7 Places Snakes Go During Winter (And When They Return)

garter snake getting water during bruminatio'

Snakes are one animal that seems to disappear once cold weather rolls around. Being cold-blooded means their activity is limited by the temperature. Without being able to generate heat during winter, where do snakes go to survive?

During the winter, snakes will seek out a hibernaculum – a place protected from the elements where they can brumate safely. This commonly includes using rocks, logs, stumps, going underground, or underneath a building. Most of these places will provide both protection and warmth for snakes.

Read on to get a better understanding of where snakes go during winter, how the cold weather affects them, and what happens when they start coming back in the spring. Let’s get to it!

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Where Do Snakes Go In The Winter?

Once the weather begins to cool down and daytime temperatures are consistently below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, snakes will begin to settle down for winter.

Snakes will start seeking out a warm place to be protected from the elements. This place is called a hibernaculum (we’ll cover this more later in this article) and can be used by a single snake or several hundred snakes spending winter as a group.

1. Caves

One of the most popular places for snakes to brumate is in a cave.

(Brumation is the “reptile version” of hibernation. Biologically, they are different behaviors, but they both involve long periods of rest.)

A common pattern you’ll see in the places that a snake seeks out through the winter is they are naturally occurring structures that provide shelter and protection.

The presence of these locations is often what attracts snakes to your yard.

Snakes cannot naturally burrow or dig their own holes to spend winter in so they have to seek out a shelter that is already formed. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources notes that caves make an excellent cover and large caves can be used by thousands of snakes to form a large colony.

Not all species of snakes will behave the same. Sometimes an individual snake will seek out a cave for themselves, or a snake will return to the cave they hatched in year after year. This behavior of returning is particularly common in rattlesnake species and is why in the spring and fall many hikers will stumble upon rattlesnake dens.

If you do stumble on a snake cave while out on a hike, you should make sure to give them plenty of space and avoid getting too close. Cold weather means that snakes are usually lethargic and have very little energy and speed, but one misstep could be life changing for you. It’s best to give these animals plenty of space.

Cave systems can be basic and have only one small entrance that offers protection from other animals getting in. They also might be more complex and provide the opportunity for snake food (like small mice and rats) to stumble through.

During early fall and late summer, snakes will be eating to put on weight for the winter, but will not eat when the weather is too cold for them to digest it. If a small animal stumbles into a snake later in the fall, the rodent may be very lucky!

2. Rocks Piles Near Running Water

Just like caves, rock piles can form many holes and crevices that snakes will call home for the winter. In desert ecosystems that have a cold winter, snakes will often be limited to rocky outcrops to find cover without trees and limited space for other hiding spots.

Rock piles are common in many different environments that snakes are in and make fantastic places to spend winter.

The nature of rock piles also means that there will be a variety of structures that snakes can take advantage of including overhangs, deep crags, and other den-like structures to offer protection from the cold and elements.

Rocky structures (especially near streams and other sources) of water are almost guaranteed to be a place where snakes are spending their winter. Snakes will often pick places close to water because they need to drink it, and once spring rolls back around will attract food for the snakes to hunt.

Rock piles make great structures that offer lots of protection from all angles and many different spots for them to hide. Just like in caves, the size of the structures will often reflect the number of snakes that will spend winter. Once again, this ranges from a single snake to several hundred all calling the same area home.

3. Underneath Individual Rocks

Large caves and rock piles may not be available everywhere so snakes will seek out other places for winter. Often individual rocks will be available and snakes will make their way underneath them as a form of protection.

Since snakes can’t burrow, they will need to look for rocks that offer openings that they can squirm under and make a comfortable area. Snakes will also take advantage of burrows underneath rocks that rodents or other animals dug out earlier. The former resident of these burrows either abandoned them or became snake food.

Snakes who choose to use rocks for protection during the winter do best in mild climates, as those more intense winters could be too cold for snakes to survive with limited cover. In addition, heavy snowfall and flooding, as a result, could be bad for snakes in less than an ideal cover.

4. Logs

Logs make excellent winter shelters for snakes as well, offering plenty of protection from the elements and some extra warmth. Logs will often fall onto the ground and mold into the ground and nearby plants will grow around them offering extra protection from all angles.

Logs also are popular areas for insects and rodents to hide. This means easy meals for snakes in the fall (when they are bulking up for the long winter) or in the spring (when temperatures start heating up again.)

stacked logs of cut trees in the forest. Concept of deforestation

Logs can be flat on the ground or create an overhang of some kind, but snakes are more likely to pick ones that are close to the ground as that offers the best protection from the weather and any possible predators.

While snakes are inactive for the winter they are incredibly vulnerable to predators because they can’t move, or they can only move very slowly. Since snakes rely on external heat for energy, winter means that they don’t have the energy to do much more than survive.

Natural logs are not the only piece of wood that snakes will use for protection during the winter. Dimensional lumber and plywood boards can also host snakes if available. If you have piles of wood around your house, make sure to be careful picking them up in the spring to avoid any surprise snake attacks.

If you have a problem with snakes around your lumber piles during spring or late fall, they may be using them for brumating during the winter months. In fall and spring using a snake repellent product will help keep them away.

Ortho Snake B Gon is an easy-to-use product that comes in an easy dispensing container and works very well to keep snakes away. It is also safe for pets and people, so you don’t have to worry about it being dangerous to your family. 

If you’re into a more natural form of snake repellent, check out our guide on the 6 simple tips for getting rid of snakes naturally!

5. Tree Stumps

Snakes will seek out not only logs but tree stumps as well to make a home for the winter. Tree stumps can offer either shelter in their roots or holes in the stumps themselves to curl up in and wait out the cold.

Snakes will rarely seek out shelter much above ground level even if they have a way of reaching it by climbing up branches or other structures. Tree stumps are often a perfect height by being close to the ground and offering plenty of structure and protection.

Tree stumps are not the best shelter for a snake to use but are often successfully used especially in mild climates. In the Southern U.S. and similar environments where temperatures do not typically get below freezing, snakes will often find shelter in tree stumps as they are plentiful and offer the right amount of protection.

Stumps are often frequently near water as well, which is important because snakes still need to drink water periodically while brumating. On warm days during late fall or early spring when the daytime temperatures get to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit, you might find snakes heading to a stream to rehydrate and then heading back to their dens.

6. Underground Holes

Somewhere underground is one of the most common places for snakes to brumate over the winter for many different reasons. Being underground is one of the warmest and most protected places that snakes can find in nature.

Being underground means that snakes are protected from the cold by utilizing the radiant heat of the earth. This keeps them from feeling the full impact of the cold. Underground shelters are often a few degrees warmer than the ambient temperature outside and this will attract many different snakes into the same area.

Being underground also means that none of the outside elements will reach the snakes underground, offering the most protection that snakes can find in nature.

Snakes will find many different possible underground places to spend winter, including taking advantage of animal burrows, naturally occurring holes in the ground, and even manmade holes.

Wells are common artificial places snakes will spend winter if they are dried out and the snakes can get easy access to them. On top of that, mining activity, excavation projects, and just about any other hole can be used for the warmth and protection that they will provide throughout the winter.

7. Underneath Buildings

Some snakes will brumate closer to humans, which provides them with a plethora of warm cover to choose from. Most commonly they’ll find their way underneath buildings in crawlspaces or near the foundation which offers them all the benefits of being underground and man-made shelter.

Artificial structures are much more protective than natural caves and rocks and usually produce radiant heat. Both of these factors make it very easy for snakes to survive when they are underneath a building.

Rodents are also plentiful near where people are, surviving by scavenging for trash. This can then provide the snakes with plenty of meals.

Often animals that snakes can eat will then attract the snakes to those areas, and rodents are one of the most preferred meals for snakes as one mouse can last them weeks.

Other areas that snakes might use near people are sheds, garages, and anywhere else where they can hide and are likely to be undisturbed. For the most part, snakes will avoid being too close to people, but this is not always the case!

Penn State Extension mentions that snakes can easily find their way into homes through cracks in foundations, torn screens, and open basement windows.

Sealing these up will keep snakes out. Closing these up means that they won’t enter your home. Snakes rarely will try to climb up much higher than a couple of feet to get into a building.

If you find snakes near your home for winter you might need to seal up some cracks they are getting in from and close any basement windows they are using.

To seal up any cracks in the foundation of a building, Liquid Rubber Waterproof Sealant is designed to keep out all animals and reinforce the concrete.

Simply patch any cracks and plug any holes that snakes might be using, and you won’t have to worry about them using the foundation under your house year-round! This is one of the most effective DIY solutions to keep snakes out.

What Happens To A Snake During The Winter?

When temperatures start to drop, a snake will go through several biological processes in preparation for brumating and waiting until spring.

Being cold-blooded means that there are many things that snakes can’t do when temperatures are below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Snakes Will Not Hibernate – But They Will Bruminate

The main survival mechanism for snakes during winter is called brumation, which is a lot like the reptile equivalent of hibernating for mammals. Brumating is not exactly like hibernating because the snakes will still need to drink water throughout and are not completely asleep.

On warm days when the sun is out, snakes are most likely to take advantage of the opportunity to go to the nearby stream to drink water and warm up a bit. Because of the need to drink water, snakes will often pick a den near water to make the trip as short as possible in their vulnerable state.

Cold weather means that snakes are very sluggish and can not move as fast as normal. This makes them easy targets for predators such as coyotes who are searching for a quick meal. This just makes it even more important for snakes to find a den near water to minimize time spent in the open.

Snakes also need external warmth to digest their food, so they will not eat while brumating and for a short period before entering their brumating state.

Since snakes can’t digest food during winter any extra food will rot in their stomachs and will be lethal to the snake. However, before they start brumating they will still need to put on extra weight so early and mid-fall will be one of the most active periods for snakes in preparation for winter.

Snakes Will Seek Out A Hibernaculum

Hibernaculum is a term that refers to a particular den or underground chamber that reptiles use to brumate in over the winter. This term can refer to any area that a single snake is using, or a large colony of thousands of snakes will use.

This will greatly vary between species what they use for a hibernaculum and how many snakes will use it. Some species will prefer to be the solitary resident while others will form large groups to help them thermoregulate and then will use the same den when breeding in the spring.

If you find a rattlesnake den or other dangerous species of snake close to your house, it is best to call a professional wildlife removal service to deal with it. Snakes can be very sluggish during brumation and less likely to be aggressive, however, agitated or scared venomous snakes can still strike if they need to and can be a very dangerous situation.

Snakes will prefer a hibernaculum that also allows them easy access to food sources in preparation for winter and once spring rolls around. This could range from insects to rodents and even fish or bird eggs, as snakes are opportunistic feeders and eat whatever they can capture.

Snakes Slither Back Out And Return In Spring

The times of the year when snakes start to hide away for the winter and when they come back are highly dependent on local climates. In some climates, snakes might not even have a brumating period. Their exact winter period doesn’t follow hard dates or anything, but for much of the country, you can expect snake activity to pause by October and resume again by April or May.

Snakes’ Magic Temperature Is 65 Degrees

65 degrees Fahrenheit is kind of the magic temperature for snake activity. They will be inactive when it is below that temperature and active when it is above. On a sunny day in the late fall or early spring, snakes will be out getting a drink of water and stretching out, but still pretty sluggish for the most part.

As cold-blooded animals, they are endothermic, or heat-absorbing reptiles who need the sun to help regulate their body temperature. Both energy and food digestion is based on this warmth, so snakes will use rocky areas in the sun to soak up the rays or lay on the road.

When the daytime temperatures reach 90 degrees or higher, this becomes too hot for the snakes. They’ll be more active at dawn and dusk laying on roads to rocks that soak up the warmth during the daytime.

Once Spring hits, you can use specific scents that snakes hate in order to repel them.

A Search For Food And Water

During warm days snakes will drink water to rehydrate, and once temperatures start to consistently be warm enough for snake activity snakes will begin to seek out easy meals.

After not eating for 4-6 months, snakes are understandably very hungry and need to put back on the weight that they lost over winter. Since snakes need to rely on fat reserves for winter, they will often end up being very skinny once spring rolls back around.

Since snakes often live near streams, ponds, lakes, and other sources of water, they’ll begin their hunting around these areas. Water will attract insects, rodents, and smaller reptiles that snakes will lay in wait to ambush and turn into a meal.

Since snakes are very efficient with their food they can thrive off of one good meal a week, or spend some time hunting down several insects a day depending on the size of the animal. Snakes also need time to digest after eating and might go into hiding again after a good meal.

You can learn more about what attracts snakes to your yard and how to fix them in our guide!

Spring Is The Best Time For Snake Breeding

Other than food and water, snakes have one more thing on their mind—breeding. Snake dens used for a hibernaculum might be a breeding zone for snakes who then lay eggs that will hatch into baby snakes and then they will return to that same den for the winter.

Or some species of snakes will rely on pheromones to attract a mate and take an individual approach to breed rather than a large population all at once. With over 3000 snake species around the world, there are many different approaches to breeding, however, most species will choose to breed in the spring.

Spring offers the best time for snakes to breed and lay eggs, or in a few species give live birth, for a few different reasons.

The first reason is that being born in spring and early summer gives young snakes the best hunting opportunities for small insects and whatever else they can get their mouths around.

Being born in spring also means that baby snakes have as long as possible to grow and put on weight before the next winter rolls around and the cycle starts over again. Warm weather is the best time for snakes to eat and grow and baby snakes are easy meals for a lot of animals and need all the help they can get.

That’s A Wrap!

I hope that you enjoyed reading about where snakes go during the winter and that you get a better idea when they come back in the spring!

Again, the temperature is the major driving force in snake activity and is vital for all of their activities so even during winter you might stumble on a snake sunning itself on the rare warm day and now you’ll know why.

To summarize, the main places snakes go during the winter are using rocks, logs, stumps, underground, and underneath a building. You may even hear them by one o the sounds and noises that snakes make in these spots!

The main things snakes look for in a hibernaculum are a relatively short distance from water, protection from predators and the elements, and radiant warmth.

References

Brischoux, F., Dupoué, A., Lourdais, O., & Angelier, F. (2016). Effects of mild wintering conditions on body mass and corticosterone levels in a temperate reptile, the aspic viper ( Vipera aspis ). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 192, 52–56.

Holden, K. G., Gangloff, E. J., Gomez-Mancillas, E., Hagerty, K., & Bronikowski, A. M. (2021). Surviving winter: Physiological regulation of energy balance in a temperate ectotherm entering and exiting brumation. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 307, 113758.

Woodbury, A. M. (1954). Study of Reptile Dens. Herpetologica, 10(1), 49–53.

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