Snakes are not known to be territorial but they do have a ‘range’ where they tend to inhabit. They live in overlapping ranges but try to avoid one another. The only times snakes show signs of territoriality are during brumation and mating.
However, snakes do possess a homing instinct. They have a home range that they move around in according to the seasons. Therefore, it is very likely that they will return to a particular place even after being away for some time. These are places that contain resources that snakes need for survival, such as prey and the right climatic conditions.
Do Snakes Engage In Fights Over Territory?
It is very rare to find a snake keeping other snakes away from their habitat. They do not engage in fights over their territory. Different snake species co-exist at arm’s length unless there is a snake that feeds on other snakes, such as king snakes.
The only time snakes exhibit hints of territoriality is when male snakes are fighting to mate with a particular female or females. In other instances, some species of snake become protective of their dens during hibernation, as they consider intruders to be predators.
Snakes don’t stay in the same spot every day. Provided they are within a certain range, they can climb and sleep on any tree or slither into any available burrow. So, they do not have specific nesting spots in summer.
Related: Do Snakes Live in Groups?
What is the Purpose of Animal Territoriality?
Territories are places where particular species claim and protect from other animals. Normally, territories constitute areas that contain resources that an animal requires for optimal survival and does not want to share.
Since some animals do not want to lose or share the resources with other animal species, they become defensive of their territories; they become territorial. Animals that exude territoriality include birds, frogs, lizards, salamanders, and mammals.
Apart from being a home to the species, territories also act as a breeding area. Most territorial animals breed in their territories and care for their young until the young are old enough to cater for themselves. In these territories, young ones have adequate access to food and protection from predators.
Territorial animals also tend to live in groups. Some even have hierarchies of leadership and solid systems of doing things.
Related: Where do Snakes Hide in a House?
Why Snakes are not Territorial
Unlike other territorial animals such as lions, who live in groups in their territories, snakes do not have territories. Here’s why.
1. Snakes Do Not Have Families
Snakes do not live in family groups. They start living an isolated life the moment they are born. It’s rare to find more than two snakes together unless they are mating.
Territories act as a breeding place for most animals. Reptiles such as lizards have habitats they dominate and protect as their own, where they breed and take care of their young ones until they can fully depend on themselves. But snakes do not raise their young, minimizing the need for territory.
Egg-laying snakes lay eggs in random hidden places and leave them to hatch on their own. Ovoviviparous snakes also give birth to the young ones and leave them on their own. Fortunately, newborn snakes know how to be independent from the moment they hatch (or are born). Thus, the young ones follow different routes and start fending for themselves immediately.
2. Snakes Are Afraid of Other Snakes
Snakes are very skittish creatures. Rather than fighting off another snake, it will be inclined to go into hiding until the threat passes. Even snakes that eat other snakes will try to stalk and ambush their prey, staying out of eyesight as much as possible.
Because of their tendency to flee rather than fight, snakes are not going to stand up to defend their patch. They will sooner flee or hide and wait out until it is safe to again emerge.
When are Snakes Territorial?
The only time snakes become territorial is when male snakes are defending their mating partners from other males. They can also be somewhat territorial during brumation as they become protective of their dens.
There are instances where female snakes thermoregulate under hot rocks, attracting male attention. This leads to combat among male snakes for the right to defend those rocks from other males. The largest and strongest snakes primarily earn the right to defend and ultimately mate with the female snakes.
Elsewhere, one snake species has been observed to be territorial with its source of food. The female Taiwanese kukri snake, Oligodon formosanus, is a snake that aggressively defends sea turtle eggs because of their nutritional value.
What Territories do Snakes Inhabit?
Snakes live in almost every possible habitat around the world, apart from Antarctica. Depending on the species, snakes can live in deserts, water (both fresh and salty), grasslands, trees, swamps, rocky areas, and burrows. However, they don’t stick in one location for so long.
As snakes are ectothermic, they tend to move depending on the seasons to find places that can provide a suitable environment for a regulated body temperature. During summer, when it is too hot, snakes migrate to cooler areas as they can’t stand extreme heat for long.
The one time that snakes stick to one place for a long time is during winter when they go into brumation. This is a state of prolonged inactivity where snakes sleep most of the time and only wake up to drink water. Snakes stay in the brumation state until winter is over and they are able to resume normal activities.
During the brumation period, snakes normally find warm enough places to keep them from freezing to death. These include dens made by rodents, caves, and deep caverns. They also burrow in tree stumps to find suitable shelter. Snakes are protective of their hibernating dens.
Some snake species even hibernate together. For instance, timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, and black rat snakes tend to den together during winter. It is also essential to note that while snakes tend to lead lives singly during normal days, they hibernate in big groups. At times, there will be more than 100 snakes in one cave.
Generally, snakes are not territorial animals. They have no qualms about sharing resources with other snakes and snake species. The two key time snakes show territoriality is when they are defending their mating partners or during hibernation to protect themselves from intruders who could very well be predators.
Snakes tend to live anywhere, provided it is within an area that is abundant with the resources they require. They also lead solitary lives and breed in random places. All these are factors that show why snakes have no need for territoriality.
Joe is a freelance writer for FaunaFacts. Joe has written extensively about snakes for the site, but also contributes content about a range of animals.