I Bet You Don’t Know What Brumation Is…


Rattlesnakes go into brumation over winter.

Have you ever heard of the word brumation?  It is actually a term used to describe reptiles resting over the winter, kind of like hibernation for mammals.

I have heard a lot of different terms that all relate to animals going dormant or resting as a winter survival strategy.  Some animals go dormant, enter diapause, or go into torpor.  One other less common term,  brumation, is reptiles’ winter survival strategy.  This post will give you a quick overview of what it is and how it differs from hibernation.

What Is Brumation?

It is a period in a reptiles life when the animal enters a dormant state with a lower heart rate and body temperature, and a reduced metabolism.

It is a way for reptiles to survive a cold winter.  Reptiles are a cold-blooded animal (ectothermic) so they get their body temperature from the external environment.  This means when it is freezing outside they can’t maintain a high enough body temperature to survive, so they enter brumation.

brumation, hibernation, marmot

A marmot is a true hibernator.

And What Is Hibernation?

Hibernation is a term used to describe a deep sleep state that animals, mainly mammals, enter for a long period of time (months).  Hibernation is a winter survival strategy for many animals.

How Are Brumation and Hibernation Similar?

Both are terms used to describe a deep sleep like state that animals enter in order to survive bad weather, mainly cold winters.

Both are a kind of dormancy.

In both cases animals have reduced heart rate, temperature, breathing, and metabolism.


Garter snakes coming out of brumation in the spring.

How Are Brumation and Hibernation Different?

Clearly they have a lot in common, but they also have differences.  Unfortunately, this is not a simple clear cut difference that is easily explainable.  I will do my best to explain it here.

From what I can find the two terms both mean about the same thing.  There appears to be debate  about whether or not it is necessary to use the term brumation to describe the kind of dormancy that reptiles enter.  Some think it is not needed and others want to use the term.  Nevertheless, here are a few differences between the two.

First difference – mammals that hibernate (true hibernators) do not wake up at all during their dormancy.  On the other hand reptiles do wake up sometimes in order to drink water.  Reptiles do not need to eat during their dormancy, but they do need to drink water.

Second difference – sometimes reptiles will wake up not just to drink, but will even go outside if it is sunny and warm in order to warm up a little bit.  Then they will go back to sleep.