Northern Pine Snakes (Pituophis melanoleucus) are one of the few snakes that spend the winter in underground hibernacula that they excavate. We report the use of hibernacula by Pine Snakes from 1986 to 2012 in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. We determined whether philopatry to a specific hibernaculum varied as a function of age, sex, and location of the hibernaculum. Three hibernacula were occupied nearly continuously for 27 yr by 1 to 27 snakes each year. With known-age snakes (N = 120), captured mainly as hatchlings and 2-yr-olds, we found that 23% were always philopatric. Philopatry was related to age of last capture, sex, and capture location. Philopatry was higher for 1) females compared with males, 2) snakes at two solitary hibernacula compared with a hibernaculum complex, and 3) snakes 6 yr old or younger, compared with older snakes. Of hatchlings found hibernating, 24% used the same hibernation site the next year, and 38% were located at year 4 or later. The number of snakes that always used the same hibernation site declined with the age of last capture. Snakes that entered hibernacula as hatchlings were found more often than those that entered as 2-yr-olds. For the seven snakes that were 14 yr or older, females were found 64–86 % of the time, whereas males were found 15 to 50% of the time. Understanding the behavior and habitat requirements of snakes during different seasons is central to life-history analysis and for conserving viable populations.
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Vol. 49 • No. 2