Most people know that snakes are ectothermic and the environment is what regulates their body temperature. However, many do not know that they like to maintain their temperature close to 98 F like us.  To do this they must move to locations where they can either warm (like basking in the sun or lying on warm asphalt) or cool (like under rocks or logs).  Unlike us, their temperature can rise to above 100 F or down close to 30 F with few health problems.

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake swimming across the Intracoastal Waterway near Pensacola Beach.
Photo: Andy Barnes

When environmental temperatures become colder, their heart and breathing rates slow significantly. Their blood oxygen levels decrease, and they become very slow and sluggish – a condition we call torpor.  There are some advantages to this, such as not having to hunt for food for several weeks or months, but when the air temperatures begin to climb they become more active… Moreover, their hungry.

 

In the last two weeks, I have had numerous reports of snakes moving around in yards. There have been three records of diamondback rattlesnakes in the Pensacola Beach area alone.

 

Should I be concerned about doing outdoor activities?

 

No, not really – but you should be aware. As it warms, snakes will become more active early in the morning and late in the evening.  Pit vipers, like rattlesnakes and cottonmouths, actually prefer hunting at night.  However, when the temperatures are cool enough for mid-day movement, they will.  Food and reproduction (for some species) are on their mind this time of year.

 

Stay on the trails – snakes typically do not like to be in the open because of predators but they do have to bask to increase their body metabolism; so they may be along the edge. If I am hiking, I tend to look down along the trail when walking.  If I want to observe something in the trees, I stop.

 

These snake movements happen every year, and very people have problems, but with the recent increase in encounters it is could to be aware. I actually think snakes are pretty cool.  I enjoy seeing them, especially ones that are not viewed very often like coral snakes and rattlesnakes.  You should still go out and enjoy the Pensacola Bay area.  It is a great time of year to do it.

Rick O'Connor

Sea Grant Extension Agent in Escambia County

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