Snakes are rather interesting creatures that come in all kinds of sizes, colors, and patterns and are found all over the world. They can live in the forests, in the deserts, in caves, in mountains, in meadows, and even in water. They can basically live in all sorts of terrain and climates.
Although, when it comes to snakes and climate, there is a question that sometimes comes up, especially now during the colder months and now that “winter is coming”, and that is, do snakes hibernate like their furry friends?
Many animals prepare for hibernation in the months leading up to wintertime. I’m sure you’ve all seen the cartoons of bears, squirrels, deer, and all kinds of animals filling themselves up with food and then going into a deep sleep during winter, and only waking up when spring has returned with the sun.
So naturally, you may wonder, what about snakes and other reptiles? We never see them in those cartoons? Well the quick answer is yes, snakes do hibernate, but their version of hibernation is called “brumation”.
Hibernation Vs. Brumation
In general, the terms “hibernation” and “brumation” can be interchanged acceptably as they relatively mean the same thing. But to get into some detail, this is the difference between the two:
Hibernation is a long-term reduction in body temperature, metabolism, heart rate and breathing, as described on reference.com. It is a type of deep sleep to help animals survive the cold winter after a big feeding. These animals will eat a lot of food so they have enough body fat to “feed” on while they are hibernating, so they do not starve to death. Contrary to popular belief, when animals hibernate they don’t actually stay asleep the whole entire time and only wake up in the end of hibernation.
If the temperature gets too cold, the animal will wake up and shiver to help them warm up a bit. Some animals will even wake up to use the ‘toilet’. Some animals that hibernate include fish, frogs and turtles. One of the most famous animals that are known to hibernate are bears, as I’ve mentioned is seen in many popular cartoons we all saw growing up.
Brumation on the other hand, is very similar to hibernation, however this happens more with reptiles and other cold blooded animals, and they do not actually go to sleep . They just become dormant and less active.
During brumation, the animal will slow down their metabolism to help them survive the cold temperature. During brumation, the animals become lethargic or passive. Sometimes, they won’t even move at all during the whole season.
Why The Long Break From Doing Anything?
So now you’ll ask, why do snakes even have to go through this brumation? Snakes are ectothermic, or cold-blooded, and which, according to the Britannica encyclopedia means: Any animal whose regulation of body temperature depends on external sources, such as sunlight or a heated rock surface.
Since snakes cannot regulate their own body temperature the way humans are able to automatically, this means they are susceptible to the environment and its changes in temperature. They depend on the sun to warm them up enough to give them energy do their thing, so during the winter, they have to slow down their metabolism in order to survive. They find a place to burrow themselves and stay inactive until it becomes warmer – the snake’s version of hibernation.
An All You Can Eat Buffet
Next, you may wonder if the snakes feast the way other animals do during hibernation. To some degree, yes; however during the colder months, snakes cannot feed because there is no heat source for them to derive their energy from. They need the warmth because it helps them with their digestion since as we mentioned, they get their energy from the sun, sort of like Superman, interestingly enough.
The Fortress Of Solitude
Snakes and other reptiles will look for a hibernaculum when it is time for them to brumate. Simply put, a hibernaculum is an area or shelter that snakes and other reptiles stay in or occupy during the winter when they become dormant. These can be places like caves, rock crevices, piles of leaves and burrows.
The Metabolic Slowdown
We’ve established earlier that in order to survive, snakes and other animals will need to slow down their metabolism during cold weather. This is because in cold weather, even as humans, the body needs to expend a lot of energy just to keep warm and to survive.
Things like shivering, increasing heart rate and blood flow are all reactions of the body to help keep our body temperatures warm. This is why people who live in extremely cold weather are required to take in more calories than those who live in warmer climates. Just being outside in the freezing cold can be considered exercise , which could be a pretty sweet deal if you can put up with the frozen weather all the time.
This is the same for animals, especially ectothermic ones. Since they cannot regulate their body temperature, they must do whatever it takes to keep as warm as possible, which is why they find a hibernaculum and do not move, so that they can conserve that much needed energy and keep them alive another year.
Winter Has Come
Finally, you may be curious as to how long they actually stay in brumation for. There are a number of factors that will determine how long a snake will brumate but the most influential factor is the weather. Brumation is triggered when the sunlight starts to decrease and the cold weather kicks in. Depending on where the snakes are, this can be as long as 8 months.
Your Snake And You
As an added bonus, if you have a snake and are actually thinking of putting them through brumation, there are a number of online resources you can check out to teach you about the processes. In general, you’ll keep your snake in a cool container away from sunlight with some sort of substrate for them to be able to burrow in. You can check out LLLREPTILE to learn more about this or check out a video on YouTube from AnimalBytesTV.
So there it is, you now know more about snakes and their version of hibernation. Whether it was for research purposes, to learn about how to brumate your own snake, or curiosity upon seeing a snake burrowed somewhere and not moving during one of your winter camping trip, you now know at least one more fact about snakes.
For whatever reason you landed on this article, let me know what you thought and give it a share to those you think will benefit from learning some interesting facts about animals who get to do absolutely nothing all winter long, making them the subject of envy for us humans.