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CNC: Reptiles under wraps during the winter
by Christie Hill
Naturalist Coordinator at the Chattahoochee Nature Center
January 15, 2014 03:20 PM | 2479 views | 0 0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s wintertime and it’s a chilly outdoor world here in Georgia. I have reptiles on my mind. You may be asking “Where do those snakes, turtles, lizards go in winter?  Are they hibernating?” 

Reptiles are ectotherms.  Their bodies depend on environmental sources to warm or cool them. 

When it’s warm, a reptile’s metabolism is high; when it cools down, its metabolism slows down. 

Many are unable to move around in temperatures that are too hot or too cold. 

In the northern hemisphere most reptiles don’t actually hibernate — they brumate.

Brumation is a process of slowing down, and they may brumate for only a few days, or for weeks at a time. 

Any warmer day during this winter season you might be lucky enough to see a snake or turtle on the move again, or basking quietly in a sunny spot. 

Instead of a deep winter sleep, reptiles become lethargic, sometimes not moving at all for most of the cold season. They remain alert, but since they are cold-blooded their body temperatures depend on the surroundings.  We all know some animals must hibernate to survive a cold winter.  But since reptiles don’t go into a deep sleep in winter they don’t have to live off fat reserves. If it’s cold enough, they don’t even lose weight during the winter.  When a reptile brumates, its metabolism has slowed down so much that it hardly uses any energy over the course of the winter.  A cold-blooded animal doesn’t eat for months, but it doesn’t starve either.

So, where do they go?  Land reptiles in the southern U.S. may only have to find an animal burrow or a tree stump to get low enough to be below the frost line — basically to keep from freezing.  Holes, rock crevices, caves and even leaf litter are possibilities. Jason Clark, star of the Animal Planet series SnakesKin, reminds us that “stacks of firewood are a favorite haunt for many species of snakes due to the many hiding places it provides for them and for the insects and rodents they love to eat.  A copperhead could be resting underneath that piece of firewood you’re about to pick up.”  

Follow his snake safety rules:

Watch where you put your hands and feet.

Never try to kill or catch a snake.

And, for the rest of your life you’ll never have to worry about a snake bite.

Come join us for CNC’s Reptile Day on Saturday from noon to 4 p.m.

Events include:

Southeastern Snake Encounter Show, 1 and 3 p.m.

Jason Clark, brings out venomous and non-venomous snakes during this exciting and humorous show. Watch as kingsnakes and rattlesnakes leave their cages behind and meet some of their reptilian friends. Clark shares how to identify and be safe around snakes while recounting adventures from wildlife removal emergencies.

The Reptile Wagon, noon to 4 p.m.

Get an up-close view of live, native reptiles in this exciting traveling exhibit from the Southeastern Reptile Rescue. Snakes, tortoises and even alligators are waiting to be discovered.

Artsy Alligators and Slinky Snakes, 2 to 4 p.m.

Show your wild side by making an artsy alligator or slinky snake to take home.

Sidewalk Reptile Sketch Contest and Photos, 1 to 4 p.m.

Sketch the reptile of your dreams or real life on your sidewalk canvas. Then, take a Polaroid picture with your creation and paste it into a hand-made frame. You could win a Camp Kingfisher prize pack.

All of this is included with general admission. 

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