Temperate snakes spend more than half their life cycle sequestered underground within their hibernacula or den site. Very little is known about the subterranean micro-habitat conditions that support overwintering survival.
Our hypothesis is that snakes overwinter successfully within wintering sites that do not freeze or flood completely in a space that we call the “Life Zone”.
Life zone data was collected from two hibernation areas previously identified during a radio telemetry study of Massasauga rattlesnakes (Sistrurus catenantus) that showed intra-area fidelity. One hibernation area is low-lying from past peat-mining (Area A) and the second area is not (Area B). Eleven winters (2003-04 to 2013-14) were analyzed to describe the “Life Zone” through periods of flooding and drought.
Results indicate that Area-A life zone was lost following a flood and freezing cycle and implies that Massasaugas using Area-A did not survive. However, this is only indirect evidence and further experiments including snakes within known burrows are recommended.
This is a novel approach to the study of subterranean ecology.