Conservation Wildlife Management

Watch: Tangled Ball of Mating Pythons Spotted in Australian National Park

Knotting up into a giant ball is a normal means of reproduction for many snakes, but that doesn't make it any less disturbing
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A group of diamond pythons tied up in a mating ball. Karin Byrne / via Facebook

A family came across a pile of pythons while walking the beach in Royal National Park in Australia over the weekend. Mother Karin Byrne recorded a series of videos that are either mesmerizing or terrifying, depending on how you feel about snakes. The clips she posted on Facebook show more than a dozen snakes writhing and slithering on top of one another in what biologists refer to as a large “mating ball.”

“Get your hands away,” Byrne tells the kids during one of the videos. In another clip that’s since been deleted, the young boy reaches out to pet one of the snakes, according to Yahoo News Australia. (This would have been illegal because they snakes are protected under the Wildlife Act, the news outlet points out.)

In another clip, Byrne zooms in on the cluster of snakes wriggling on the dark rocks. She and her husband correctly identify them as diamond pythons, which are nonvenomous and native to southeastern Australia. These snakes average around 6 feet in length and they’re popular as pets.

As some of the commenters on Byrne’s post have pointed out, mating balls are a normal means of reproduction for many snake species. The balls usually consist of one female and multiple males—sometimes a hundred or more—that are all trying to breed the female at the same time. These mass-mating events take place in the spring when snakes are emerging from their winter dens, which is what’s currently happening in Australia and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere.

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“You get a bunch of males that are really keen to mate and they all sort of hone in on a female that just happens to be close by,” professional snake catcher Troy Hovenden told Yahoo. “They’re not so much taking turns, it’s just they’re all basically trying to get a go.”

Hovenden added that more of these mating balls will be observed as snakes across Australia emerge from hibernation. He also warned people from getting too close to them. Although diamond pythons are nonvenomous, they can still bite people, Hovenden explained. Like other constrictor species, diamond pythons have sharp teeth that curve backwards and help them hold onto their prey while they strangle it to death.