Male Combat in Venomous Snakes

Scott .C. Eipper
65 Grange Road
Caulfield East, Victoria, 3145.

Originally Published in Crocodilian - Journal of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists
Vol. 4 (1) September, pp. 34-35, with photos.


In many species of snakes, ranging from Elapids and Viperids to Boids male combat has been recorded numerous times. Examples of such species include: Eastern Brown Snakes (Pseudonaja textilis) (Hoser 1989, Shine 1991), Coastal Taipans (Oxyuranus scutellatus) (Hoser 1989, Shine 1991) and Personal observation, Lowland Copperheads (Austrelaps superbus) (Shine 1991), Mulga Snakes (Cannia australis) (Personal observation), Carpet Pythons (Morelia spilota variegata) (Personal observation), Red-bellied Black Snakes (Pseudechis porphyriacus) (Eipper 2000, Hoser 1989), Spotted Black Snakes (Panacedechis guttatus) (Eipper 2000) and Collett's Snakes (Panacedechis colletti) (Eipper 2000).
The combat involves the two snakes writhing and twisting together with each snake trying to dominate the other by keeping its head on top of the opponent and trying to throw the other off balance to assert dominance in its territory; biting can also occur in the battle.
I have kept the Pseudechis, Panacedechis and Cannia genera for many years and I have described my breeding success and the way I keep them in a previous paper (Eipper, 2000).


In mid September I was cleaning out my cages and shifting some occupants. My holding cage was full and I moved an adult Male P. guttatus into a cage holding a similar sized male P. colletti. For 5 minutes I had not noticed anything different. After this a tail slapping the glass caused my sight to be lifted to the cage. The Male P. guttatus had entwined the Male P. colletti and was pushing down its head in typical combat fashion. The Male P. colletti lost the battle and tried to escape, bolting off to the other end of the cage. The P. guttatus closely pursed the P. colletti and bit the Male P. colletti several times. No ill effects were sustained to the male P. colletti which was too be expected as they are closely related, but this is not always the case, (see Hoser, 1996). I thought this was somewhat of a freak occurrence and that it had happened previously in other species of snakes, in asking many colleagues here and overseas this may be a first published record of male combat between two different species.
I spoke to Raymond Hoser about this and he thought that it would be a good idea to put the snakes in together again and see what happened and to take photos. This time it took over 20 minutes for them to start, but they where fighting for a good 15 minutes.
It was also done for a third time to take video as the previous attempts at photographing the pair had not been successful. The video footage showed the combat in all it's detail. Both males had been cooled for breeding and both were viable males, The instances of combat occurred from September to November and late in December in 2002.


Eipper, S. (2000) Notes on the Black Snake Genus Pseudechis in Captivity, Monitor, 11 (1) 24-30.
Hoser, R. (1989) Australian Reptiles and Frogs, Pierson and Co. 240 pp.
Hoser, R. (1996) Interspecific Immunity to Venom in Snakes, Herpetofauna 26 (1): 26 -27.
Shine, R. (1991) Australian Snakes - A Natural History, Reed Books, 223 pp.
Originally Published in Crocodilian - Journal of the Victorian Association of Amateur Herpetologists 4 (1) September, pp. 34-35, with photos by Raymond Hoser.

Video Footage of the combat (a 2mb mpg file) can be downloaded from:

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