multiple days with a female until she is ready to mate. If another male comes along, the two males will engage in this "combat." The combat typically involves the two rising up into the air and trying to push the other back to the ground. Usually the larger male wins and the other leaves the area. So what people often don't realize when they are watching this wrestling match is that somewhere close by is probably a female rattlesnake.