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Nature Notebook – Snake Brumation

Where do all the snakes go in the winter?  It’s a question we hear this time of year, when visitors see our resident snakes curled nicely under their heat lamps.

Ectothermic, or cold-blooded snakes living in Michigan’s temperate climate have no choice but to find a place to cozy up and rough out the long winter season. All of Michigan’s species of snakes must hibernate, or in the reptile world – brumate.

Brumation is a more correct way of describing the winter dormancy of reptiles and most amphibians in Michigan, and differs slightly from hibernation in mammals.  From about October – April, snakes in Michigan will stay dormant either underground, in a previously dug burrow, or tucked in a rock crevice or cave.

Since snakes are cold-blooded, their metabolism depends on external heat, like the sun, a hot rock or the constant temperature found underground.  When it’s warm, their metabolism increases and conversely, when it is cold, it decreases. When a snake brumates, its metabolism decreases greatly, and it uses very little energy of the course of months.

In the springtime when the days are longer and the temperature is consistently warm, Michigan’s snakes will poke out of their winter resting spots and embrace the days ahead.