Brumation is the reptile equivalent of hibernation; a period of time when they slow down, stop eating, and sleep for weeks on end. Wild reptiles evolved this ability to survive winter, so brumation typically starts in autumn and ends in spring.
For western hognoses, brumation should last a minimum of 4 months, starting in November and ending at the end of February.
For eastern and southern hognoses, brumation should last a minimum of 3 months, starting in December and ending at the end of February.
- Less active than usual
- Remaining buried for weeks at a time
- Loss of appetite
- Preferring the cool side of the enclosure
Brumation is a perfectly normal part of your snake’s annual cycle. In fact, some sources assert that cooling reptiles during the winter brumation period provides a more complete brumation, and therefore healthier, more long-lived animals.
Brumation is definitely more of an advanced reptile keeping technique, so it’s a good idea to keep an experienced reptile veterinarian on hand for any complications (significant weight loss, not waking up from brumation, etc.). Artificial cooling should not be attempted for hognoses younger than 12 months old.
If you wish to provide winter cooling for your hognose during the winter, here’s what you need to do:
1) One month before brumation is scheduled to begin, stop offering food. This gives the snake a chance to clear out its digestive tract and start preparing for brumation. Otherwise, trapped food and fecal matter can rot and poison your snake while it sleeps.
2) Two weeks later, turn off all heat sources so the snake is now at room temperature. Heatless light sources can continue to provide a day/night cycle.
3) At the beginning of November, place the snake in a large deli container, tupperware, or box with holes poked in it. Make sure there is about an inch of substrate in the container for cushioning. Then, transfer the container and snake to the cooling chamber (mini fridges work great for this).
4) Maintain the cooling chamber temperatures at 50-55°F (10-14°C), no higher than 60°F (15°C). Weigh the snake’s container weekly with a digital kitchen scale to track weight changes. Weight loss greater than 10% of the snake’s original weight indicates that there’s a problem, and you need to stop brumation and bring the snake to a vet.
5) When it’s time for brumation to end, transfer the snake’s container from the brumation chamber back to its enclosure and take the lid off. Heat sources should still be off, but heatless lights can cycle as normal.
6) Two weeks later, you can turn on the heat source(s). Within 2 weeks of the heat coming back on, you should be seeing your hognose drinking water and return to normal activity.
7) At the beginning of April, you can start offering food again per the usual schedule.