Wondering why snakes are cold-blooded? This guide is for you!
Animals are categorized into warm-blooded (homoeothermic) and cold-blooded (poikilothermic).
While warm-blooded animals maintain a constant body temperature, cold-blooded ones change their temperature according to the prevailing environmental conditions.
Snakes belong to the cold-blooded category. Being cold-blooded comes with special needs that the keeper must take care of.
Snakes don’t produce their own body heat, unlike mammals. Being cold-blooded does not mean the snake’s blood is cold. Instead, they rely on external heat sources to warm or cool their bodies. They can’t regulate their internal body temperature without external help.
This is why it is absolutely necessary you take a keen interest in your leopard gecko’s enclosure. Does it provide the heat and coolness your pet needs?
Why Are Snakes Cold-blooded?
Snakes are classified as cold-blooded because they cannot control their internal temperatures. Therefore, they must seek shelter in loose sand and cool surfaces if it becomes too hot.
During the winter, snakes look for heat wherever it can be found.
Exposure to heat warms your snake’s blood. This heat is spread to all body parts as it flows through blood.
The snake is thus able to carry out its biological functions. Food is digested and broken down into energy which gives the snake energy to move about and carry out other activities.
In hot weather, the snake looks for meaningful ways to lower the internal body temperature. This reptile gets into cracks in cool rocks to absorb some of the cooling effects.
The snake drinks more water to reduce the temperature and prevent dehydration. The body temperature is brought down the same way it is raised – blood flowing to all body parts.
If you find your snake edging closer to the heat mat or a sunny patch in the enclosure, it’s looking for warmth.
Your snake’s body temperature can go up when it comes close to an external heat source. So finding the snake snuggling next to you may not be a sign of affection per se.
Instead, the snake has come to associate your body with heat.
Advantages of Being Cold-Blooded (Snakes)
Can Survive in Little Food
Warm-blooded animals have to consume a lot of food, which acts as fuel to heat up their bodies. On the other hand, cold-blooded animals don’t produce their own heat.
This means snakes are not heavy eaters. Actually, your snake pet can comfortably go for days without having a meal.
Snakes consume large prey slowly and can thus last longer without needing another meal.
Snakes are adapted to surviving in some of the harshest environments on earth. As a result, you’ll find deserts in some of the hottest places in the world.
Snakes create natural living spaces wherever they go because they quickly learn to work with their environments.
At the same time, snakes don’t have to live in food-rich environments. Since they don’t eat much, they can survive just about anywhere.
Are Resistant to Most Diseases
Most disease-causing germs thrive in warm conditions. Conversely, most pathogens become dormant when put in cold conditions.
As such, snakes are less prone to diseases because they are not suitable hosts for disease-causing organisms.
As a result, they avoid many of the diseases that affect warm-blooded animals.
Simpler Brain Computations
A warm-blooded animal has to make many brain computations to regulate its temperature. However, a snake’s brain does not have to make as many calculations.
This means a snake uses less energy than a warm-blooded animal. This is a significant advantage for an animal that keeps hunting and chasing food.
Animals with less complex brains don’t use as much energy as those with more advanced brain systems.
This also means a snake can sustain itself more efficiently in adverse times.
Disadvantages of Being Cold-Blooded (Snakes)
At the Whims of the Environment
Since snakes and other cold-blooded animals can’t generate their own heat, they are at the mercy of the environment.
Although snakes can live in some harsh hot desert climates, it’s harder to find them in colder regions.
For example, there are hardly any snakes north of Canada. This is because their movements and reach are restricted by environmental factors.
In wintry conditions, snakes burrow into the ground to find ambient warmth.
But they can’t do so in regions with permafrost because burrowing ice blocks would surely kill them even before they found refuge from the weather.
It’s Hard to Keep Warm
Snakes are forced to be less active during the long cold months of winter because they can’t keep up with the weather.
Hunting, feeding, mating, breeding, and moving around in winter would exert an unimaginable toll on these creatures.
To avoid the trouble, snakes enter brumation, a process similar to hibernation.
They cannot keep their bodies warm because they largely depend on the sun for heat. Without this energy, they can’t do much with their bodies.
The inability to warm their bodies means snakes become more sluggish. As a result, they are more susceptible to attacks from their predators.
In case of danger, the snake won’t be able to escape fast enough.
Can’t Hunt, Eat, or Digest Food
Cold-blooded animals have a hard time during the harsh winter months. Because they can’t get warm fast enough, they can’t catch quality prey.
Also, they need the energy to eat and digest this food. Failure to digest food in good time opens the door to a raft of health complications.
For example, undigested food may rot in the stomach and intestines, spreading dangerous pathogens.
How Do Snakes Survive the Cold-Blooded Life?
Through centuries of evolutionary adaptation, snakes have learned to survive despite being cold-blooded.
This is what they do to overcome their perceived handicap:
Basking in the Sun
It’s common to find snakes or other reptiles resting on rocks or pieces of wood on sunny mornings. This is how cold-blooded creatures absorb the sun’s heat in the morning.
Although basking exposes reptiles to danger from airborne predators, it is a good way of warming their bodies to start the day energetically.
Burrowing in the Ground
Although warm-blooded animals get uncomfortable in hot weather, cold-blooded animals are more susceptible to overheating.
However, they have devised ways to escape the searing midday sun. Just like you would get indoors to escape the noon heat, snakes burrow into the ground to cool their bodies.
The moist ground soil removes the body heat and makes them more comfortable.
Interestingly, snakes also seek solace in people’s homes during the searing months of winter.
This is common in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, where temperatures sometimes go really high.
Have you ever seen some people huddle together for warmth during a freezing moment? Well, reptiles such as snakes do that a lot.
But their plight is much more serious because without coming together to generate heat, they’d lose most of their bodily functions.
Snakes have a way of slowing down their bodily functions. As a result, they become inactive to conserve as much heat as possible.
This means of survival during the harsh winter months when the environmental temperatures plunge to their lowest.
By shutting down most of its bodily functions, the snake has less need for heat.
Creating the Ideal Enclosure for Cold-Blooded Animals (Snakes)
Keeping a snake means you want the best for this reptile. You’ll be keen to create the best conditions for this reptile to be happy and healthy.
Here are a few things you can take care of to ensure that your cold-blooded friend is at home in his enclosure:
Good Temperature Control
This article has explained how snakes need temperatures conducive to their activities. Your reptile friend will be disadvantaged if the temperature is too hot or too cold.
The snake won’t be able to feed and digest food properly. In addition, poor temperature control exposes your snake to digestive problems.
It is prudent to install a reliable external heat source. You have many options for this – from under-tank heating systems to mats and overhead lamps.
You should also install a thermometer that constantly monitors environmental heat and cold rise and fall.
Create Flat Surfaces
Years of evolution have taught snakes that one of the best ways of absorbing heat is by lying on warm surfaces.
Since old habits die hard, indulge your snake by creating flat surfaces on which they can lie as they bask in the heat of the overhead lamp.
This setup in the enclosure has an advantage over what snakes are used to in the wild. There’s no chance your pet will be snatched away by high-flying predators.
In the wild, snakes run to burrows to hide from hot summer temperatures. You can create a similar experience for your pet snake by creating convenient hiding places in the enclosure.
You can purchase some bedding materials designed with this idea in mind for your snake.
Snakes are cold-blooded animals because they rely on the environment to regulate their internal body temperature.
Such animals are technically referred to as ectothermic or poikilothermic.
Having a snake as a pet tells you to go the extra mile to make the temperature control in the enclosure as responsive as possible.
After all, you’d want nothing but the very best for your snake.