Do snakes hibernate?

Hibernation is a biological mechanism for animals that is characterized by a deep sleep, decreased metabolism, reduced body temperature, slow breathing and a low pulse rate. Snakes, like many other animals may choose to hibernate. Their ability to hibernate depends mainly on the climate in their geographical location. Snakes that live in tropical climate zones such as the pythons are active throughout the year and don’t hibernate…In warmer areas, snakes don’t hibernate. Other species such as the poisonous pit viper family go for hibernation.

Snakes in winter
During winter a snake’s body becomes cold, stiff and difficult to move. A cold snake will seek shelter to gather the little energy they have and not waste it during the cold season. Their ideal shelter will depend with what is available in the vicinity when the cold season comes. However, it is important for the snakes to find refuge in places that are below the frost lines during winter so that they may not freeze to death. In this period, snakes use very little oxygen therefore low metabolism rates enable them to stay for long periods of time without eating.

A hibernaculum is the shelter occupied by a snake during hibernation. A suitable hibernaculum may be;

  • A rock crevice
  • A cave
  • A burrow
  • A rock pile
  • A woodpile
  • The foundation of a building
  • An old well
Importance of hibernaculum during hibernation
A hibernaculum acts as a place where a snake can hide in to escape from freezing temperatures. The snake usually returns to the same hibernaculum each year. Should a hibernaculum be destroyed, the snake will die since it has no place to go when the weather becomes too cold. The Mississauga snake hibernates alone unlike rattle snakes which gather in large numbers to hibernate. Some snakes will congregate with different species to hibernate.

During spring snakes are warmed up and they come out from their winter hibernation. This usually takes place in late May. Males emerge first to look out for females who they will mate with. Due to low energy snakes emerging from hibernation are slow and are vulnerable to predators. They will go to an open space with direct sunlight to bask and absorb some energy from the sun. After gathering some energy they will move away to look for food to satisfy their post-hibernation appetite.

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