How our reptiles survive winter and wildfire

Jul 12, 2022 | Activities

Reptiles regulate their body temperature
through thermoregulating.


This means basking in a warm area to heat up and moving to a cool area to cool down.

So how do reptiles survive during the cold winter months when there is limited sun and heat for them?

In South Africa reptiles don’t actually go into hibernation during the winter months as our winters are very mild. Instead, they try to conserve energy by limiting their movements and slowing down their metabolism.

Above: Southern rock agama, Agama atra @justinhawthorne, iNaturalist

Here’s how they do it:


Snakes may seek shelter in caves, holes, under rocks or logs, in tree stumps or underground. On a warm winter’s day, snakes may sneak out of their hiding spots to soak up the sun.

Above: Eggeater, Dasypeltis scabra ssp. scabra @knysna_wildflowers, iNaturalist



Tortoises begin to search for a place to overwinter towards the end of May. During the cold winter months, they will shelter in holes in the ground or sites among rocks or under logs, where they dig themselves in or under, with only the shell being visible. They will, however, also enjoy a sunny day by leaving their hidey-hole during the heat of the day.

Reptiles have also adapted to survive fires that occur in fynbos.

Tortoises lay their eggs during the springtime. They bury their eggs, which then hatch in late autumn, therefore escaping summer fires. Even if adult tortoises are killed by summer fires, their eggs will still hatch safely when winter rains soften the ground, introducing new populations into our fynbos biome.

Image: Angulate tortoise, Chersina angulata @kurtvanwyk, iNaturalist

Image: Berg adder, Bitis atropos @warrenmcc. iNaturalist

Image: Southern rock agama, Agama atra Corlie Hugo

Similar to tortoises, snakes and lizards also lay their eggs in summer, so that they can hatch in autumn, once the summer fynbos fires have passed.



harmful impacts on reptiles


However, the strategy of the reptiles is seriously under threat when fires occur outside of the natural season and burn in winter. The natural season for fire in fynbos is December to March. But when these fires burn out of season, it can have harmful impacts on reptiles.

Left: LoveGreen Communications. Middle: Kleinmond mountain after the fire. Right: Corlie Hugo

The Kogelberg Biosphere June 2022 newsletter


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