Do Snakes Hibernate?

The word “hibernate” means to spend the winter in a dormant state. Using this definition, snakes do not hibernate. When it gets cool, they go into an active state and feed actively in preparation for a period called “brumation.” This is when their bodies cool down and their metabolisms slow, as well. They become lethargic, but are awake and aware of their surroundings, not sleeping as animals such as bears do.

Snakes are ectothermic, meaning that they cannot generate heat themselves. This is also termed “cold-blooded.” As such, they must get below the frost line in order to survive the winter. They do not eat during this time, but because their metabolisms are so slow, they do not lose much weight.

In some places, mostly in the south and southwest, “getting below the frost line” can mean slithering into an old log or an abandoned rat hole. In the north and east, however, the frost line can go down several feet, forcing the snakes to seek out more creative dens. In places where there are caves, many different types of snakes will be found overwintering together, as the underground temperature remains fairly constant throughout the winter.

When the snakes emerge in the spring, they are ravenous and begin feeding as soon as they can find suitable prey. They will continue this behavior until it gets really hot, greater than 90°F, when they will attempt to find a cooler spot to wait out the heat. Their optimal temperature is between 80°F and 90°F. When the days start to shorten and the nights cool off, the snakes will again become very active feeders, seeking up to twice their normal meals, in order to bulk up somewhat for the winter months. Snakes must defecate before they go into brumation, or their food will rot and eventually kill them, so the process must start and then stop at predetermined times. Once they are “empty,” and the days and nights are cooler than about 54°F, they will start to seek out an appropriate den for the winter.

Read the How to get rid of snakes page for helpful information and to learn more about Do Snakes Hibernate?

Do Snakes Hibernate?

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