What Happens to Rocky Mountain Reptiles in Winter?

reptiles in winter

Where do the gopher snakes go in winter?

Have you ever wondered what happens to reptiles in winter?  In the Rocky Mountains any reptiles go into an inactive, sleep like state of dormancy.

Animals in the Rocky Mountains that stay there all winter long choose different strategies to survive the cold winters.  Some animals choose to migrate, while others adapt by growing thicker fur or changing their food.  Still others choose to simply become inactive and wait out the cold time of year. Here is a quick review about reptiles and their strategy to survive winter.

Quick Review of the Different Kinds of Reptiles

First, I just want to do a little review of what different kinds of reptiles there are.  This is important because different reptiles take different strategies to survive winters.

There are four different orders of reptiles, only two of which live in the Rocky Mountains:  snakes and lizards; turtles; crocodilians (not in the Rockies); and Tuatara (not in the Rockies).

reptiles in winter

A painted turtle is a cold-blooded reptile.  This one is warming up in the sun.

Reptiles Are Ectotherms or Cold-Blooded Animals

It is very important to keep in mind that all reptiles are ectotherms or cold-blooded animals.  This means that they can’t regulate their own body temperature.  Instead they get their body temperature from their external environment.

We need to keep this in mind when thinking about what reptiles in winter do to survive.  If it is cold or freezing outside than reptiles would also be very cold or near freezing, making it impossible for them to live.  Therefore, they need to do something to avoid that cold.

Some Reptiles in Winter Go Into A Dormancy Called Brumation

Some reptiles enter a state of dormancy, which is basically a sleep like state, during winter.  The particular kind of dormancy that reptiles enter is called brumation.  Brumation is very similar to hibernation, but has a few differences.  In fact there is debate about whether or not brumation and hibernation are the same thing.

When reptiles are in a state of dormancy or brumation they sometimes wake up.  When they wake up they either get a drink of water or will go outside on a sunny day to soak up some warmth before returning to their sleep like state.

All Kinds Of Reptiles in Winter That Stay In Rocky Mountains Enter Dormancy In Different Places

As we now know there are only three main kinds of reptiles that live in the Rocky Mountains – turtles, snakes, and lizards.  They may be different animals, but they all survive the cold winters of the Rocky Mountains by entering a state of brumation.  They simply differ in where they choose to do it, in a cave, under leaves, or underground.