Snakes can be nocturnal, diurnal, or crepuscular. It depends on the climate, lunar illumination, species, time of year, presence of night time predators, and abundance of prey.
Snakes can hunt both during the day and during the night and rest when they need to. They don’t seem to adhere to any obvious pattern of sleeping patterns year-round.
Generally, scientists believe that can use their environments to their advantage, rest when they need to and hunt during optimal hours.
A European study found that European snakes fall along a spectrum that’s roughly as follows:
- Only Nocturnal: 17% of European Snakes Species
- Diurnal and Nocturnal: 15% of European Snakes Species
- Diurnal with little to no Crepuscular activity: 68% of European Snakes Species
Which Snakes are Diurnal or Nocturnal?
Are Corn Snakes Nocturnal?
Corn Snakes are both nocturnal and diurnal. They particularly like to prey on birds’ nests at night. However, they can also be active at day.
So, it seems corn snakes could be awake at any time of day. It’s up to their choosing! However, this study finds that they tend to be seasonally nocturnal, meaning they’re active at night in summer more than winter.
Furthermore, that same study finds that, of all snakes, corn snakes are the most likely to predate birds nests (primarily to eat the eggs) at night time rather than day time.
Are Rat Snakes Nocturnal?
Rat snakes are both nocturnal and diurnal. Like corn snakes, they are very good at raiding birds’ nests at night.
According to this study, while rat snakes are known to be very active at night, particularly for hunting both bird eggs and baby birds, they are also daytime creatures.
They seem not to care too much about what time of day it is, so long as they have sufficient warmth to be active. Thus, like corn snakes they are ‘seasonally nocturnal’, being more active on warm nights than cold nights.
Are King Snakes Nocturnal?
King snakes are primarily diurnal. The California king snake may be crepuscular (be active at dawn and dusk) during summer months.
During spring and fall, they will be more diurnal than nocturnal, and will be found sunning themselves on rocks.
In winter, many northern king snakes brumate, meaning they are unlikely to be active at all day or night.
Are Milk Snakes Nocturnal?
Milk snakes are a genera of king snakes. Like king snakes, they are more likely to be diurnal than nocturnal.
You may encounter a milk snake at night during the height of summer, especially during a full moon, if it is hungry and not feeling threatened by night predators. They’re commonly found around barns, sheds, and chicken coops during the day or into warm evenings.
Are Garter Snakes Nocturnal?
Garter snakes are primarily diurnal animals. They will be more active at daytime than at night.
This study has found that garter snakes almost exclusively hunt during the day. However, studies have also found that garter snakes “can extend their diurnal activity into warm evenings during summer” (Sullivan et al, 2005).
The further north you go, the more likely it is that garter snakes will brumate during winter, meaning they are unlikely to be active when temperatures go below about 7 degrees Celsius, regardless of the time of day.
Are Rattlesnakes Nocturnal?
Rattlesnakes are diurnal in spring and fall and nocturnal during summer months. They brumate in winter, meaning they’re mostly asleep all through winter.
The fact rattlesnakes are nocturnal in summer suggests they prefer to be out at night if the weather permits.
A study by Robert Moore found that rattlesnakes prefer to be out in the dark to protect themselves from potential predators. In fact, even in summer during full moon, rattlesnakes will be less active in order to avoid predators who will be able to see them at night.
This contradicts the behaviors of other snakes, like Vipers, who tend to be more active at night due to their higher chances of finding prey. Such findings might show that rattlesnakes are lower on the food chain in their ecosystem than vipers.
Other Snake Types
- Louisiana Pine Snakes are mostly diurnal and crepuscular
- Keelback Snakes are diurnal during colder months and nocturnal during warmer months
- Malayan Krait are nocturnal
- Banded Krait are nocturnal
- Malayan Pit Vipers are nocturnal
- King Cobras are diurnal
- MacClelland’s Coral Snakes are crepuscular and nocturnal
- African Rat Snakes are diurnal during colder months and nocturnal during warmer months
- Arabian Whip Snakes are diurnal and crepuscular
Factors Influencing the Nocturnal, Diurnal and Crepuscular Behaviors of Snakes
We can make several observations about factors that influence the sleep and hunting patterns of snakes, as outlined below.
1. Presence of Prey
Snakes need to go where their prey goes. If their prey is crepuscular, chances are the snake will also show some crepuscular behaviors.
Many animals that are the prey of snakes are active during dawn and dusk, so many snakes are crepuscular to make the most of the best hunting hours.
Furthermore, if a snake is in a location of food scarcity, it can be hypothesized that snakes will be active longer to seek prey. In these instances, snakes that are usually diurnal may become more crepuscular due to hunger.
2. Eyesight and Senses
Different species have different levels of eyesight. There are many completely blind snakes while others see with heat sensors, and most have light sensing eyes like humans.
Clearly, blind snakes do not need to rely on light to see. Therefore, the presence of sun doesn’t play into their choices of day or night hunting behaviors.
Nevertheless, presence of sunshine may impact their choice to come out at day. Snakes are cold-blooded and need a warm environment to sustain their body temperature.
Even for snakes with good eyesight, it appears ambient temperature plays as much or more of a factor as quality of light in determining when they are active.
3. Time of Year
Several studies like this one have found that snakes tend to be more nocturnal during warmer times of the year.
As snakes are cold-blooded, they need a warm environment to sustain themselves. Thus, they are more active during warm weather.
As the study linked above shows, many snakes can be very active at night if the ambient temperature is sufficient to keep the snake’s body at a comfortable temperature. Come cooler seasons, their activity turns more diurnal.
Furthermore, as with bears, snakes who hibernate (or brumate) could be more active for more of the day prior to hibernation. It is reasonable to hypothesize that they need to be well fed prior to a long period of brumation, and therefore may hunt for more hours per day.
4. Brumation Behaviors
Snakes in cooler climates, such as northern Canada, hibernate to get through the cold winter.
They will try to find caves, logs, holes, or abandoned burrows where they can be warm. Normally, they will seek out a location far enough into the ground that the soil around them remains above freezing temperature for the whole winter.
They can even hibernate in groups in order to share warmth.
So, if the snake is in a climate that is too cold, it will brumate (a form of semi-hibernation) and rarely come out of its den.
But, a snake will still come out a few times through its winter brumation, especially on warmer days. It will emerge when the sun is strong to get heat from the sunrays and push its body temperature up, before returning to its torpor.
5. Environment and Habitat
Sea snakes tend to be more often nocturnal than their terrestrial cousins, according to this study.
It’s not entirely clear why this is the case, but it may be due to the fact sunlight is less important to sea snakes. These snakes can dive up to 80m deep into very dark waters. Thus, their need for light is less acute than other snakes.
Furthermore, water temperatures may have less fluctuations than air temperatures, allowing them to be active at night.
Different species will have different preferences for when to come out. A range of factors will be involved here, like the eyesight and hunting behaviors of each species of snake.
This is the primary reason that it’s impossible to give one clear answer about whether snakes are diurnal or nocturnal. Quite simply, there is extreme diversity in the types of snake that exist in this world!
7. Full Moon
Interestingly, this study found that the full moon impacts whether snakes are inclined to go out at night.
If there’s enough light out at night (what they called ‘lunar illumination’), snakes may feel bold enough to be more active at night time.
However, the study also highlights that a full moon may also be a threat to snakes if they are lower on the food chain:
“The full moon visually benefits snakes in prey acquisition, while potentially increasing predation.”
Are Pet Snakes Nocturnal?
Snake owners will be able to tell you that different snakes will have different behaviors. It seems that personality has a lot to do with this, too!
As they age, and as they become more familiar with their environment, their levels of activity also change.
Furthermore, snakes can be trained into knowing when food it coming. So, if you feed a snake at a regular time of day each week, you’ll find that it’s going to be more active around that time, once it has learned the pattern.
Pet snake owners are well advised to imitate the snake’s natural environment, meaning providing light for the snake for about 12 hours per day and dark for another 12 hours. You can choose to buy a lunar lamp for your snake if you like, but more importantly, make sure you regulate its cage temperature and provide it with a basing rock.
Snakes can be both nocturnal and diurnal. In summer, snakes like rat snakes, corn snakes, and rattlesnakes, appear to prefer to be more active at night. In spring and fall, they’re likely to be more active in daytime because night is too cold of them.
Thus, there is a wide range of factors influencing a snake’s choice to be out at day or night, including the climate, lunar illumination, the species, time of year, presence of night time predators, and abundance of prey.