Snake Hibernation: Where Do They Go in Winter?

Monday, 15 May 2023

Winter is a time of hibernation and dormancy for many animals, and snakes are no exception. As ectothermic creatures, snakes depend on external sources of heat to maintain their body temperature, making them particularly sensitive to temperature changes. In this blog post, we'll explore the fascinating phenomenon of snake hibernation, also known as brumation, and discuss where these slithery reptiles go during the cold winter months.

Understanding Brumation: Not True Hibernation

Before we dive into the specifics of where snakes go during the winter, it's important to note that what snakes experience is not true hibernation. Hibernation is a state of deep sleep in which the animal's body temperature drops significantly, and metabolic processes slow down. Snakes undergo a similar but less dramatic process known as brumation. During brumation, a snake's metabolic rate decreases, and it becomes less active, but it can still move and occasionally bask to raise its body temperature.

  1. Underground Retreats One of the most common locations for snakes to spend the winter is underground. Snakes seek out burrows, crevices, and other subterranean shelters that provide insulation from the cold. These underground retreats offer a stable microclimate with temperatures above freezing, allowing the snake to remain in a state of reduced activity.

  2. Caves and Rock Outcrops In areas where burrows are scarce, snakes may seek refuge in caves, rock outcrops, or fissures. These natural features can provide protection from frost and temperature fluctuations, creating a relatively stable environment for the snakes to brumate.

  3. Abandoned Animal Burrows Snakes are opportunistic when it comes to finding winter retreats. They often take over burrows abandoned by mammals, such as groundhogs or rodents. These burrows offer protection from the cold and are readily available in various ecosystems.

  4. Rotting Logs and Leaf Litter In some cases, snakes may choose less conventional shelters, such as rotting logs, leaf litter, or other debris on the forest floor. These materials provide insulation, and the decomposition process generates a small amount of heat, helping to keep the snake's surroundings above freezing.

  5. Human-Made Structures Snakes are adaptable creatures and may also seek shelter in human-made structures like cellars, basements, or other underground areas that provide a stable, warmer environment during the winter. While this is less common, it does occur.

The Purpose of Brumation

Brumation serves several purposes for snakes. It conserves energy during periods of limited food availability, helps them avoid extreme cold that could be lethal, and reduces their exposure to potential predators. This winter dormancy also plays a crucial role in their overall survival and reproductive success.


Snake brumation is a testament to the remarkable adaptations of these reptiles. While it may not be true hibernation, it's a crucial strategy for snakes to endure the challenges of winter and emerge in the spring ready to resume their active lives. Understanding where snakes go during the winter helps us appreciate the complexity of their life cycles and the diverse ways in which they've evolved to thrive in their respective environments.

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