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Heaven Richey: Snake adaptation in winter months

PEORIA COUNTY (HOI) — We have already felt winter in full swing this November with wind chills falling below zero. Animals are preparing to hibernate but what about the reptiles? I spoke to wildlife experts to see exactly how one particular reptile handles the cold.

There are several types of snakes that live in Illinois ranging from milk snakes, garter snakes, and water snakes. Where do they go in the winter time? With temperatures staying significantly low during November, reptiles have had to accommodate. Corrie Fay, Wildlife Prairie Park Naturalist says,unlike mammals, snakes do not hibernate but go through brumation.

“They don’t totally go to sleep like a mammal would but their metabolism slows down. So their metabolism slows down because they don’t really need to digest stuff as quickly because everything is slow and it almost comes to a stop. That allows them to conserve a lot of energy to get through the winter time,” said Fay.

Before going into brumation, snakes, like mammals, have to stock up on their food supply. It could be deadly if not properly done, and sometimes the snake doesn’t have a choice.

“They will eat as much as they can, but they have to be careful though. If they eat and it gets really cold and they begin going into brumation. If that food is sitting in their stomachs it can start to rot and cause sepsis and infections and things like that,” Fay said.

So where do snakes brumate?

They often find crawl spaces ,or hibernaculums, that are warm and damp, which includes logs, caves, and our basements.
If you happen to find snakes in your home this winter, Chief Naturalist Kristi Shoemaker shared some good news.

“In this area specifically we have not seen venomous snakes for a really long time. Chances are even if the snake is acting in a way where it’s shaking its tail or acting like its going to strike chances are if not venomous,” said Shoemaker.

Most snakes that live here in Central Illinois are not venomous, but you probably won’t being seeing them during the winter time.

More information about snake removal can be found here.

Heaven Richey

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