While snakes are found in various environments worldwide, the harsh, hot desert is one of the first habitats that come to mind. Given that, it may seem like there is no question whether these reptiles like the sun, but it is not that simple.
Snakes do not like extreme heat and will die if left in high temperatures without access to shade. Since cold-blooded reptiles can’t cool their bodies down themselves, they are reliant on finding places to hide when it gets hot outside.
Continue below to learn more about the relationship between snakes and hot temperatures.
Are Snakes Attracted To Heat?
As ectotherms who rely on basking in the morning sun to warm up for the day, snakes are attracted to heat sources to a degree. Reptiles need outside heat, like the sun, to function properly. However, their preferred temperature range is 68 – 80°F (20 – 26.7°C). A few species can handle hotter weather, but above 90°F (32°C) is dangerous and can be fatal for snakes.
This temperature range is why snake season is spring and fall. The limbless reptiles are still active during the summer but during the cooler parts of the day, like dawn and dusk. Snakes have also been known to come out on cloudy days or after a summer rainstorm.
The Hot-Spring Snake
Some species have adapted to handle hotter temperatures than most. The Tibetan Hot-Spring Snake, found around geothermal pools on the Tibetan Plateau, is one example.
While the air on the plateau can reach -4°F(-20°C), the water in the geothermal pools that the snakes live around might be up to 104°F (40°C). This means the snakes are under constant risk of freezing and overheating. In response, they have evolved adaptations such as heat-shock proteins.
To learn more about the Tibetan Hot-Spring Snake and how it lives in such an extreme habitat, check out this article on Science.
What Do Snakes Do To Prevent Overheating?
Unlike in winter, when snakes brumate away the cold weather they are not equipped to handle, snakes stay awake during the summer. However, just like reptiles need help warming up, they rely on behavioral actions to cool back down, such as searching for shade. And they are not picky about where to hide from the sun. Here are a few examples of where snakes may camp out during the heat.
- Tall grass
- Under rocks or vegetation
- Burrows or dens
- Under house decks
Even the most well-adapted desert snakes have their share of tricks to avoid overheating. They will bury down into the sand during the day, only coming up to the surface when it is cooler.
But what if a snake has no choice but to brave the desert snake when it is dangerously hot? For one species, the Sidewinder Rattlesnake, the secret is how they slither. This species’ characteristic, odd movement style means that only two parts of their body touch the burning ground at any time.
In addition, snakes will search for water to cool down. If a shady place is also humid, that’s an added bonus.
Despite an ectotherm’s requirement for outside sources of warmth to function, most snakes can’t handle temperatures above 90°F (32°C). They will overheat and die if stuck out in the hot outdoors. As reptiles can’t sweat or pant to cool down, snakes rely on finding shady places – under rocks, underground burrows, or even man-made structures – to get through the summer days.