Are snakes endothermic or ectothermic? (Yes or No?)

In this blog post, you will find out whether snakes are endothermic or ectothermic. You will learn the difference between the two concepts, how to properly feed ectotherms, the advantages and the disadvantages of cold-blood animals. 

Are snakes endothermic?

No, snakes are not endothermic (warm-blooded) but ectothermic (cold-blooded).  What makes a snake cold-blooded is a simple fact that it does not produce its body heat. Its blood is not cold, per se; they don’t have ice running through their veins.

The scientific term for cold-blooded animals is ectotherms. To be a bit more scientific, there are a few different types of cold-blooded animals. Homeothermy is when an animal is roughly the same temperature as its surroundings at all times and is not necessarily looking for additional heat sources.

Animals that live in the depths of the sea are a good example; they are only a few degrees warmer than their surroundings, and they remain at this temperature at all times. Then there are the “mesotherms,” which are like warm-blooded animals, but they don’t generate as much heat.

What are ectotherms and endotherms?

Endotherms are vertebrate animals that generate internal heat through chemical combustion of food to maintain adequate body temperature (warm-blooded animals). Most birds and mammals are endotherms including us humans.

Ectotherms regulate their body temperature with the help of the environment, they look for external heat sources such as the sun (cold-blooded animals). Almost all reptiles, fish, insects, amphibians, and arachnids are classified as ectotherms. Some animals have the characteristics of both types.

Both cases have several advantages and disadvantages.

Feeding the ectotherms

In a hypothermic reptile, the metabolism is much lower, therefore the need to have to feed frequently also decreases. A misuse of nutrients would increase the risk of disease.

Nutritional deficiencies are very common in reptiles, a balanced diet is essential to successfully maintain and breed reptiles in captivity.

There is a great lack of information about the feeding of reptiles, especially ectotherms, so problems of obesity and starvation are usually very common.

 We are going to provide some guidance advice for snakes since it is the most common ectotherm in our homes, remember that they should not be taken at face value since each species requires a specific diet and each animal is different.

Tips for the correct feeding of ectotherms

Snakes that eat rodents should generally be fed once a week. But your eating frequency should vary depending on the stage of your life you are in. That is, when they are adults, they can be fed once a week but when they are in the growing season (young or juvenile) they should be fed more frequently and with smaller prey.

We must also increase the feeding frequency after a period of hibernation. As we have commented previously, each species needs a different frequency, for example, boas are less active species and the feeding period can be increased, even reaching a month.

Why are some animals cold-blooded?

Many species around the world are cold-blooded. These include amphibians like frogs and toads, insects like bees, flies and ants, and reptiles.

All of these animals, including snakes, are cold-blooded because it gives them certain advantages in nature, just as the fact that we are warm-blooded gives certain advantages to us as well.

What are the advantages?

The fact that snakes are cold-blooded means that they need much less energy to survive. Mammals need to eat more food, and more frequently than snakes for us to maintain high body temperature. This high temperature supports the function of our organs.

Snakes don’t need these high temperatures, so they don’t need to eat as much.

The brains of snakes do not need to be as complex as those of mammals, because they do not need a variety of biological processes to regulate their temperature. From our perspective, an animal that is not as intelligent as it could be would appear to be a disadvantage; But fewer complex brains use less energy, which is good for a wild animal.

This means that there may be more of them in a given habitat than there would otherwise be. This is because endothermic (warm-blooded) animals have to eat higher amounts of other foods, be it vegetation or other creatures. Because cold-blooded animals eat less, there is more food for everyone, which means larger populations can be maintained.

Many snakes save energy by practising ambush hunting. This is where the snake sits and waits for prey to pass, often from a secluded or camouflaged position, before striking. Some snakes sit on tree branches waiting for birds, like green tree snakes; others disguise themselves under the loose sand, like the rattlesnake on its side. This hunting method preserves a lot of energy, and it is also a way to hide from predators.

Ultimately, all animals have evolved to fit into an ecological niche. While we have done it being warm-blooded, the snakes have done it cold-blooded. For snakes, the above advantages are more than enough for them to get by. 

What are the downsides?

Cold-blooded animals have to deal with many different problems daily. These are:

  • During the winter, snakes cannot stay warm. As such, they have to become much less active than they would otherwise be. This prevents them from hunting, mating, or doing anything else useful. 
  • Because they depend on the heat of the sun, cold-blooded snakes are slower in the morning and at night.
  • Animals depend on body heat to digest, and snakes are no exception. Much of our digestion depends on bacteria. As such, snakes have to bask in a warm place to digest.
  • It is more difficult to care for them as pets. You have to provide them with sources of heat as well as a cooler area. If you don’t, they could die.
  • The fact that snakes depend on their environment to keep warm also means that they are particularly susceptible to climate change. When the temperature of a particular habitat changes dramatically, this affects the snake’s ability to regulate its body heat.

Remember, temperature regulation is reciprocal – snakes also have to find ways to stay cool during the summer. In places that are already quite hot or quite cold, they are at risk if temperatures rise or fall.

Are there any warm-blooded snakes?

Snakes are the most widespread group of species on earth. As such, they have had to adapt to climates from the extreme north and south to the equator. In these places, they have adapted to fit in: changing their colour and behaviour. 

Sea snakes have even developed the ability to absorb some of their oxygen through their skin so that they can breathe underwater. This is all to ask: is there a snake that has turned warm-blooded to fit in with its environment?

No, warm-blooded snakes are not known. Snakes are more common in warm places, like those around the equator. They are much less common, with their northernmost range around southern Canada. Specifically, they cannot move further north than areas where the ground freezes in winter. Snakes can, and will, burrow in the winter to avoid the worst of the cold temperature.

But in areas where the ground freezes, snakes cannot do this. During the winter, they still tried to dig and hide, but the frozen ground killed them in no time. This is like a hard boundary for an animal that cannot generate its heat. If there were warm-blooded snakes, this is where we would find them, but so far none have been discovered.

How to care for a snake

Because a pet snake cannot regulate their temperature, you have to do it for them. If you don’t, your pet will get sick, could be stressed, and could even die. There are many means to help you maintain proper body temperature, including:

Regular nebulization. Most snakes need high humidity levels anyway, so spraying them regularly is part of basic care. This also helps them cool down if it’s too hot.

The hot mats sit under a snake’s enclosure. These provide a continuous source of heat.

Heat bulbs. They are like light bulbs, but they only emit heat. You can also use light bulbs, but they are not as efficient.

What you have to do is keep one side of the enclosure warm, a place to sunbathe. The other side of the enclosure should have a constant temperature without abdominal heat. This allows the snake to regulate its temperature by heading to one side of the enclosure or the other.

They can choose to cool down or heat up, whenever they want. This is a better alternative to keeping the enclosure at a temperature, which could cause the snake to overheat or get too cold.

Conclusions

In this blog post, you found out the snakes are ectothermic and not endothermic. You learned the difference between the two concepts, how to properly feed ectotherms, the advantages and the disadvantages of cold-blood animals. 

Snakes are the most widespread group of species on earth. In a hypothermic reptile, the metabolism is much lower, therefore the need to have to feed frequently also decreases. A misuse of nutrients would increase the risk of disease.

Ectotherms regulate their body temperature with the help of the environment, they look for external heat sources such as the sun (cold-blooded animals). Almost all reptiles, fish, insects, amphibians, and arachnids are classified as ectotherms. Some animals have the characteristics of both types.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!

FAQ on Are snakes endothermic?

Which reptiles are endothermic?

There are no endothermic reptiles. Almost all reptiles, fish, insects, amphibians, and arachnids are classified as ectotherms. Some animals have the characteristics of both types.

Are birds endothermic?

Yes, birds are endothermic. Endotherms are vertebrate animals that generate internal heat through chemical combustion of food to maintain adequate body temperature (warm-blooded animals). Most birds and mammals are endotherms including us humans.

Is the human body endothermic?

Yes, the human body is endothermic. This means that we generate internal heat through chemical combustion of food to maintain adequate body temperature 

Are there any warm-blooded snakes?

No, warm-blooded snakes are not known. Snakes are more common in warm places, like those around the equator. 

Do snakes live in Antarctica?

No, there are no snakes in Antarctica. They are much less common, with their northernmost range around southern Canada. Specifically, they cannot move further north than areas where the ground freezes in winter. Snakes can, and will, burrow in the winter to avoid the worst of the cold temperature.

References

ScienceDirect –  Endothermic

LiveScience – Snake Facts & Types of Snakes

Khan ACademy – Endothermic vs. exothermic reactions

Hi, I am Martin, I am a pet lover! I own a Golden retriever and a Long-eared Owl. They keep me company & I often had questions about them which I couldn't find answers for online. I put this hub together for people like me & you.

Leave a Comment