Being ectothermic (unable to regulate their own body temperature) snakes cannot afford to spend the winter in a spot that freezes. After basking and feeding heavily in the late fall, they seek out sheltered caves, hollow logs, and burrows where they enter a state called brumation. Brumation is to reptiles what hibernation is to mammals – an extreme slowing down of one’s metabolism.
While similar, these two states have their differences. Hibernating mammals slow their respiration down, but they still require a fair amount of oxygen present to survive. Snakes can handle far lower oxygen demands and fluctuations than mammals. Also, hibernating mammals sleep the entire time during their dormancy, whereas snakes have periods of activity during brumation. If the weather is mild, they will take advantage of the opportunity to venture out and bask. They also need to drink during this period in order to avoid dehydration. (Photo: DeKay’s Brownsnake (Storeria dekayi) basking)
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