The Truth About Snake Hibernation. Can I Go Hiking?

One of the greatest aspects of living in Central Arizona is the proximity to several hiking and camping destinations where we can take full advantage of Arizona nature trails. One of the other great aspects is the typically moderate winters that allow us to enjoy the great outdoors, even if it’s January. You may be wondering, however, if you’re still in danger of crossing paths with dangerous wildlife, particularly rattlesnakes, even during the winter months. Here’s some more info on the subject of snake hibernation.

Rattlesnakes in Arizona Nature

Arizona is home to 13 different species of rattlesnakes. During the winter months, rattlesnakes typically find dens in holes in the ground or beneath rock piles in the Arizona desert. They’re typically located near sunny places, usually on the south-facing slope of a hill or mountain. If you were to find a den of rattlesnakes, you could discover up to 200 of them living in the same den. While rattlesnakes typically stay in their dens until March or April, you can still cross paths with a rattler during the winter, especially if the weather is unusually warm.

More Facts on Snake Hibernation

While the term “hibernation” is typically used to describe what mammals do in the winter months, snakes do something similar, but with a few differences. First of all, since snakes are ectothermic (fancy word for cold-blooded), their body temperature is regulated by external sources. That’s often the reason why so many rattlers can be found in dens together, sharing any body heat that they can. It also explains why rattlers can often be out on sunny days, regardless of what time of year it is. Snakes also don’t store fat before hibernating like mammals, since their body temperatures are not dependent upon metabolizing food. They do, however, go into a lethargic state, called “torpor,” during which they don’t mate or feed.

closeup of snake

Stay Safe During Hiking and Camping Trips

Crossing paths with a rattlesnake can happen any time of year. If you do see one, keep in mind that they are typically only hostile when provoked, and if you take a step or two back and give it plenty of personal space, it will most likely slither away from you. The vast majority of people who suffer a bite “interact” with the snake in some way.