Snakes, being cold-blooded, do not shiver or put on more fat or fur to remain warm and alive during colder temperatures like warm-blooded creatures do. The sun's warmth plays a large part in keeping their bodies at the ideal temperature, as does their ability to slow down their metabolism and other body systems.
Animals are either cold- or warm-blooded. Cold-blooded animals' bodies are the same temperature as the air around them; warm-blooded animals' bodies maintain a regular temperature despite the air temperature. Mammals and birds are warm-blooded; snakes, lizards, other reptiles, fish and insects are cold-blooded.
Basking is the process in which snakes and other cold-blooded animals soak up the sun's warmth by spreading out on a rock or other heat-absorbing surface. On a cool day, snakes will seek out a rock or other surface and spread their bodies out perpendicular to the sun. In many cases, the snake will also spread its rib cage to make its body wider and able to soak up more heat. Some snakes can also make their skin a little darker to absorb more of the sun.
Many snakes, including some rattlesnakes and garter snakes, huddle in large groups when the temperature drops. Sometimes these large groups contain different species, such as rat snakes huddling in hibernation groups with timber rattlesnakes or copperheads. Common winter dens for huddling and hibernation include mammal burrows or under large rocks.
When it's cold, a snake will slow down its metabolic system and muscles. They become sluggish, almost inanimate at times. This is why snakes are more active during hot weather than cooler weather. Unlike warm-blooded animals, snakes and other cold-blooded animals' digestive systems work more efficiently during hot weather. Snakes and cold-blooded animals aren't the only ones who hibernate, however, as some mammals like bears, groundhogs and bats slow down their bodies as well.
- California Institute of Technology Cool Cosmos: Warm and Cold-Blooded
- Fairfax County Public Schools: Eastern Garter Snake
- National Audubon Society Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians; John L. Behler and F. Wayne King
- Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Schenectady County: Facts About Snakes
With a professional background in gardening, landscapes, pests and natural ecosystems, Jasey Kelly has been sharing her knowledge through writing since 2009 and has served as an expert writer in these fields. Kelly's background also includes childcare, and animal rescue and care.