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No. 27: May-Jun 1983

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Great Balls Of Snakes

Most garter snakes in the northern states spend the winter in communal dens below the frost line. Some dens host as many as 10,000 to 15,000 redlined garter snakes, which emerge en masse in the spring. Although garter snakes cannot survive freezing temperatures, they apparently do not congregate in such enormous numbers to keep warm, for sexually immature garter snakes commonly hibernate alone.

Big concentrations of sexually mature garter snakes seem to be part of the reproduction strategy of the species. In the big aggregations, males usually outnumber females by 50-1. As each female emerges in the spring, she is immediately mobbed by dozens of males. So-called "mating balls" of up to 100 males and a single female are formed. Naturalists commonly explain the wintering concentrations and mating balls as clever schemes evolved to maximize reproduction with minimum expenditure of energy. This article accepts this theme uncritically.

(Lynch, Wayne; "Great Balls of Snakes," Natural History, 92:65, April 1983.)

Comment. Evolutionists tend to "explain" facts in a circular fashion; that is, only the most efficient reproducers (or "fittest") survive, therefore those that survive must be the best reproducers. While the garter snake strategy has some advantages in terms of getting male and female together, things may have gone too far. For example, one communal den was flooded, killing 10,000 snakes. Predators have a field day when emergence occurs. One would think that dispersed hibernating snakes, with 1:1 male-to-female ratio, might prove to be an even better strategy. The point here is that blind application of the theory of evolution may mask other natural strategies. Survival of the fittest (or the most efficient reproducers) may not be the Master Plan.

From Science Frontiers #27, MAY-JUN 1983. � 1983-2000 William R. Corliss