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Below The Surface

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Snake Hibernation: Too Cool To Move

Imagine living outdoors in a Vermont winter and not having the ability to create your own body heat! Our native herpetological species, including Vermont snakes, respond to this challenge by retreating to an appropriate place to hunker down for the winter to avoid freezing temperatures.


So how do these stationary serpents survive the cold without food all winter? Their metabolism slows down and their bodies use the resources they have stored over the last year in the form of lipids, glycogen and glucose in the liver.
Each species has its own preferred type of hibernacula. Finding the right spot to ball up for the winter is very important, safe hibernacula provide a snake with shelter from freezing temperatures, protection from predators, access to air and enough moisture to avoid drying out. Here in Vermont snakes seek safe hibernating areas under rocks, stumps, roots, or under logs. Some slide into mammal burrows or dig into loose soil.


Some snakes aggregate in large ant-mounds for the winter, a choice usually left to the smaller species such as red bellied snakes, Dekay’s brown snake, young smooth green snakes and young garter snakes. Black rat snakes and the endangered timber rattle snake are also communal hibernators, sharing large and deep rock crevices and cracks. Communal hibernating brings together males and females for mating opportunities before or after it’s too cool to move!


Tessa Faye-Foulds
Environmental Exhibit Specialist

1 comment:

  1. I have seen these snake dens before. I know a guy who puts on snake boots and snake gloves, and crawls through a small opening and catches snakes to milk. He milks them and then releases them back to the den. He says they are docile enough when it is cold that they aren't much of a threat.

    Interesting Post: Artifact

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