Have you ever wondered what happens to your snake when it gets too cold?
You may have noticed that your scaly friend slows down when temperatures drop, and this can be a bit concerning for snake owners.
But don’t worry, it is actually a completely normal part of being a cold-blooded creature.
We understand that you may still have some questions, so we’re here to help answer them for you!
At what temperature do snakes become inactive?
Snakes become sluggish anywhere below 60 degrees° Fahrenheit (16° C). A steady temperature drop is a signal for the snake to enter brumation. The snake will become active again once the temperature rises back to about 60 degrees° Fahrenheit (16° C). In temperate locations, this is generally around springtime.
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What Is Brumation: What Temperature Do Snakes Become Inactive?
60° degrees Farhenheit (16° C) is the temperature signaling snakes to go into brumation.
Brumation and hibernation are two terms for similar animal behaviors, which are often used interchangeably.
However, hibernation generally refers to the deep fall and winter sleep of warm-blooded animals like bears.
Brumation, meanwhile, generally refers to the slowing of body functions, especially metabolism, in cold-blooded animals.
Since they are cold-blooded or exothermic, reptiles and amphibians need to slow down body activity during cooler weather to survive.
Unlike hibernating bears, a snake or lizard will sometimes wake up to forage food and water during brumation.
Sometimes, you may see a lizard or snake coming out during sunny, warmer periods during its brumation to bask.
It is generally easier to wake a snake or a lizard from its brumation than it would be to wake up a mammal during hibernation.
Snakes are generally awake during brumation.
However, they will be lethargic and will not move very much.
If they can, snakes will eat more in the weeks leading up to brumation.
Those who have eaten more before the temperature drops tend to survive better than those who have not.
However, if food remains in their digestive systems during brumation, it will rot, and the snake will die.
When Do Snakes Brumate?
In both the wild and captivity, a snake’s brumation period is most dependent on temperature changes in its environment.
Generally, only snakes living in temperate environments will brumate.
Those who live in tropical environments, for example, do not experience temperature drops, which would require them to slow down body activity to survive.
Temperate-environment snakes are most active in summer or when external temperatures stay between 70° and 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
They will usually bask in the early morning, becoming most active during the day.
Since snakes are exothermic, they rely on sunlight and higher external temperatures for most of their body heat.
Snakes generally go into brumation anytime between September or December, depending on when the temperature drops in their environment.
They will create dens or settle into existing dens made by other animals.
Generally, snakes will look for places where they will not be disturbed by wind, rain, or snow during winter.
We have a post on where snakes go when it rains if you want to learn more on this.
Other places used as dens for brumation include tree stumps, caves or caverns in rock faces, basements, crawlspaces, garages, barns, sheds, woodpiles, and car engines.
Some species of snakes share the same dens for brumation.
Once temperatures rise to over 60° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C) in their environments, snakes will end their brumation and come out of their dens for their active summer periods.
In most places, temperatures rise enough around March or April.
If you are curious about when snakes go into brumation in your area, pay attention to general temperatures and seasonal changes.
In North Carolina, for example, brumation generally starts in late October and lasts until early spring.
In Oklahoma, a different environment, snakes stop activity once the temperature drops to about 56° degrees Fahrenheit (13° C).
Will My Pet Snake Brumate?
If you keep your snake’s environment above 60° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C) consistently, your snake should not need to enter brumation.
Many captive snakes which would brumate in the wild do not in more controlled enclosures.
You do not need to induce brumation in your pet artificially.
However, your snake may still respond to temperature and environmental changes in your home, entering brumation if your house cools down during fall and winter.
Since many reptiles have an innate instinct to brumate, this may happen even if environmental controls are consistent.
If your snake is not eating, drinking, defecating, or moving, it has probably entered brumation.
A brumating snake will usually retreat to the darkest, coolest part of its enclosure.
Provide its regular drinking water for this period, as your snake should occasionally move and will need to hydrate.
Make sure it defecates before entering brumation, as digestion stops once brumation begins, and fecal matter still in the snake’s system could cause health issues.
Also, make sure your snake is free of parasites or disease before it enters brumation.
This applies to snakes, which generally live in temperate habitats in the wild.
Some tropical snakes may go through periods of not eating during cooler weather in captivity.
This is normal, but contact your veterinarian if you see any other brumation behavior in a tropical snake, like a ball python.
This behavior may signal an underlying issue or illness.
Table For Temperature And Activity Levels In Snakes
|Level of Activity
|60° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C)
|61-70° degrees Fahrenheit (21° C)
|70-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C)
|90+° degrees Fahrenheit (32+° C)
|Hyper movement (dangerous!)
Understanding the Temperature Pause in Snakes
We hope we have helped you learn more about how and at what temperatures snakes become inactive during the year.
A snake is most active when its surrounding environment stays between 70-90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
In temperate environments, this usually means during the summer months.
A snake will become sluggish when the temperature drops to 60° degrees Fahrenheit (16° C).
A gradual and consistent temperature drop below 60° is a signal for the snake to enter brumation.
Your pet snake may brumate, but you do not have to force it to.