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Rarely seen snake fight caught on camera

SDU biologist Coen Elemans has been snake watching all over the world for 20 years, but for the first time he has personally witnessed a snake fight.

The fight took place between two male European vipers (Vipera berus) fighting over a particularly attractive female. They twirled around each other and tried to press the other against the ground.

“The strongest male won the contest to try to court the female”, explains Coen Elemans, adding:

“The two males were chasing, dancing and revolving around each other for about three minutes through grass and even 1 meter up into hawthorn bushes. They were completely undisturbed by my presence and kept going 15 cm in front of my camera lens.”

The fight was witnessed and documented on a field trip to the northern tip of the island Fyn in Denmark.

Not a mating dance

“These ritual fights occur between males but are often confused with a mating dance between a male and female”, explains Coen Elemans.

“This ritual was thought only to occur in species armed with lethal venom. Instead of running the risk of being killed, a ritualized dance evolved. However we are slowly learning that many snakes species perform these spectacular dances.”

The European viper is common throughout most of Europe and as far as East Asia. It is not aggressive, and it only bites if disturbed. It lives in many different kinds of terrains, where it feeds on small mammals, birds, lizards, amphibians and in some cases, spiders, worms and insects.

Elemans took to snakes when he was still a little boy: 

“Snakes are incredibly fascinating animals that capture human’s fear and imagination. Because they are so secretive they are difficult to study and I’m sure many exciting discoveries are waiting to be made.”

Associate Professor Coen Elemans is a biologist at University of Southern Denmark, where he works with acoustic communication among animals.

Contact Associate Professor Coen Elemans,, tel +45 6550 4453.

Photos must be credited: Coen Elemans/SDU.

Editing was completed: 08.06.2015