Summertime BBQ’s are over, kids are back in school, and reptiles are being prepared for their overwintering process in many collections throughout herpetoculture. Some serpents breed during this time, while others wait for the spring warm up. Colubrids typically breed in early spring; there are a few steps to make sure your snake is able to thrive through this period.
The overwintering, hibernation and most commonly called brumation in herpetoculture are all the same; describing a process of cooling temperatures and lower metabolism in cold-blooded reptiles. Hibernation versus brumation has been a controversial topic for many years in herpetoculture. I suggest reading an article John Taylor wrote a few years back as he describes the differences and similarities in great detail. No matter what word you use to describe this process it is a necessity for many species of snakes to induce breeding in spring.
Some Colubridae species need to be brumated at extremely low temperatures while others only need a difference in photoperiod and a slight drop in temperatures. Mountain king snakes, for example the popular Arizona Mountain King Snake (Lampropeltis pyromelana) fare much better with a temperature drop into the low 50s (Farhenhiet) to even the mid-40s. While the most popular Colubridae species the Corn Snake (Pantherophis guttatus) will breed just by dropping the night-time temperatures into the low 60s and daytime highs in the 80s. This nighttime drop along with a shortened photo-period is natural for this species from Florida.
Each species and sometimes a specific locale of said species might need a slightly different brumation period. Changing these temperatures and length of time in brumation is crucial, especially for wild caught stock. It can take years or even decades of trial and error when working with a species that is not commonly kept in captivity to successfully brumate and eventually breed. Many breeders including myself use a cookie cutter approach. Meaning we brumate all of our adults the same, no matter the species. This certainly can’t be done with all species but it is a good start if the animals come from tropical or temperate climates. Research the temperatures of the habitat of where the species you are currently working with if you are having issues with brumation and breeding behavior.
Basic Brumation Technique
Most breeders and hobbyists start their brumation program in early to late September. Now is the time you need to evaluate all the snakes you plan on brumating for essentially breeding next spring.
- Are they of adult size?
- Check body weight. Especially females you plan to breed.
- Check overall health
- no shedding issues
- check mouth for inflamed gums or discoloration
- listen to breathing to make sure there are no clicking sounds or wheezing
- If you have any concerns now is the time for your annual veterinarian check-up. (Fecal exams)
After determining that your snakes are in optimum condition you can start to schedule the brumation process. Here is a basic brumation process used by myself.
October 1 – Offer last meal
October 14 – Turn heat off but keeping daytime temperatures in the 70s
October 21 – Move animals to hibernaculum
February 1 – Move snake to cage in the 70s
February 5 – Turn heat back on for optimum active temperatures
February 8 – Offer first meal
The above example is, an example not a map. You can adjust the amount of time in the hibernaculum and also the temps. It is very important to keep the snake at optimum temperatures for at least 7-14 days after its last meal. Lowering the temperature prior to the snake digesting and defecating its last meal you risk the snake’s health. The snake needs warm temperatures to digest otherwise the food will rot in its digestive tract and cause a serious infection.
Depending on where you live in the world there are many ways to create a hibernaculum for your colubrids. If you live in an area where the temperatures reach below freezing throughout the winter it could be as easy as moving the collection to the basement. If you are in a tropical area you may need to create an enclosed hibernaculum. Wine coolers seem to be the preferred choice for smaller collections. (Make sure there is air exchange) Either way your goal is to keep the temperature as constant as possible with minimal fluctuations. As mentioned before each species can successfully breed with varying different temperatures. Most hobbyists try to provide a constant temperature of 55F for at least 60-90 days.
It is best to use a thermometer to find the most stable temperatures prior to moving your snakes to the area where they will brumate. Once you provide the snakes the optimum conditions for brumation you will need to check on your snakes regularly (2-3x per week). Make sure they are always provided clean fresh water. Scale rot and respiratory infections seem to be the two most common ailments during brumation. Keeping a constant temperature will help in reducing the risk of a respiratory infection. Providing fresh water and a dry clean enclosure will help with the scale rot. If you notice anything out of the ordinary or if your snake is losing body weight during this brumation contact a qualified reptile veterinarian.
Brumation is a natural process many snakes go through and can be beneficial even for neonates. If the appropriate steps are taken this will provide your colubrid(s) with a seasonal cycle and help ensure breeding responses in spring for qualified adults. There are many different brumation processes used and is best to discuss these in detail with other hobbyists that in your area. Let us know how you bromate your snakes on Facebook.