Forced Hibernation of Neonatal Snakes to Ensure Overwinter Survival

The neonatal life stage is highly vulnerable to harsh overwintering conditions in many reptile species. In addition to this, natural and continuous habitat for many species is being lost due to human-mediated factors resulting in habitat loss and fragmentation.

Using a population of wetland-adapted snakes living in a partially-degraded habitat, we set out to determine where neonatal snakes are most likely to survive various winter conditions. We hypothesized that the snakes will show the highest survival rates within unaltered habitat zones due to the presence of a stable “life zone”.

Over three winters, we used a “forced hibernation” technique and placed juvenile and neonatal Eastern Gartersnakes (Thamnophis s. sirtalis) and neonatal Massasaugas (Sistrurus c. catenatus) into artificial vertical subterranean burrows in habitat zones where a life zone has been proven to exist.

Before Hibernation Fall 2015

Spring 2016 After Hibernation, 180 days later

The first two winters resulted in a 97% survival of all gartersnakes (1 Gartersnake snake died via shrew predation), and the third year resulted in an overall 95% survival rate (1 Massasauga died by unknown causes).

Our results provide the necessary evidence for where ideal snake hibernation habitat exists and further supports our theory that successful snake hibernation requires the continuous presence of a life zone.

Copyright Anne Yagi and Dr. Glenn Tattersall.
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Anne Yagi
Field Ecologist currently studying hibernation ecology of reptiles. Connect with me on ResearchGate and LinkedIn