While it is true that snakes often hide in holes, they do not construct their holes themselves -- these are primarily the former holes of rodents, turtles and frogs. Additionally, snakes hide inside tree hollows, or under the leaf litter, rocks or bark.
Most terrestrial snakes can burrow through leaf litter or exceptionally loose soil, but few snakes can dig into packed earth. Some snakes native to areas with loose substrates are effective excavators, including the sand boas (Eryx sp.) of Asia and Africa as well as womas (Aspidites ramsayi) and black-headed pythons (Aspidites melanocephalus) from the deserts of Australia. However, in many cases, the loose sand does not retain the structure of a proper burrow -- they essentially bury themselves.
Common Snake Retreats
Snakes spend much of their lives hiding from predators, and they use a variety of micro-habitats to accomplish this. Scarlet kingsnakes (Lampropeltis elapsoides) like to live under the bark of dead pine trees, while black rat snakes (Pantherophis alleghaniensis) live in the holes of hardwood trees high above the ground. Ringneck snakes (Diadophis punctatus) and brown snakes (Storeria dekayi) hide under a variety of surface objects like bark, logs or rocks, though they will also burrow deep into leaf litter.
Characteristics of Snake Holes
Snakes prefer snug accommodations that make them feel safe. Snakes feel most comfortable when their backs touch the ceiling of their burrow or retreat. While a few species show strong site fidelity, other snakes lack true home ranges and will use whatever shelter they can find. You can tell that a hole has had recent activity -- by a snake or some other animal -- if the entrance is clear of spider webs, fallen leaves or other debris.
Other Animals That Make Holes
A wide variety of rodents -- notably rats, mice, chipmunks and prairie dogs -- construct burrows. If they are not careful, a gopher snake (Pituophis sp.), milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum) or black racer (Coluber constrictor) may eat them and steal their home. Water snakes (Nerodia sp.), crayfish snakes (Regina sp.) and other semiaquatic snakes use the burrows made by crayfish and frogs. The federally endangered eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperii) inhabits the burrows made by gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus).
- Animal Diversity Web: Aspidites Melanocephalus
- Copeia: Nest Site Selection by Pine Snakes, Pituophis Melanoleucus, in the New Jersey Pine Barrens
- Virginia Department of Natural Resources: Eastern Ratsnake (Pantherophis Alleghaniensis)
- Pythons of the World; David G. Barker and Tracy M. Barker
- US Fish and Wildlife Service: Eastern Indigo Snake
- Thomas Northcut/Lifesize/Getty Images