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.


A diagram of the Life Zone Model which we are measuring the field during winter.


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.


Technician measuring groundwater in a well with a ©Little dipper tape.
Frost is indicated by ice formation (clear) in a tube filled with water dyed red with food colouring.


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