If you plan on breeding a North American species of colubrid like a rat snake or say a bull snake or hognose snake. You’ve probably started to think about it and when you’re going to be brumating your breeders for the winter.
We’re going to be cover if you should brumate your snakes and how to do it. If you have a snake that you just want to keep as a pet and you don’t plan on breeding it the following spring. Then you don’t have to brumate them. You can just keep them awake the entire year just feed them during the winter as normal. Understand that there’s a chance that they might not eat as well as they usually do. Because of the lack of light or longer nights. Basically, that kind of puts them in a bit of a brumation mode. That tells them I’m not supposed to be eating this time of year. I’m supposed to be hibernating or brumating. If you keep them awake year-round just know that they might not eat every time. The reason why we brumate snakes in preparation for the breeding season in the following spring. When you wake them all up in spring then they’re all kind of in sync with one another and they’re more likely to breed. I’ve also heard that brumating male snakes that help with sperm production and successful results. Therefore I personally brumate anything I plan on breeding the following spring.
Now keep in mind that there are many different ways to brumate them and different times of the year that you can do. This is what I do and we found works pretty well for what we breed. This isn’t going to work for like a ball python or a tropical species of snake to prepare those species for the breeding season. Which they usually breed at a different time of year. It’s usually a bit different it’s a matter of pulling their food or changing their humidity levels. In this article is how to brumate North American species.
Step one of what we do is we just stop feeding them on October 31st or Halloween. Give them their last meal of the year and let them sit for about three to four weeks to clear out their systems from that previous meal. You want to make sure there is lots of time to clear out their systems because of any leftover food inside of them that sits throughout the winter. Risk of spoiling because they need heat in order to digest. You want their systems to be completely empty.
Now after these three weeks are up and we know their systems are clear. Which is usually the last week of November. Simply remove them from heat and start lowering their temperature to the brumation temperature. Which they will sit at through the rest of winter. This is as simple as either unplugging the rack and just removing the heat source altogether.
For step two now with a lot of our snakes. I recommend that you brumate them in the same bin they’re kept in. Just to give them a lot of room and it’s easy to kind of like remove them instead of transferring them to a different bin altogether. A lot of breeders will take the snake and actually move them into a smaller bin. For brumation because they’re not gonna move around a whole lot during the winter. They can be kept in something a little bit smaller they won’t mind it all and you can keep a very basic setup just a cave water dish and that’s it. Honestly, that’s all you need now. You don’t need to have enrichment in their enclosures during brumation because they’re honestly gonna be so chilly that they’re just gonna sit in their cave the entire time. After we’re moving their heat source you can pretty much move them right down to your living room to start cooling them down a bit. The temperature gets gradually cooler the lower you get in your house. You’re just going to let these snakes sit for another couple of days. A gradual slow down over the span of about a week. A lot of people don’t recommend co-having snakes but when you’re brumating them. Since they’re so chilly during the winter. They don’t have any inclination to eat anyway so you can kind of break that rule sometimes when you’re brumating your snakes during the winter. You can have several together usually what I do is we have same-sex pairs together of the same species of course that are of a similar size. That’s when we break that rule and keep them together it’s really just for brumation purposes. Again you want to keep a very simple set up at cave water dish and bedding for hognoses we give them quite a bit of bedding so they can dig around if they want. They don’t really move a whole lot during brumation.
After it’s been about a week since you started removing the heat from the snake’s enclosure. Then you move them into their permanent brumation quarters basically. We’re going to take the brumating snake down to the lowest level of our house where it stays around 58 to 60 degrees in Fahrenheit. It’s a little warmer than I prefer but will cover that later in a second. At this point, we’re going to just move the brumating snake down into the brumation room. You want the snake’s brumation to be dark because in the wild it’s dark or in when they’re hibernating. Now I want to mention quick. Then they should be covered allowing to be cool and they’ll be in the dark. They should be all sleepy during the two months now they will remain like this or at about 57 degrees Fahrenheit for three months by December 1st. They stay at that temperature for December January and February and on March 1st. We start reversing the process we start increasing their temperatures gradually and over the span of about five days. It’s a quicker process to warm them back up. Some breeders just take the snake straight from brumation and they toss them in the rack just like any day they plug in the heat and they’re good to go. In the past, we have done the gradual increase in temperature method over the span of about again five days. I think I’m going to start playing around with just putting them in the rack right away maybe not turning on the heat right away but the next day or two. Turning heat back on to a normal temperature. Then they should be back to normal. That’s how you set up a snake for brumation at least how I do it I’ve found works really well with getting all the snakes into breeding mode the following spring and we end up pairing them after their first meal out of brumation. Right after their first meal. They are ready to pair up. Some people give them a month of food before introducing them to each other. I’ve found the best success just putting them together right away. One exception to all of this in regards to North American colubrids is with fox snakes need it cold they need it about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. When your snakes are in brumation like full-on brumation mode. Check on them once a week. You can of course check on them more but at least once a week check on them and their body condition. Make sure they’re not losing a ton of weight. They shouldn’t if they’re healthy won’t lose much weight at all during brumation but you want to check on them to be safe. Make sure they have fresh water at all times because sometimes during brumation. These guys move around and they fill up their water dish with bedding and then it soaks it all up. If they get wet and they’re cold that can cause upper respiratory infection. Just make sure everything is clean and dry. Make sure their water is fresh.
Now again this brumation cycle that I use works best on North American colubrids but there’s even debate on if you have to brumate these guys at all. Some snakes it’s debatable and if you actually have to brumate them or not or how long you should do it. I do it for three months it seems to work out well. Some people don’t do it at all. If you have a snake that’s just a pet and you don’t plan on breeding it then there’s no need to brumate it. Just keep it on heat keep feeding it as normal throughout the entire winter.