SNAKES IN WINTER – WHAT DO THEY REALLY DO
As Australia’s weather is heading into the wet and cold season, Australians could drop their guard about snakes believing them to be hiding from the wintry weather. Many believe that snakes just “go away” in the colder weather. While snakes may vanish from our sight, they do not “disappear” as people commonly thought.
In the southern, colder parts of Australia such as Victoria or Tasmania, or in mountainous regions where temperatures fall significantly, snakes are certainly less active. Despite this, they can be found underground, in manmade structures, logs, hollows or other places where they can readily access shelter, sunlight or water if available. Do not be surprised on cold days, that snakes will prefer to bask in as much sunlight as possible before settling in for the night.
In Victoria, my services as a snake catcher are still needed in winter. Often snakes are found hiding in animal feed sheds or other places not frequently accessed by humans until one day a log, part of a fence or other structure is moved to unsuspectingly find a snake underneath. During winter, in warmer, parts of the country, snakes can reduce activity but spend less time in a semi dormant state and can still be active. In Northern parts of Australia, temperatures in the wet season can still be quite high and the semi dormant period for snakes is reduced significantly. As snakes are great swimmers, water does not act as a deterrent and instead, they can often be found in water ways.
HIBERNATION/BRUMATION…. A CONFUSED NATION
One of the biggest misunderstandings relates to whether snakes really “hibernate” in winter. No matter where I go or who I speak to, someone is always trying to “teach” me that snakes will hibernate so there is no need to worry in winter because they’re all “sleeping” until the warmer months arrive. To properly understand this issue, please note the following:
Snakes do NOT “hibernate” in the same way mammals do. Winter dormancy in reptiles is known as “brumation”. This is similar to hibernation but has key differences: Instead of experiencing long and sustained periods of inactivity, reptiles still need to drink water or change places should their area become too disturbed. All snakes have different periods of brumation and depending upon the location, latitude and temperatures, this can have different effects on snakes altogether. As snakes depend upon external sources for heat, they can still be found seeking spots of sunlight where available even in cold months.
Therefore it is a semi-dormancy that snakes demonstrate in the colder periods and not total hibernation. In extremely cold weather, the latency period is extended and snakes remain dormant for longer. People need to understand that just because the autumn and winter months are here, that does not mean to become complacent about snakes. Regardless of the temperature, snakes can still be around and can bite any person who is unfortunate enough to come across one. If you see a snake, do NOT attempt to handle or kill it. Simply back away and move around it. If a snake is in or around your home, be sure to call the SNAKE HUNTER on 0403875409. One snake that is very adept to the cold weather is the copperhead snake (See lowland copperhead venomous snake profile on this website).
If you have any questions or want to learn about snakes, follow Mark on Facebook @SnakeHunterAus
Mark Pelley (Snake Hunter)