Environment

Rattlesnake battle stops traffic on popular hiking trail near Auburn

Watch two rattlesnakes fight it out on the American River near Auburn

UC Davis snake expert Brian Todd explains what's going on as two rattlesnakes tangle in front of Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman and reporter Ryan Sabalow. Photos by Eric Ohman.
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UC Davis snake expert Brian Todd explains what's going on as two rattlesnakes tangle in front of Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman and reporter Ryan Sabalow. Photos by Eric Ohman.

Light was fading, and I was hustling along the American River outside of Auburn with Sacramento Bee cartoonist Jack Ohman and his son, Eric. We’d come to take a few quick casts on a hike and fishing trip after work.

What we encountered on the Lake Clementine Trail in the Auburn State Recreation Area Thursday evening was far more memorable. Two nearly three-foot long rattlesnakes were coiled in the center of the trail below the Foresthill Bridge in a thrashing tangle of scales, venomous fangs and rattles.

The snakes didn’t seem to care one bit when we and another group of hikers walked up on them. We stood there watching them for probably 20 minutes.

They never rattled at us in alarm, and they didn’t seem to notice us when we walked within a few feet to get photos and videos with our cell phones. We presumed they were doing something X-rated.

But University of California, Davis snake expert Brian Todd tells me these two western rattlesnakes were actually males pumped up on hormones engaged in the equivalent of a rattlesnake Brazilian jiu-jitsu bout. The snakes were trying to pin each other down. The first one that gets tired “taps out” by slithering off. The victor gets the right to breed with a female who was likely nearby, Todd said.

As fascinating as it was to watch, there were still fish to catch, and it was getting dark.

Watch the video to the end to see Jack try to muster up the courage to walk past the fang-y, slithery snake fight.

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