Where Do Rattlesnakes Make Their Dens?

© Ginger Livingston Sanders/Shutterstock.com

Written by Gail Baker Nelson

Published: December 9, 2023

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Do rattlesnakes have dens? Where do snakes go when it’s too cold for these ectotherms to function normally?

Finding the answer means learning a little about the animals, and where they live. There are about 56 rattlesnake species between the Crotalus and Sistrurus genera, which includes several subspecies. Their habitats vary from desert to rainforest, but they are all venomous and eat a lot of rodents.

Where Do Rattlesnakes Live?

These snakes are unique to the Americas — North, Central, and South America. Rattlesnakes live as far north as southern Canada and south to Argentina.

Their habitats are as varied as their habits! Some rattlesnakes den with others, while others spend long winters alone in small crevices. Adding even more intrigue, rattlesnakes in warmer climates may never brumate.

Where Rattlesnakes Make Their Dens

A rattlesnake den is sort of a misnomer because it can imply that rattlesnakes dig their dens. They can shuffle a little dirt out of the way, but rattlesnakes don’t typically dig. However, they do take advantage of abandoned burrows, crevices in rock outcrops, caves, and even human habitats like crawl spaces underneath houses.

Some rattlesnakes use the same dens year after year. Northern Pacific, Western diamondback, and timber rattlesnakes share den space with sometimes hundreds of other snakes, and they’re not necessarily all rattlesnakes. Other species, including racers and coachwhips that sometimes eat rattlesnakes, call a truce and share den space when it comes time for a winter nap.

Researchers find that timber rattlesnakes are extremely loyal to a particular den location, and will not use another. Additionally, pregnant females and young snakes prefer basking and hanging out together around hibernacula sites.

Other rattlesnake species aren’t as picky and may take advantage of an old shed or even near your pool equipment.

Ornate Black-Tailed Rattlesnake, Crotalus ornatus isolated on white background

Some rattlers don’t live in communal dens. This

ornate black-tailed rattlesnake

is more likely to slither into a rocky crevice alone.

©Scott Delony/Shutterstock.com

Why Den with Other Snakes?

Because snakes are so vulnerable when they brumate, it makes sense to not eat your neighbor. It also makes sense to share body heat. Northern Pacific rattlesnakes live further north than any other rattlesnake and you’ll sometimes find them brumating in dens containing hundreds of individuals.

For other species, den space is as much about cultivating social bonds as sharing warmth and safety. For example, the Arizona black rattlesnake shares communal dens with the same snakes year after year. They’ve even been shown to form social bonds between particular snakes. Some females will give birth in the same location as a companion female and then protect each other’s young.

Solo Sleepers and Wandering Rattlesnakes

While it’s true that some rattlesnake species, like timber rattlesnakes, are social and use the same hibernacula for generations, others are solo sleepers who catch a break wherever they can.

The solo sleepers include tiger and blacktail rattlesnakes. These snakes typically find rocky crevices and outcrops where they can slither two to four feet below the surface, and you won’t see them until spring. If solo sleeper gets caught where they can’t find a crevice to crawl into, your backyard shed might do just as well.

In contrast, red diamond rattlesnakes sometimes den with other snakes and sometimes don’t. Sometimes they use the same hibernacula for years, and then sometimes they change their mind and go elsewhere.

Some Rattlesnakes Never Hibernate

Rattlesnakes in tropical climates, like the Aruba rattlesnake, don’t need to sleep through the winter. The same is true of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes in southern Florida — it just never gets cold enough to trigger brumation behavior. They may take a small break for a few weeks before their breeding season gets started but don’t have the same weather-related challenges that timber rattlesnakes face.

The same is likely true of the cascabels in Brazil.

Rattlesnake Dens Vary Depending on Location

In the end, rattlesnakes make their dens wherever they must. These predators live in many different habitats and climates, so it’s reasonable that they have different den habits.

Rattlesnakes take shelter from the elements, predators, or when females give birth. Sometimes their shelter is a den, but sometimes it’s little more than a crevice between a couple of rocks.

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About the Author

Gail Baker Nelson is a writer at A-Z Animals where she focuses on reptiles and dogs. Gail has been writing for over a decade and uses her experience training her dogs and keeping toads, lizards, and snakes in her work. A resident of Texas, Gail loves working with her three dogs and caring for her cat, and pet ball python.

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