Snakes love to hide in burrows – however, they are more likely to use a hole made by another animal rather than digging one. Only a few species of snake burrow.
Having a hole underground not only offers a snake a cool, dark place for shelter, but it also helps it hide from predators and catch unsuspecting prey.
Those that burrow only do it in very soft or sandy soil. Since they are limbless, they only use their head and powerful body muscles. When they dig, they don’t ever create a structured burrow. Instead, they make a hole just large enough for their lengthwise body to fit in.
List of Snakes That Burrow
1. Black-Headed Python
These species are found in the Northern part of Australia. They are thick muscular with a striking appearance. The head, neck, and throat have a glossy jet color as the rest of their body range from cream or yellow to a dark brown color.
Despite being excellent climbers, they are also burrowing snakes and prefer to stay on the ground. They can either reside in self-dug burrows or abandoned burrows. They excavated gravel using their heads and vital rostral region, scooped loose material, and created a cavity to conceal themselves. They often make burrows beneath rocks and logs.
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2. Brahminy Blind Snakes
These snakes are native to Asia and Africa, but they have also spread to other parts of the world. These snakes are small, thin, silver, charcoal, or purple. The snout is rounded, the neck is not distinct, and the eyes have been reduced to tiny, nearly invisible dots, making it difficult to distinguish between the head and tail. Their scales are smooth, and their bottom has a small pointed spur at the tip.
These snakes are ground dwellers who spend the majority of their time underground. If exposed above ground with little light, they will seek cover in soil or leaf litter to avoid it. Their smooth scales enable them to slither quickly into the soft sand.
3. Bull Snakes
Bull snakes are found in the central United States of America, Canada south to Texas, and northeast Mexico. Their bodies are light brown or straw yellow, with reddish-brown or dark brown markings in their backs near the tail. Near the head and tail, the spots get darker.
They spend a lot of time under rocks or in underground caverns. They can use other animals’ burrows or dig their holes in the ground. They generally prefer loose, sandy soil that allows them for easy burrowing. For that reason, bull snakes have an enlarged nose shield suitable for digging.
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4. Burrowing Asp
Burrowing asps are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, with few distributed in Israel, Arabian Peninsula, Palestine. The body is thin cylindrical, and black, with smooth, gleaming scales and a short, stubby tail. They have fangs or sharp teeth at the back of their mouth, and their eyes are very small with round pupils.
This species is best known for living underground and rarely surfaces except during heavy rains. They can crawl through burrows dug by other animals, but they can also force their heads through loose sand and dig their own. They use their fangs and take a full bite when burrowing.
5. Calabar Python
The Calabar Python is a non-venomous boa snake found in West and Central Africa. Although the snake is classified as a python, no other python in the world has the same body shape as this one. The species has a reputation for being docile, shy, and elusive.
The coloration varies, but it is typically reddish-brown with tan, yellow, or orange specks and blotches. Both the head and tail are dark brown. They are fossorial species that have adapted well to life underground. Their burrowing behavior is facilitated by their smooth body scales, an upturned rostral scale on the snout, and tiny eyes.
They also spend a significant amount of time foraging in rodent burrows. Unlike other burrowing boas, they dig through loose rainforest soil and leaf litter, and they frequently seek shelter beneath fallen trees rather than burrowing in sand.
Copperhead snakes are found throughout the eastern and central United States but not in Florida or south-central Georgia. They are medium-sized snakes with pretty thick and robust bodies. The head is triangular and is a vibrant copper-red color.
A distinct ridge separates the top of their heads from their eyes and nostrils. The pupil is vertical, and the iris is mainly orange but can be reddish-brown.
Rather than digging their burrows, they often occupy abandoned burrows that were once curved by smaller rodents, like chipmunks, mice, and other mammals.
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7. Glossy Snakes
These snakes are found in the United States and Mexico. They get their name from their smooth, shiny scales, which set them apart from related species. The body is typically light beige or gray, with dark edges surrounding the gold-brown or olive grayscale patterns.
They are excellent burrowers as their countersunk lower jaw and specialized nose enables them to burrow into loose sandy or loamy soils quickly. They use their burrows to cool off, rest during the day or hibernate during cold autumn and winter months.
However, they may also take shelter in abandoned burrows of small animals and under rocks. They are often found in these burrows during the day.
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8. Hognose Snakes
Hognose snakes can be found from the east coast of the United States to the southeastern United States and southern Canada, and northern Mexico. Their color and pattern vary greatly depending on the species.
Hognose snakes brumate in underground burrows to help regulate their body temperature during the winter. They dig their burrows or take over the abandoned stunk or fox dens. Before it begins to dig a hole, the hognose snake will slide its head along the ground and stick its snout just below the soil’s surface to find a perfect spot to burrow.
It initially thrusts its head down into the soil by pushing its body forward, keeping its upper body straight like an arrow. They use their upturned snouts (shovel-like) to root around in the dirt, sweeping side to side motion. It gradually forms a hole in the shape of a coil beneath the ground level.
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This is a python-like snake from Central America and Mexico. The coloration usually is dark with blotches of white scales, but all pigment cells may disappear after shedding, leaving it white with only small dark spots on its head.
These snakes can dig their burrows; they have solid muscular bodies with a shovel-shaped snout and tiny eyes to aid in burrowing through loose soil. They spend a lot of time underground, but they do surface to hunt.
10. Louisiana Pine Snake
These snakes are found in Louisiana and east Texas. They are dull yellow, beige, or pale tan, in color with thirty to thirty-seven large black/brown blotches on the back that appear in tight clusters near the head and become sparse near the tail. Their belly is whitish with dark brown half-moon splotches.
Pine snake spends the majority of their time under the ground. It can dig its burrow, or it uses abandoned mammalian burrows. They can burrow into pocket gopher tunnels because of their ridged scales and pointed snouts. They use their holes to nest and hide during the summer and hibernate during the winter.
11. Middle American Burrowing Snake
These snakes are found in Mexico and Central America. They are tiny snakes. It is pale reddish-brown on the dorsal side with 4 or 5 narrow blackish stripes. It can also be whitish on the ventral side, with a brown bar running down the middle of the tail. A zig-zag black line runs down the last three or four centimeters of their underside.
These burrowing snakes are nocturnal (active at night). They generally inhabit underground tunnels and spend a lot of time in them, but they can surface to hunt.
12. Old World Sand Boas
These boas belong to Erycinae species found in Europe, Asia Minor, Arabia, Africa, central and southwestern Asia, Sri Lanka, India, and western North America. Sand boas spend most of their time buried just beneath the surface in sand or loose soil, with only their eyes and nostrils visible.
While these snakes like to burrow, they often utilize abandoned mammal burrows. They use their small triangular head like a trowel to dig sand. Their small eyes and complex scales on their skin protect them from sand grit when burrowing.
The mouth is situated in such a way as to avoid ingesting soil while digging. Most of these species have brown or tan scales to camouflage with their sandy surroundings.
13. Ring-Necked Snakes
The ring-necked snake is found in eastern and central North America. They come in various colors and patterns depending on the species. It gets its name from the ring-shaped stripe around its neck, and they’re all small and slightly venomous.
Like other small woodland snakes, ringneck snakes spend most of their time underground or hidden beneath logs, leaf litter, debris, or rocks. Any burrows they may make can be communally shared and will be deep enough to protect from the heat of the summer and the freezing temperatures of winter.
14. Slender Blind Snakes
Slender blind snakes are found in North America, South America, Africa, and southwest Asia. The backs of most slender blind snakes are all the same color. They could be pink, light or dark brown, black, or grey. They are thin snakes with smooth, gleaming scales and tube-shaped bodies roughly the same diameter from head to tail. They have teeth in their lower jaw but no teeth in their upper jaw.
When moving underground, they extensively use pre-existing animal burrows and root systems. They may appear to lack the strength required to dig their tunnels, but these snakes can burrow quickly into loose soils such as sand.
Although these sly snakes spend most of their lives underground, they venture above ground to look for food in the evenings.
15. Simoselaps (Australian Coral Snake)
They are found throughout Australia, primarily in arid regions. They are small and glossy, with creamy pale bands around their bodies that are dark at the edges. They have a black blotch or bar on the head, a broad black bar across the neck, and a bright, creamy white belly.
They are burrowing snakes that move beneath the surface in sand or soil. They have smooth and polished scales and shovel-shaped snouts perfect for burrowing. They only come to the surface at night to feed on small lizards and eggs of other animals.
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16. Thread Snakes
Blind snakes can be found in Western Asia, Africa, Central America, southwestern United States, South America, and Mexico. They are small, thin snakes with smooth scales that appear shiny and wet, resembling giant worms. They lack actual eyes and instead have dark eye spots where eyes would usually be.
Blind snakes are fossorial or burrowing species that spend most of their lives in deep soil layers. They also use burrows of ants and termites. They leave their underground home during rainy weather.
17. Uropeltidae/Shield Tails Snakes
Shield tails are native to southern India. The upper surface of the tail is circular-like and is covered in thickened spiky scales or a much-enlarged spiky plate. The dorsal scales are noticeably smaller. The body is cylindrical, with smooth scales covering it.
Uropeltids are perhaps more adapted to burrowing than any other snake. When the soil is soft during the rainy season, they build a network of burrows. They appear to prefer humus-rich topsoil layers and rarely burrow deeper into the ground.
18. Woma Python
This python’s range extends from Western Australia to the far south of the Northern Territory. A woma’s back is grey or golden brown, with dark brown stripes across its body and a white or yellow belly. Unlike other pythons, it has a narrow, pointed head that makes it look like a venomous snake.
This snake is a nocturnal snake that shelters in hollow logs or burrows during the day to escape the desert heat. They don’t dig their burrows; however, they can use its head to dig and expand old holes made by other animals.
How Do Snakes Burrow?
While other burrowing animals can scratch and dig their burrows, the design of a snake’s body prevents most from digging holes because a snake only has its snout to burrow. They can only burrow through soft materials such as sand, soft soil, leaves, and mud.
They slither deeper into the ground by burying their snouts in loose soil and moving their heads back and forth.
Snakes that can burrow have some unique characteristics, which enhance their digging capabilities. This includes;
Slightly pointed snouts: They use them as shovels when digging through the loose soil or expanding their burrows.
Thick eye caps: They protect their eyes when underground in the sand.
Thick scales: They enable the snake to grit through the soil without getting hurt.
Slippery bodies: Snakes with highly polished scales frequently burrow through loose topsoil and leaf litter. It reduces friction on the snakes’ bodies while tunneling or repels dirt as they burrow.
Why Do Snakes Burrow?
To avoid predators, snakes burrow deep into the soil. The Hognose snake is one of the most well-known examples of this. Snakes have a variety of defense mechanisms. They burrow down under sand or leaves for extra protection.
Furthermore, snakes will burrow into holes with similar coloring to blend in with the environment. This also protects the snake from being discovered by a predator.
Laying eggs/ giving birth
Many snake species dig and lay their eggs in deep or shallow holes in the sand to protect their eggs from potential predators. These holes are sometimes covered with grass or leaves.
A snake hole can also be a safe place for a snake to give birth or lay eggs. This not only protects a snake when it is vulnerable, but it also offers young snakes the best chance of survival by providing a safe place for them to begin life.
A lot of snakes are ambush hunters. This means that they will not actively track and hunt down their prey. They rather stay in the same position and wait for prey to come to them. Burrows provide an excellent place to hide and wait for their next meal.
When a snake is well-fed, it does not need to go hunting for weeks and instead rests and digests its food. A hole is the ideal resting place for a snake, providing it with a sense of safety, security, and comfort until it is ready to venture out again.
While most snakes prefer to live underground, they rarely dig their burrows. Instead, they use those left behind by other animals, such as rodents. Nonetheless, some snakes have features that enable them to dig. These features include slightly pointed snouts, thick eye caps, thick scales, and slippery bodies.
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.