Turtles are ectothermic animals meaning that they get their body heat from their surroundings. They need to be warm to move around and eat. In fact, if a turtle gets too cold, everything in their body will slow down and they will have difficulty eating and digesting food properly. In addition to this, their heart and lungs will slow down too.
Turtles And Hibernation
Some turtles live where it is warm all of the time and they stay active all winter long. However, turtles that live where it gets cold are able to survive by hibernating. Technically speaking however, the word for hibernation in reptiles is “brumate”, while the word “hibernation” is used for mammals. However, most people will use the word hibernate when referring to turtles anyway.
Different species of turtles brumate in different ways. For instance, most aquatic turtles can be found heading deep into a pond and covering itself in mud, leaves, and other substrate it finds at the bottom. The turtles then allow themselves to get cold and their bodies slow down, decreasing their need to eat. Their hearts slow down as well and beat only once every few minutes. The turtles stop breathing through their lungs since their bodies are running at such a slow speed and do not require nearly as much oxygen. They do however still require a small amount of oxygen, but they are able to get this from the water they submerge themselves in. It sinks through their specialized skin cells that are located just inside the tail opening. Aquatic turtles can stay this way for two to three months.
Land turtles such as the North American box turtle also brumate, which can complicate their husbandry somewhat. If you have one of these turtles as a pet it can get somewhat complicated. Appropriate conditions must be provided in order for the turtle to brumate correctly. Turtles that are not in good condition/health should not be allowed to brumate as they will not have the strength to survive. It is for this reason that pet owners must do everything possible to ensure good health prior to the time of year that hibernation should begin. Unfortunately it is very likely for unhealthy turtles to die if they brumate.
Species Of Turtles And Tortoises That Brumate
Other turtles and tortoises that brumate include:
- Horsefields Tortoise
- Russian Tortoise
- Spur-thighed Tortoise
- Marginated Tortoise
- Hermann’s Tortoise
- Desert Tortoise
- Gopher Tortoise
- Texas Tortoise
- Wood Turtle
- Spotted Turtle
- Red-eared Slider
- Snapping Turtle
When Do Turtles Start To Brumate?
When brumate should start and how long it should last really just depends on the species of the turtle. Most North American Box Turtles will become less active, eat less, and search for places to burrow or hide around September or October and will typically begin to brumate around mid-October.
How To Prepare A Pet Turtle For Hibernation
Proper hibernation preparation is key to your turtle’s survival. One of the most important things to keep in mind is that hibernation can cause far more harm than good if it is done correctly and can be fatal for turtles that are not in proper health. Medical examinations can be done as only healthy turtles should be allowed to brumate. During hibernation, the immune system is not functioning adequately which means that any infection or illness a turtle has can worsen or in more severe cases, even cause death. At least 8 weeks prior to hibernation, your turtle should receive a complete physical examination by your veterinarian who will look for signs of illness.
Signs And Symptoms Of Illness Or Infection In Turtles Include The Following:
- Low body weight
- Ocular lesions or discharge
- Nasal discharge
- Difficulty breathing
- Open mouth breathing
- Oral lesions
- Parasites (a fecal exam can determine this)
- Discharge from the cloaca
- Shell rot
Your veterinarian will most likely ask you questions concerning your turtle’s general health and behavior. They may want to know what your turtle has been eating, how much it has been eating, as well as any signs of stress or disease. It is important that you keep accurate records of your turtle’s habits and weight throughout the year so that you can provide your vet with as much information as possible.
If your veterinarian finds any signs of disease, or if your turtle is underweight, or has lost too much weight since spring (over 10% of its body weight), or has not been eating, the turtle should not be allowed to brumate. Instead he or she should be treated for the illness and fed until he or she gains a sufficient amount of weight. At that time, he or she can then enter a shorter hibernation period under strict monitoring.
Turtles And Diet
During the months of summer, turtles should be fed a balanced diet that includes adequate sources of vitamin A, which can become rapidly depleted during hibernation. The following are excellent sources of vitamin A:
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables Such As:
- Beet Greens
- Romaine Lettuce
Orange And Yellow Fruits And Vegetables Such As:
- Winter Squash
- Sweet Potatoes
Meat Sources Such As:
- Baby Mice
Adding special weeds and grasses can also help increase a turtle’s fiber intake. Towards the end of summer, you should also increase the amount of fiber your turtle receives by adding additional high fiber weeds, grasses, timothy hay and alfalfa.
Other Feeding Requirements
Approximately 10 to 14 days prior to hibernation, food should be withheld. It is crucial that a turtle’s digestive system be empty when he or she enters hibernation since the undigested food within the intestines can result in severe illness. Water should still be available during this time.
Turtles should be soaked for periods of 20 to 30 minutes at least every 48 hours prior to hibernation. This can be done by placing the turtle in a shallow container with about 3/4 inch of tepid water. Soaking turtles this way helps keep them hydrated and also encourages defecation and emptying of the digestive tract.
It is crucial that you accurately weigh your turtle prior to and every 2 to 3 weeks during hibernation. You may want to invest in an accurate digital scale, especially if your turtle is less than 6 pounds. Obtain your turtle’s weight in grams and be sure to record it, along with the date. Maintain these records throughout his or her hibernation.
How To Prepare Your Turtle For Hibernation
The container in which a turtle hibernates in is known as a hibernaculum. These can easily be made at home by using a one foot square plastic box or similar storage container. Simply fill it 2/3 full of newspaper and moistened peat moss. When your turtle is ready for hibernation allow him or her to burrow into the material. Be sure to drill 6 holes, 1/4 inch in diameter in the lid and attach it to the box.
Your turtle’s hibernaculum should be kept at a steady temperature of 40 to 50 degrees fahrenheit in a room that is free of drafts. The humidity in the room should not be high. If properly set up, the hibernaculum should maintain the proper humidity. Contrary to popular belief, darkness is not necessary for a turtle to hibernate, and some natural lighting is actually recommended. If the turtle is too active and the temperature is within the recommended limits, the amount of light can be decreased.
Starting The Hibernation Process
Once your turtle’s has been confirmed to be in the proper health, and he or she has been fasted, hydrated, weighed, and their digestive tract has been cleared, it is then safe to move your turtle to a place at room temperature (65-68 degrees fahrenheit) for 2 to 3 days, then move the turtle or lower the temperature to around 60 degrees fahrenheit for another 2 days. After this, the turtle can be placed in the hibernaculum you have created.
Monitoring Your Turtle During Hibernation
Every 2 to 3 weeks it is crucial that you check your turtle for proper hydration, weight, appearance, and activity. If any problems and/or abnormalities are found, your turtle should be re-hydrated and warmed and the hibernation process should be stopped. In order to check a turtle to see if he or she is properly hydrated you cane examine the skin to see if it is drier than normal. It is also important to check the substrate to determine whether or not the turtle has urinated. If his or her skin is dry and/or he or she has urinated, soak them in tepid water for 30 minutes to an hour. Dry him or her afterwards and then place her back in the hibernaculum.
It is also important to check your turtle’s substrate for any excess moisture or mold and replace substrate if necessary. If the substrate seems too dry, it can be re-moistened. As a general rule, a properly hydrated turtle should not lose more than 1% of their body weight per month of hibernation. It is important that pet owners keep a very close eye on the turtle’s appearance during the hibernation process. Keep an eye out for any discharge, breathing difficulties, skin or shell changes, etc. During this time, the turtle should open its eyes. Hibernating turtles should not be active. If a turtle is overactive during the time he or she is hibernating, it most likely means that the temperature is too warm and the turtle is expending too much energy. Readjusting the temperature can solve this problem.
How Long Does A Turtle Hibernate For?
Healthy species of turtles from the Northern and Western United States can be allowed to hibernate for about 6 to 8 weeks. For those turtles from the South and Southeast United States 4 to 6 weeks is usually adequate.
How To Bring A Turtle Out Of Hibernation
When it comes time to take your turtle out of hibernation, the process is reversed. First the turtle needs to be moved to 60 degree fahrenheit for 2 days, then switched to room temperature. The turtle can then be placed back in a normal warm husbandry environment. The turtle should be soaked every other day. You may begin feeding your turtle 2 days after he or she has been at room temperature. Do not be alarmed if your turtle does not seem to have an appetite right away. It is common for some turtles to not eat for several weeks. In addition, some male turtles may not turn until after breeding.