Only snakes that live in cold climates hibernate or more acutely enter Brumation, which I will explain in more detail later in this post.
When Do Snakes Hibernate?
Snakes in cold climates hibernate from mid-October through early May. Snakes hibernate or brumate when the temperatures turn cold and for breeding purposes. Not all snakes need to hibernate or brumate to breed, but in some species, it triggers the snakes to seek out a mate.
What is Brumation?
Brumation is like hibernation. It’s the reptilian version of hibernation, and it happens when the temperature drops.
When the snake goes into brumation they do not actually go to sleep. The snakes slow down their breathing, which brings about a state of low energy for the snakes.
The snakes find a warm place to brumate or hibernate. This usually takes place in the late fall and early winter months, depending on the temperature.
During this time, the snakes become extremely sluggish. It’s difficult to tell whether a snake’s deceased or is simply in brumation according to experts.
The snakes do search for water during this time and once they consume it, they groggily return to their place of “slumber”.
Of course, if you are inducing hibernation for breeding purposes, they won’t have to go far for their water.
The process of brumation is rather interesting and pretty much all cold-blooded animals brumate, including lizards, tortoises, most frog species, turtles, and most all amphibians.
Now that I have explained brumation for the remainder of this post I will use the word hibernation.
Cold Temperatures Bring on Hibernation
I have found that when the temperature dips below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, my snakes start their hibernation period. Snakes in cold climates hibernate from mid-October through early May.
I breed snakes and hibernation is an important part of the process.
Snakes that live in tropical settings or pets that live in a vivarium with a consistently warm temperature are not affected by the cold weather. Therefore, they do not hibernate.
How Snakes Prepare for Hibernation
Before the snakes enter hibernation, they try to fill their bellies and gain some body fat. This helps them to stay alive during hibernation.
While their bodies use almost no energy, they can still lose some of their body fat.
Snakes can sense when the temperatures begin to drop. They begin eating a lot during this period. It usually occurs in mid to late fall depending on where they are located – climate-wise.
While snakes do seek out and drink water during hibernation, they do not eat because their digestion stops, and any food will sit in their stomachs and rot, making them very ill or causing them to die.
Where Snakes Hibernate
The snakes search for a warm place to hibernate. Some snakes spend the winter months in a hibernaculum (means winter quarters.)
Some people, such as myself, who have a lot of lands and large gardens also have a lot of garter snakes.
I build a few hibernaculum’s each year so all the garter snakes and any other species that happen to come along have a nice warm place to hibernate.
It’s extremely and easy and quick to build a hibernaculum. Blocks and dirt are all you’ll need.
Dig a hole below the frost line, place the blocks inside and at different levels, and place the dirt around the sides and a layer on top with an opening for air and for the snakes to get a drink of water.
Ideally, placing this near a water table is a good idea, because if snakes cannot find the water they will dehydrate and can die. This is just one simple way to build a shelter for snakes or even other small animals.
Snakes also hibernate in caves, underground dens and they will also steal the dens of other animals such as chipmunks and woodchucks (snakes do not have the ability to dig their own underground or above ground burrow to hide out in.
They also take up residence in stone walls, homes, and building foundations any crack they can slither in to stay warm for the winter months works for them.
What Happens to Snakes During Hibernation
The snake’s metabolic rate drops sharply, and its body temperature decreases to about 35 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Snakes do not have the ability to increase their metabolic rates for heat generation.
On the other hand, this drop in body temperature allows the snakes to get warmer faster because they do not have to raise their body temperature as high as normal.
Some snakes gather to hibernate and provide body heat for each other. Even snakes that are considered enemies will join in the gather without any incidents.
When spring comes, the snakes slither off in their own direction without any problems, and many times the following fall the same snakes will return.
For some reason, scientists do not fully understand why some snakes that return to the same hibernation spot each year survive and live longer than those that don’t.
Hibernation and Breeding
Hibernation is known to trigger breeding when groups of the same species of snakes have gathered for the winter months.
Snakes that live in cold climates breed late in spring or early in summer. The female can lay the eggs right away or hold on to them for a while.
She will build a nest to lay the eggs in and for them to be protected. Viviparous snakes (Rattlesnakes and Boas etc.) give birth to live babies.
The snakes are born or hatched in the late summer and early fall in just enough time to prepare for winter hibernation.
Most female adult snakes leave the babies as soon as they are born or laid. So, the new snakes must fend for themselves from birth.
Frequently Asked Questions About When Snakes Hibernate
Do snakes in captivity hibernate?
Unless it is for a breeding program, snakes don’t hibernate in captivity.
What happens if the temperatures get warm during the winter? Do snakes come out of hibernation?
If the temperature warms up such as it often does with a January thaw and temperatures rise above normal, snakes will come out of hibernation. As long as the temperature remains warm, sometimes this can last for two or three days, the snakes will be around. This is not good for snakes. They are hungry and start looking for food which they may get lucky and find and, of course, once the temperature drops again, the snake that just ate goes back into hibernation with undigested food, which can make the snake very ill, and it can even die.
Snakes play an important role in the balance of the ecosystem. We need snakes to be healthy so they can do their part.