Reptile Questions

Building a snake hibernaculum

In my last post, I mentioned that one way to encourage snakes on your property is to build a hibernation den. Naturally the question followed: how does one go about doing that? Personally, I have no idea, but here are a couple of pages about building a snake hibernaculum: this one from the Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-a-Pond program; and this one from Respect the Snake, a website about conserving the Lake Erie Water Snake.

Releasing snakes as rodent control

Mildred from New Mexico writes with a question I’ve received on several occasions:

I was told that the most effective way to combat gophers is with snakes. Is it possible to introduce garter snakes into my back yard? Have you ever heard of this solution to the gopher problem and do you have an opinion on this matter? Is there a way to “direct” the snakes to the gophers? Where does one obtain a garter snake?

Mildred goes on to say that she isn’t sure that New Mexico’s climate can support garter snakes, but in fact there are eight species of garter snake in that state — New Mexico is actually tied with California for the most garter snake species in the U.S. Now that doesn’t mean that every spot in New Mexico is ideal for garter snakes, nor that Mildred’s back yard is suitable garter snake habitat.

And garter snakes are not the best predators on gophers. While several garter snake species can and do hunt rodents, gophers are more than a little on the large side. A lot of people use “garter snake” to refer to harmless snakes in general, but the common striped snakes we know and love won’t do any good against gophers. What Mildred really wants is a bullsnake or a gopher snake, which specifically target pocket gophers. Bullsnakes and gopher snakes are essentially the same snake: the bullsnake is the large subspecies of gopher snake found east of the Rockies. They’re found all over New Mexico.

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On hibernating and transporting snakes

Phyllis Friederich writes with two questions about her four pet garter snakes, but they’re applicable to pet snakes in general.

Her first question: “Do we use the same process for hibernation for the babies as we do for the adults?”

To be honest, I’ve hardly ever hibernated — or to be fussy and use the correct term, brumated — baby snakes. Generally speaking, I only do so under certain circumstances:

  1. They’ve stopped eating for the season and would lose an unhealthy amount of weight if they were kept warm during the winter.
  2. I’m planning on breeding them in the spring and hibernating them would increase the chances of success.

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Note: Entries prior to November 2003 did not have categories assigned to them, and are not included in category archives; please consult the monthly archives.