Winter hibernation for reptiles explained
By Merran Laver
AS YOU MAY know, over the cold months our scaly reptilian friends go into a long sleep called ‘brumation’. They do this so that they can wait out the cold winter; their body temperature drops; and all functions slow down so that they don’t need to eat.
You might come across a curled up Shingleback while gardening, or a sleepy snake hidden beneath something. Eastern long-necked turtles also go into brumation over winter, and will bury themselves in the mud in dams, etc.
Occasionally Wildcare receives a snake that is so badly injured that we need to keep it in care over winter. This can be a challenge, as the snake knows it is winter, but if it goes into brumation, healing will not occur — so it needs to be tricked into thinking it’s still summer.
In care, the snake is artificially heated with lamps and mats so that it can heal from its injuries, which can take a long time. The snake will also be fed a (frozen, but thawed out) mouse every couple of weeks. Naturally the rehabilitation of highly venomous snakes need great care and they are held in a secure, locked, box to ensure family and public safety.
Rescued from wok stand in garden
One such snake was rescued at the end of summer by two of Wildcare’s experienced snake handlers. It was a challenging rescue, as this Tiger snake needed to be cut out, using an angle grinder. Another snake that wasn’t so fortunate had died in the same entrapment.
As Wildcare reptile carer, Frances Carleton, said, “it completely knotted itself in one hole. The snakes had become trapped in a metal wok ring with vent holes, which was being used as part of a plant stand in a garden”.
The lucky survivor, covered in ants when found, earned the name of Sugar Ray. He had constriction wounds and a lot of scale damage, but his biggest threat was the ant poisoning.
SEEN ABOVE: Sugar Ray in rehabilitation. (Author supplied)
Sugar Ray didn’t eat for a few weeks, but drank a lot of water and dipped into the water to soothe his pain. He is now eating and enjoying a warm daily bath, while being kept warm at all times and continuing to heal; and will be released as soon as spring arrives. Frances explained that his “raggedy” appearance is due to shedding “one scale at a time”.
If you see reptiles in winter…
Reptiles will occasionally emerge from their brumation in winter and move around, sometimes for a drink of water or to enjoy some warmth from the sun. If there are no obvious injuries or signs of illness or distress, it’s best to let them be.
Don’t bring them inside to warm up (and keep well clear of a snake!), just place them somewhere safe, away from dogs and cats, and sheltered from birds. If you still see them a day or two later, please call Wildcare on 6299 1966 for help and advice.