- Snakes do not hibernate, they brumate, just like every other reptile which lives in habitats with significant changes in temperature.
- They may also seek out warm and comfy spots under rocks, in your car engine, your footwear, or even your home.
- Snakes stock up on calories before they brumate and become inactive at 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bears hibernate for the winter. Some mammals stay in warm holes and only venture when it is safe, but what about snakes? Snakes are everywhere, both in some of the hottest places in the world and also in the coldest. During winter, temperatures can drop well below freezing, but is it safe for snakes? What about other cold-blooded animals?
Snakes actually stay away from cold temperatures. But where exactly do they go? In this article, we will review where snakes go in the winter and more fun facts about how they survive such cold and harsh weather!
What do Snakes do in the Winter?
Firstly, snakes don’t hibernate. Instead, they go into a state known as brumation. It is very similar to hibernation, except snakes wake up when the temperatures start to rise and it is safe for them to venture out to drink water and hunt for food. During this state, they sleep a lot, are less active, and their metabolism slows drastically.
Snakes are cold-blooded, which means they can’t regulate their body temperature like warm-blooded animals can. Since this is the case, when the temperature suddenly hikes down, they climb into holes, caves, barns, and even under rocks and logs. Don’t be too alarmed, but these quiet critters also slither inside homes undetected during the winter and have even been found inside car engines, washing machines, and shoes! Maybe beep your horn or check the inside of old shoes left outside before using them so you aren’t surprised by a sleeping snake. Specific snakes like northern pine snakes spend winters underground in hibernacula that they excavate.
At what temperature do Snakes become Inactive?
But the real question is how cold is too cold? When do snakes become inactive? Snakes become inactive when the temperature slowly drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. The keyword is slowly, when the temperature suddenly drops to below freezing, this can be deadly. Typically snakes will slow down and enter brumation starting September to December. This period lasts until March or April, or when temperatures are regularly above 60 degrees.
Do Snakes come out in Winter?
Snakes will stay inside their cozy and warm hiding places during winter. The cold temperatures are too much for their bodies, leading to a slowdown in movement. Snakes will not venture out of their warm hiding places until winter is over. However, occasionally snakes will wake up and look for water and food if the temperature suddenly increases. Typically, this is a short occurrence and they go back to brumation as soon as the temperature drops again. Despite popular belief, there are no snakes that can withstand the cold or snow.
How Do Snakes get Ready for Winter?
Right before snakes enter brumation, their body slows down. This includes their digestive system. It is hard for snakes to digest food, so instead, they consume a lot of fat right before winter. If you have ever noticed more snakes during the fall, this is why! Right before winter, snakes eat mice, large insects, toads, frogs, and worms. Larger snakes eat rodents like rabbits, as well as birds and eggs.
Do Pet Snakes Brumate?
Pet snakes are not that different from wild snakes. Even though pet snakes live in a controlled environment where the temperature does not decrease unless their owner changes it, their bodies still undergo brumation. It is an innate behavior that their body automatically follows. Don’t be alarmed though if your pet snake doesn’t brumate! This is also normal since in captivity they live in warm cages with artificial lighting. Some breeders change the lighting and temperature, forcing snakes to brumate before their breeding season.
Do other Reptiles Brumate?
Snakes are not the only animals to brumate. Reptile species living in areas where temperatures drop steadily need to brumate to survive. Other common animals include tortoises and lizards. These animals won’t move, eat, drink, or poop for weeks and sometimes months. However, not all lizards, tortoises, or even snakes brumate. Some species live in warm, tropical areas and don’t require brumation.
For example, ball pythons are native to Sub-Saharan Africa, but also live in Florida. Both of these places are warm and rarely dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods. Reptiles in Florida will seek shelter if a random cold spell brews in the air, but this rarely lasts long. Instead, if you notice your ball python is not eating as much, know this is actually normal. Ball pythons in the wild and captivity slow down and stop eating to conserve energy right before their natural breeding season.
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- National Library of Medicine, Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4801020/