CapMama drinking
Cap Mama takes advantage of some rain to take a drink of water dripping off the rock above.

Drinking is a behavior rarely seen in wild snakes. In fact, some would say that snakes don’t need to drink. While it is rare to see this behavior, snakes do drink and likely need water in addition to what they acquire from their food. How important drinking is to snakes became very clear to me one day in March 2006 (Repp & Schuett 2008). Despite cold, rainy, windy, and even snowy weather, we saw more than a dozen western diamond-backed rattlesnakes drinking rain and snow outside their dens!

A poor quality video of rattlesnakes drinking snow during the long, dry winter of 2005-2006. Ugh – glad we have upgraded our cameras!

Last summer was pretty dry at our field site; the monsoon did not amount to much. In the photo at the top of this post, you can see Cap Mama snagging a drink about nine days after giving birth. The following videos were taken by our time-lapse cameras while the snakes were still pregnant:

This is Cap Mama again, about a week before she gave birth. Shortly after the rain starts, she emerges and drinks rain as it falls on her body.

Meanwhile on the other side of this rock outcrop, another pregnant female (Stache) also sneaks out for a drink. Unfortunately there is some grass in the way, but you can still get an idea of what a drinking snake looks like.

For more information on drinking and water harvesting in snakes, check out this paper:
Repp, R.A. & Schuett, G.W. 2008. Western diamond-backed rattlesnakes, Crotalus atrox (Serpentes: Viperidae), gain water by harvesting and drinking rain, sleet, and snow. Southwestern Naturalist 53: 108–114.