Cute animals are lovable: ducklings, cats, foxes, rabbits, blah blah- name them. Yes, these creatures play a vital role to the ecosystem, but they are not the only important animals on earth. Less cuddly animals, such as snakes are equally vital to the ecosystem. And while many of us may hold negative opinions about snakes, there are those people who have gone beyond the prejudices, myths, and conceptions associated with these reptiles. Instead, we have learned to appreciate snakes the way they are. Just like frogs and turtles, snakes are cold-blooded animals, meaning that the surrounding temperature is what determines the behavior of their body temperature. Thus, snakes will typically be in trouble during winter. That begs the question, do snakes hibernate?
Rather than hibernate, snakes enter what is known as a state of brumation. During this state, snakes experience a tremendously slowed-down metabolic rate. And while brumation, just like hibernation, involve long sleep, snakes usually wake up at some point to fend for themselves when temperatures rise a little bit. When the temperatures go down, the snakes will resume brumation and the cycle will continue like that until winter is over.
Hibernation and Brumation Broken Down
Not many people are able to strike the difference between hibernation and brumation. In fact, brumation is usually mistaken for hibernation, and that's because of lack of knowledge. While hibernation and brumation are similar, the two processes are not synonymous at all. Let's break each one of them down.
Hibernation: This is a temporary state of total inactivity, when an animal experiences little to no energy, depressed metabolism, and very slow heartbeats/breathing. During this period, the stored body fats are the only source of energy and warmth. In other words, only the basic body processes will be on (though slowed) during hibernation, and the animal will be in deep sleep.
Brumation: Now that snakes are not seen more often during winter, people tend to think that they hibernate. This is a mistaken assumption. In real sense, there is nothing like full hibernation when it comes to snakes. Instead, they enter partial hibernation, which is also known as brumation. Brumation involves a period of dormancy, and the snake may not move, defecate, drink, or eat for up to weeks. Yes, brumation involves sleep but not as much sleep as hibernation involves. Depending on the geographical location of a snake, brumation may begin somewhere between September and December and may continue all the way to April or thereabouts.
Why Snakes Brumate
Up to this far, you may already be aware of why snakes brumate or hibernate partially. Their main goal is to avoid freezing to death. As snakes brumate, they turn into a state of inactivity so that their energy reserves are only used for the basic biological processes, such as breathing as mentioned above. In so doing, snakes are careful not to lose all their energy. That's why they will be dashing out of their hibernacula at the sense of even the slightest warmth. Once the temperatures worsen, they quickly run back into their dens and enter the state of brumation again. This behavior is necessitated by the need to survive. Thus, brumation is a necessity rather than a choice.
How to Know That a Snake is in Brumation
A brumating snake will be asleep or inactive for long. This is usually the first sign. That's because the conditions are very cold and the snake won't be out there moving from one place to another. If you see them moving, they will be looking for food and water, but that won't take long before they go back into their hibernacula.
The second telltale sign of brumation is reduced feeding. Given that the snake will be dormant most of the time, they will not need a lot of energy to survive. Hence, expect them to feed less often.
Where Snakes Go During Brumation
Snakes brumate, they don't hibernate, fact! This takes as to the next question: where do snakes go during brumation? To withstand the harsh cold in winter, snakes tend to turn to hideouts known as hibernacula, which may include such things as your home basement, ground holes, animal burrows, sheds, barns, open pipes, woodpiles, garages, and boiler rooms. Hibernacula are sources of warmth, which is necessary for keeping the snake alive. So it's not unusual to find a snake in your yard or even your house during brumation. While most snakes prefer already existing hibernacula, some species may make their own hibernaculum. A good example is hognose snakes.
What to Think About
Before I take a deeper dive on this one, think about how to protect your home. When any cold-blooded animal hibernates, they may seek refuge in virtually any place, even your bedroom, as long as the place offers some warmth, even a wee bit of it. Now, that's something you don't want to take for granted, given that snakes can be dangerous even in their inactive state. As I mentioned earlier, areas of concern may include such places as basements, garages, pipes, and sheds, among many others.
In choosing their winter sanctuaries, snakes are so cautious to ensure no activity will be taking place there. Thus, any slight disturbance may prompt bites. Yes, most snakes are harmless, but they can cause a state of panic, especially if they catch you unaware. Just imagine moving your sofa to clean your space only to find a snake underneath it? Besides, most of us don't have a lot of knowledge when it comes to differentiating between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Isn't it wise to take precautions then?
How to Protect Your Home from Brumating in Residence
As winter approaches, you will want to address any concerns well in advance as that's the time when most animals hibernate, not just snakes.
Do away with any food sources: The best dishes for snakes include such things as lizards, frogs, and of course, rodents, which is a favorite for the majority of snakes. Now, while you may not be able to completely eliminate all snake food sources from your yard, minimizing them is very possible. One of the best approaches is to have a good pest control program in place. Pesticides, for instance, will make the conditions in your yard uninhabitable for rodents and other snake foods. I must mention that snakes would prefer to brumate where they can easily get food when they need it. Therefore, the nearer the food source is to the snake's hibernaculum, the better for the snake.
Vegetation clearance: Are you keeping the grass in your home short? Do you regularly cut down the shrubbery? Tall shrubs and grass can act as sources of warmth during brumation, and so are the cracks of a building. Getting rid of these things will be an excellent precautionary measure against snakes.
Exclusion: There are hardly any snakes that make their own holes or hideouts. Typically, a snake will occupy a ready-made hole or space, including cable routing, wall cracks, pipes, holes dug by rodents, and other spaces. Sealing these spaces can be a good defense mechanism against snake infestation.
Proper storage: A pile of wood, for instance, can form a good hiberculum. If you have one in your home, you will want to make sure it's well stored as not to attract any snakes during winter. Don't just throw the pile on the ground in your yard. Instead, set the pile at least 10 inches above the ground to prevent access by snakes. Use pallets to achieve this feat.
Snakes don't hibernate; they brumate instead. Brumation is similar to hibernation in that they both involve a state of inactivity or sleep. However, the inactivity in the former is not as much as the inactivity in the latter. That's because snakes get out of their hibernacula to try and find food and water, And since snakes will try to seek warmth from virtually any place, you should be on your guard always; I mean, you should seal any loopholes in your home to prevent snake entry or habitation.