Snakes are fascinating creatures that have adapted to thrive in a wide range of habitats around the world. As ectotherms, snakes rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. This means that in order to be active, they need adequate warmth from their environment. At night, when ambient temperatures drop, snakes must retreat to sheltered spaces to maintain their body heat. But where exactly do snakes go when the sun goes down?
Many snakes take cover underground at night and during cold weather. By burrowing into soil, leaf litter, or mammal burrows, snakes can escape harsh conditions on the surface. Different species utilize various underground refuges:
- Rattlesnakes, rat snakes, kingsnakes, and other colubrids often reside in abandoned rodent burrows.
- Gopher snakes, pine snakes, and bullsnakes inhabit self-dug burrows in sandy soil.
- Some water snakes and gartersnakes hide beneath rocks or tucked into vegetation at the muddy bottom of ponds and streams.
Spending nights below ground provides insulation from low air temperatures and conceals snakes from nocturnal predators. It also places them closer to potential prey like sleeping rodents or amphibians.
Hiding Under Objects
Covering up under rocks, logs, boards, trash, and other debris on the surface is another common overnight shelter strategy. These objects provide snakes with refuge from cooler air and humidity while also concealing them from harm. Species known to utilize surface cover include:
- Copperheads, cottonmouths, and pygmy rattlesnakes under rocks and logs across the southeastern United States.
- Garter snakes under rotting wood and compost piles throughout North America.
- Racers, coachwhips, and whipsnakes beneath surface litter in the southwestern deserts.
Hiding under clutter helps snakes hold in metabolic heat while remaining hidden from predators like owls, foxes, coyotes, and raccoons. Their camouflage makes snakes well-suited for blending into their surroundings atop the ground.
Arboreal snakes that spend much of their time in trees will also overnight in hollows and cavities above ground. Species known to utilize tree hollows include:
- Rat snakes across the eastern and central United States.
- Pygmy rattlesnakes and pine snakes in the southeastern coastal plains.
- Boa constrictors in tropical rainforests.
- Emerald tree boas in South American jungles.
These tubular retreats provide insulation and seclusion elevated above the forest floor. The snakes’ climbing abilities give them access to these arboreal hiding spots.
Communal Winter Dens
In cold climates, some snakes gather together in communal dens to hibernate through the winter months. Well-known examples include:
- Rattlesnakes congregating in vast numbers at dens in the Rocky Mountains.
- Garter snakes aggregating in limestone crevices and sinkhole caves for winter dormancy.
- Brown snakes sharing winter retreats underground in southeastern Australia.
Huddling with other snakes provides augmented heat retention that increases survival. After emergence in spring, the snakes disperse to spend summer actively hunting alone.
Snakes that live largely in the water also have specialized overnight shelters. For example:
- Cottonmouths and water moccasins wedge themselves into sunken logs and vegetation in swamps and marshes.
- Anacondas coil up beneath underwater roots and branches in the Amazon River.
- Sea snakes conceal themselves crevices in coral reefs at night.
These aquatic refuges allow the snakes to remain hidden from aerial and terrestrial predators while staying submerged to ambush fish, frogs, and other prey at night.
In areas influenced by human activities, snakes will also utilize manmade structures for overnight shelter and cover:
- Ratsnakes hide in barns, crawlspaces, and attics throughout rural areas.
- Racers and coachwhips take cover beneath houses in the suburban southwest.
- Pythons inhabit drainage pipes in urban Florida.
These artificial environments essentially replace natural hiding spots displaced by development and agriculture. Their warmth and protection mimic shelter that snakes would otherwise find in nature.
Factors Influencing Shelter Sites
Several key factors govern where snakes choose to spend the night:
- Thermoregulation – Snakes select shelters that will prevent excessive heat loss during cold periods.
- Security – Hideaways also provide safety from predators and harmful environmental conditions.
- Availability – The types of refuges available are dictated by the snake’s native habitat and range.
- Prey abundance – Access to food sources can also influence shelter choice.
By overnighting in well-suited shelters, snakes can safely and efficiently rest while conserving energy for the demands of daytime activity.
Physical Adaptations for Sheltering
Several key physical adaptations allow snakes to take advantage of protective hiding spots:
- Elongated bodies – A slender, limbless build lets snakes fit into narrow burrows, crevices, and hollows.
- Loose scales – The ability to flexibly expand the skin between scales aids in wedging into tight spaces.
- Camouflage – Cryptic patterning helps snakes remain concealed within shelters.
- Sensory organs – Heat-sensing pits and flickering tongues help snakes locate suitable shelters.
These specializations suit snakes for smoothly maneuvering through vegetation, soil, and other cover in search of overnight refuges.
Behavioral Sheltering Strategies
Snakes also exhibit particular behaviors related to sheltering:
- Many snakes show strong site fidelity, returning to the same dens, burrows, or hiding spots each season.
- Some species aggregate with other snakes for communal overwintering.
- Snakes often occupy shelters for longer durations during shedding cycles when more vulnerable.
- Gravid female snakes may remain inside birthing retreats for extended nesting periods.
Studying how, when, and why snakes use certain shelters provides ecological insights into their life histories.
In summary, snakes utilize a diverse array of shelters for resting and hiding at night and during adverse conditions. From underground burrows and crevices to hollow trees and covered surface debris, suitable refuges allow snakes to remain concealed and regulate body temperature when inactive. Seeking proper overnight shelter is an essential survival strategy enabling snakes to persist and thrive across varied environments worldwide.