Have you ever wondered what happens to snakes in the cold?
Do they hibernate as bears do?
As the weather outside gets colder, you may have noticed your snake isn’t moving around as much as it did before.
This begs the question:
When do snakes go into hibernation?
Snake hibernation and brumation, an adaptation of hibernation, usually occur anywhere from September to December and lasts until March or April, depending on when the weather starts to warm up again. However, snakes living in warmer climates may never hibernate or brumate at all.
If you’re curious to learn more about the habits of snakes during the colder season, read on.
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Do Snakes Hibernate?
Hibernation is a term used for animals referring to the period during winter, where they go into a state of deep sleep and lay dormant to converse energy until the environment gets warm again.
For example, squirrels will accumulate an entire stash of acorns and other food to store up for winter, knowing food sources will be scarce once winter strikes.
A hibernation state allows mammals to survive through winter with very minimal supplies, which is accomplished by lowering their body temperature, slowing down their heart rate and breathing, decreasing their metabolic rate, and exerting very minimal energy.
Only snakes in extremely cold or snowy environments will hibernate.
Most snakes in more temperature climates with colder seasons will instead go into a similar state called brumation.
What Is Brumation?
In the wintertime, snakes need to conserve their energy.
This is especially important because they are cold-blooded animals.
They respond poorly to lower temperatures, as they aren’t the best at self-regulating.
Unlike hibernation, brumation does not require as much sleep.
While snakes do sleep for more extended periods during brumation, they still wake up and hunt for food and water.
They can then rest for a while before needing to feed again, as they aren’t burning enough energy to necessitate frequent feedings.
Before entering brumation, snakes will generally increase their food intake to ensure they have enough energy stores to last them through the colder temperatures.
Some skinnier snakes which are unable to stock up on enough food will unfortunately not make it through the winter, as they do not have sufficient stores of energy to tide them over.
Aside from just protecting them from the cold, brumation also serves another essential function: preparing snakes for reproduction.
During brumation, male snakes will increase sperm production, while female snakes will prepare to begin ovulation in the spring.
Male snakes generally emerge from brumation earlier than females, allowing them to establish their breeding territories before female snakes become more active.
At What Temperature Do Snakes Brumate?
The optimal temperatures for snake activity range from 70 to 90° degrees Fahrenheit (32° C).
Snakes begin to drop activity levels when temperatures go below 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15.5° C).
Snakes also use clues regarding daylight hours to determine when to brumate; when days start to shorten, they know less sun will be available, meaning it’s time to consider brumating.
A consistent 60° degrees Fahrenheit (15.5° C) or hotter temperature will summon snakes out of their periods of brumation.
During brumation, snakes will take advantage of warmer days to snap out of their slumbers and spend some time basking in the sun, using the heat to warm up their bodies.
Is My Snake Brumating?
If you’re a snake owner yourself, you may be wondering what the implications are for your pet.
Of course, since you manipulate your snake’s temperature and environment manually, brumation is not the same in pets.
However, it is still possible for your snake to go into brumation.
If you notice your snake has become more lethargic and less active, brumation is a consideration.
However, if it’s not brumation, you will want to take your snake to the vet to make sure it doesn’t have any issues.
So how can you know if your snake is brumating?
First, snakes will move to their hiding spot and stay there for extended periods, staying extremely still.
It won’t eat, as digestion requires too much energy.
Snakes will have periods of activity when they’re brumating.
This means although your snake is acting lethargic, it will occasionally come out of this state to eat and bask under the heat lamp.
You’ll want to make sure your enclosure is not getting too cold, and if the enclosure is warm and your snake is still acting this way, you may need to take it to a vet.
Where Do Snakes Go In Winter?
It makes sense for snakes, a cold-blooded species, to adapt their behaviors when the weather gets colder.
However, where do snakes sleep?
Because snakes aren’t great at regulating their body temperature, they rely heavily on external sources of heat to keep them warm.
For this reason, snakes seek out warm spaces to spend their sleeping hours.
These areas usually include dens made by small rodents or other snakes.
They’ll also burrow deep into covered areas of ground, such as tree stumps, piles of mulch, caves, and caverns.
In non-wild settings, snakes will find industrial places to brumate, such as basements, garages, and pipes.
Their main goal is to stay warm and protect themselves from the outside elements, including weather changes and predators.
Certain snakes species have a very particular place they go to every year: the site where they were born.
For example, Timber Rattlesnakes return to ancestral den sites annually for brumation unless something tampered with them.
One interesting thing about brumation is snakes will sometimes shelter with other snakes, creating a group called a hibernaculum.
The combined body heat in small spaces increases the chances of surviving through the winter.
There have been dens found with over one hundred snakes inside.
Now you know when to expect snakes to go into hibernation or brumation (if they do at all).
Snakes, like mammals and other reptiles, need to conserve energy when temperatures drop.
They do this by brumating, a process similar to hibernation.
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