Snakes, like all animal species, require a few specific things in order to survive: food, water and some form of shelter. Because they live in diverse habitats ranging from forest canopies to desert floors, snakes have adapted to the many different types of shelters available to them. They have also evolved to using these shelters for a number of purposes, including hiding from predators, avoiding extreme temperatures and hunting for prey.
Types of Shelters
Snakes will seek shelter in practically any stable place that is hidden from view and provides protection from the elements and potential predators. They may shelter in underground rodent burrows or dens; under rocks, logs or bushes; in stumps or root systems; in tree knots and joints; or under sand, debris or gravel. Snakes will make use of their particular habitat features in deciding where to seek shelter, and they may opt to find shelter for several reasons.
Hiding From Danger
One of the primary reasons snakes seek shelter is to hide from potential predators. Threats can come from the air -- as with birds of prey -- or from the ground by any number of carnivores, as well as humans. By hiding from sight, snakes can help to ensure their safety during the parts of the day when they are not actively hunting. They can choose shelters for times when they might be vulnerable, such as when they are giving birth or preparing to shed their skin.
Many snake species, like North America's rattlesnake species, will use their shelters to remain out of sight of potential prey. These snakes find a suitable shelter to hide in, wait for their prey -- which in many cases are rodents or other small mammals -- and use their hidden position to strike and kill their prey by surprise. Snakes are patient ambush hunters, some waiting up to 48 hours in a single location for prey to cross their hiding spot.
Many species of snakes thrive in hostile habitats like deserts. The extreme temperatures of these environments are especially tough on ectothermic, or coldblooded, reptiles, as they cannot regulate their body temperatures internally. In order to maintain their homeostasis, many species of snakes will spend the hottest parts of the day in burrows or holes, under rocks and bushes, or even under the sand. During months of cold weather, some snakes will also take shelter in human-constructed habitats, like crawlspaces, basements, wood poles or sheds. Other species may hibernate in dens called "hibernaculums" in large groups during winter months.
- Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife: Snakes
- Auburn University: Seasonal Habitat and Shelter Selection by Reintroduced Eastern Indigo Snakes in Conecuh National Forest, Alabama
- San Diego State University: Rattlesnake Foraging Behavior
- Defenders of Wildlife: Basic Facts About Snakes
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care Collection: Reptile Skin Shedding
- Melissa Kaplan's Herp Care: Reptile Skin Shedding