Manitoba

Brumate with 100,000 Roommates

thousands of snakes writhe on top of each otherThousands of snakes spend the winter inside the dens. Photo Courtesy of Paul HancockThis piece of the puzzle leads us to the reason why the snakes congregate in such mass numbers at the Narcisse Snake Dens. To survive the harsh winters, garter snakes must find a place that will keep them much warmer than the normal freezing temperatures. This is where the collapsed sinkholes offer a distinct advantage. These sinkholes have formed dens which allow the snakes to get below the frost line of the earth. In places, the frost line can go up to 10 feet in the ground, but below it, the temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees, a large difference from the minus 50 outside. After a long summer with an abundance of food, the snakes all return to the dens and begin the process of brumation which will make it possible for them to survive the winter. Brumation is very much like the hibernation that many mammals utilize during the winter. During brumation, the snakes move and breathe very little, and will not eat anything for up to eight months! To help slow down their bodies’ systems during this time, their blood becomes as thick as mayonnaise while its movement is slowed throughout the circulatory system. Even more amazing is the number of snakes that squeeze themselves into these relatively small dens. Tens of thousands of snakes will slither in, one on top of the other creating large piles with snakes a few feet deep. The snakes better find a comfortable spot, because they will not be moving for a very long time. While the snow and rain fall from the sky and nature’s harsh extremes continue all around them, these red-sided garter snakes rest, nicely sheltered within their dens.