How Do Snakes Dig Holes In The Ground?

Have you noticed your snake burrowing in the ground?

How is it they dig holes?

You might have noticed snake holes in your backyard and became curious. 

Or maybe your pet snake is burrowing under its bedding, and you want to know why. 

If you’d like to learn more about this, you’re in the right place. 

How do snakes dig holes in the ground?

Snakes dig holes by shoving their snout into loose soil, moving their head back and forth as they slither deeper into the ground.

Read on for more details on the ins and outs of snake burrows.

how do snakes dig holes in the ground

How Do Snakes Dig Holes In The Ground?

Snakes are limbless, so they must use their heads and powerful body muscles when they burrow.

When they dig, snakes don’t ever create a structured burrow. 

Instead, they create a hole just large enough for their lengthwise body to fit in.

Let’s look at one of the most famous digging snakes for more details on how snakes dig. 

How The Hognose Snake Digs Holes

Before it begins to dig a hole, the hognose snake will slide its head along the ground.

It will stick its snout just below the soil’s surface and find a good spot to burrow.

It will initially thrust its head down into the soil by pushing its body forward, keeping its upper body straight like an arrow.

The hognose snake has a snout with a shovel-like appearance. 

Once it pushes down below the soil’s surface, it will rock its head from side to side. 

This will push soil out of the way and dig the snake deeper into the ground.

The snake will gradually submerge its whole body from head to tail. 

As it continues to burrow, it will form a hole in the shape of a coil beneath the ground level.

Burrowing Locomotion

Every snake has four possible modes of locomotion or ways of moving. 

Two of these are used when snakes dig holes and move around inside a burrow: serpentine and concertina.

Serpentine

Also known as lateral undulation, serpentine movements are when a snake forms an S-shape and uses its back half to push forward. 

Digging snakes will use serpentine movements to gain momentum and push into the ground.

Concertina

Also known as accordion, concertina movements are when a snake alternates coiling and straightening motions to move forward.

Concertina is primarily used when snakes move through a structured burrow, one they’ve already confiscated from another fossorial creature.

Which Snakes Dig Holes In The Ground?

The subset of snakes which burrow are known as fossorial snakes

These snakes have some unique characteristics, which optimize their bodies for digging activities.

  • Sharped-edged, hardened snouts are great for digging down into the soil to burrow or find food to eat, like toads and earthworms.
  • Thick spectacles (eye caps) protect the snake’s eyes when it’s underground.
  • Hardened body scales keep the snake from getting hurt when it bumps or scrapes against sharp-edged and rocks.

Examples of fossorial snakes are worm snakes, burrowing asps (also known as mole vipers), Calabar pythons, and hognose snakes.

Do All Snakes Dig Their Own Holes?

For all the holes we notice in backyards and on hikes or camping trips, snakes probably did not dig them. 

Instead, snakes tend to use burrows previously built by rodents and other small mammals.

Some of these nonburrowing snakes will investigate the burrow first to make sure it’s abandoned. 

Then, they’ll crawl in and make it their own home.

Others will barge right in and eat any animals living there, then take it over for themselves.

What Types Of Burrows Do Snakes Use?

Snakes generally prefer narrow and tight enclosures. 

They feel safest when their backs can touch the ceiling of their burrow. 

This way, they know there won’t be any surprises from above, like an attack from a predatory bird.

Nonburrowing snakes will spend their time in hollowed logs, rock crevices, leaf litter, or existing burrows built by other animals.

Some snakes will return to the same hole again and again, treating it like a home base. 

But others will continually move on and find new burrows.

Snakes will also frequently choose burrows with similar coloring to their skin. 

This allows them to better hide from predators and effectively ambush their prey.

Where Can Snakes Dig Holes?

Although fossorial snakes are burrowers, they still cannot dig into hard ground. 

They can only effectively burrow in very soft soil, leaves, mud, or sand, and they will generally dig shallow holes just deep enough to submerge their entire bodies.

Why Do Snakes Use Burrows?

All snakes, whether fossorial or not, use burrows and snake holes for shelter and safety. 

Some benefits of shelters are: 

  • Protection from the elements
  • Escaping and avoiding predators
  • Stealth attacks on prey
  • Cooling off after a hot bask in the sun
  • Bromating (the reptilian version of hibernating)
  • Resting after eating a large meal, mating, or any other strenuous activity
  • Giving birth

As you see, snakes have many good reasons for spending their time in burrows and snake holes.

Why Does My Pet Snake Burrow?

Some pet snakes may burrow as a part of their routine. 

Hognose snakes are popular pets, and they are fossorial. 

Providing them with a loose substrate, like lightly packed soil or sand, will allow them to participate in natural activities.

If your pet is a regular burrower, be sure to regulate its heat-mat temperature, so it doesn’t burn your snake.

If your pet doesn’t usually dig, burrowing under its substrate may be a sign something is wrong, such as:

  • Illness
  • Stress
  • Unideal temperature 
  • Unideal humidity
  • Environmental inadequacies like boredom or hiding places aren’t large enough.

Conclusion

How snakes dig holes in the ground is fascinating. 

Snakes do most things other animals do, just without limbs.

They can dig holes using only their snouts and powerful body muscles.

Every animal needs shelter. 

Without it, they would be in much greater danger of falling victim to the elements and predatory attacks. 

Burrows and snake holes are sanctuaries for snakes, providing a calm and restful place to call home.

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