When a female snake is ready to breed, she leaves a distinctive scent trail. A male then uses his sensitive tongue – an organ of taste, feel and smell – to follow her. When he catches up with the female, he employs a repertoire of jerks, strokes, punches and caresses to coax her to lift her tail so he can access her cloaca. If she responds, he wraps his tail around hers.

Male snakes are equipped with two penises, known as hemipenes, and can use either to mate. Depending on the species, the organs may be covered with recurved spines, cups, bumps or folds to ensure that the male stays attached to the female until his sperm is released. A mating pair may remain entwined for hours.

Courtship rituals also vary according to species. King cobras, for instance, are snake-eaters, so the female spreads her hood and coils rapidly to show males that she is not a prey item.

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