Hibernating in SoCal

AMS

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I'm hoping to get some feedback from Cali members about the best tactics for wintering around here. My Russian tortoise, Larry, has been outside all summer, but lately he doesn't come out of his burrow very often and barely eats. I'm not sure if letting him stay outside all winter is a good idea. I have a kiddie pool habitat on an enclosed porch, which would be much warmer. Plus out of the rain....so is this the time of year when they start trying to hibernate, or is there something else going on with him? Also can anyone recommend a good tortoise vet in the Temecula area? Thanks in advance for the help.
 

dmmj

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SoCal in the hizhouse. I hibernate mine outdoors but inside a shed to protect them from weather extremes and rain
 

Tom

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Here is a reply I typed up for another member that asked about this:


Do tortoises know when to stop eating in preparation for hibernation? Or are we supposed to know when to stop feeding them in preparation for hibernation? My turtles seem to be hibernating, haven't seen them in a few days. The three toed is the first to disappear, then the ornate a week or so later. My AZ desert tortoise yearlings still seem to want to eat, although not as much. It's still warm here though. I want to hibernate my tortoise yearlings inside but don't know when to do it. I put them out during the day still and bring them in in the late afternoon.
Could be either or both.

Here is a reply I did for someone else's thread yesterday about this subject. Maybe it will help you too AZTorts.

"They will not be able to hibernate at room temp. Its too warm. You will need to decide to either keep them up, or hibernate them properly. Right now they are in a bit of a "limbo", and that is not good. I've used the following methods for dozens of DTs from babies to adults, as well as many other tortoise and reptile species that come from areas with a natural hibernation period.

While I have kept hibernating species awake through winter and I know others have successfully done it too, it is my opinion that species that hibernate in the wild should also hibernate in captivity. It just needs to be done correctly. Leaving them outside to figure it out and deal with the rigors of winter in the small spaces (like backyards) that we stick them in, is not my idea of doing it "correctly". I know far too many that have died this way. Don't let these horror stories from people who did not properly prepare, or hibernate their animals in a safe, controlled way, scare you. Hibernation is totally natural and totally safe when a few simple guidelines are observed. Simple Guidelines:
1. Bring them down, and up, gradually.
2. Make sure their gut is empty before dropping temps. Two weeks of no food with the normal warm temps should do it.
3. Make sure they are well hydrated by soaking them, before and after hibernation.
4. Make sure the temperature is consistent and cold enough for the entire hibernation time.
5. Don't let them do it in a self dug burrow in your backyard. NOT safe!

To keep them up: You will need to keep them warm, day and night. The enclosure needs to be nice and bright too, so add a 6500K florescent tube, if need be. I set lights to come on an hour or two before the sun comes up and stay on for a good two hours after the sun goes down. Daily warm soaks, or every other day, seems to help convince their brains that its not sleepy time. I would still give them outside time all winter long as long as its sunny and warm-ish. The sun really helps and we have such nice mild winters here in SoCal.

To hibernate them: The dangerous parts of hibernation (flooding, burrow collapse, rodents, temperature extremes, etc..) can all be eliminated by bringing them inside into controlled conditions and prepping them correctly. While they have adapted to survive these conditions out in the wild for millennia, our back yards are not the wild. Not even close. The shallow burrows they construct in our yards are not enough to protect them from the whims of a cruel mother nature, and as Yvonne adeptly pointed out, many of them don't survive hibernation in the wild, or outdoors in captivity either. I have hibernated all ages of DTs using the following methods: It is often said that "tortoises do better outside". True some of the time in some instances, but not all of the time in all instances. Most babies actually do better inside most of the time. As such, when night temps really start to drop, as they did about two weeks ago, I bring small hibernating species of tortoises inside to their indoor set ups every evening. I feed them up for a good two or three weeks, and soak them daily or every other day. Then I leave the timers and heat and everything on and running, but I quit feeding them. I give them around two weeks with no food, daily soaks, and warm day time temps, as usual. After those two weeks, I start adjusting the light timers down and raise the fixtures a bit to lower basking temps. I let night temps drop as low as is practical for indoors. I'll do this for another week or two. Then I put them into their individual hibernacula. I use plastic shoe boxes, or something similar, with a couple of inches of substrate on the bottom. I keep them dry at this time. In the past I've used non-functioning fridges or freezers laid on their backs in a cool area to keep the shoe boxes in. Currently the floor of my garage stays around 50-55 all winter and I've used that for the last few years. The problem is that we keep having these weird warm winters with daily highs in the 80s or 90s sometimes, for days or weeks on end. Good for my non-hibernating species, but not so good for the hibernators. This year I'm getting them a dedicated fridge, so I don't have to worry about the weather and I won't have to try to fight the temperature outside. I'll set it to around 45 degrees F. I let first timers go for 8-10 weeks under these controlled conditions. Older ones will go for 12-16 weeks. I watch the temps, but I don't mess with them during hibernation. When the weather starts to warm up, I gradually warm up the fridge and let warmer air into the hibernation area, and at some point after a few days, I pull them out, soak them in shallow room temp water, and put them back into their indoor enclosures with no heat. Just room temp. I soak daily for a bout two weeks. After a few days, I will turn the lights on. I leave the fixtures at their higher adjustment at first and gradually, over the course of a few days, lower them back down to get the right basking temps. After the tortoises activity level comes up, and they start moving around more, I will begin offering food, and letting them run around in their outdoor pens on warmer days, but I still bring them in to escape the cold nights. For older/bigger tortoises that can't come back inside, I simply use an outdoor heated night box to do just about the same thing. The night box more or less takes the place of the indoor enclosure and gives me a way to keep them warmer at night while preparing for hibernation or coming out of it.

The above methods have worked perfectly for me for many years with a wide variety of reptile species. The only time I ever lost an animal during hibernation is when I took the advice of a very knowledgeable man, who didn't understand our climate, and let my tegus hibernate outside as he did in his climate. I lost two out of three that year. It was heartbreaking.

I don't have set dates for any of this, and I sort of go by "feel" and the weather on either end of hibernation. If we have a long summer with a warm fall, I wait longer to put them down. If we have an early spring, I wake them up sooner. Generally I try to get them down by December, and get them up sometime in March.
 

AMS

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Thanks for the replies. He has gone into his burrow and stayed there for a couple weeks now. As long as we don't have torrential rain, I think he'll be ok in there. The enclosed porch might actually be too warm, and he might keep waking up. Worst case, I'll have to dig him up and move him if there's flood risk or something.
 

Tom

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Thanks for the replies. He has gone into his burrow and stayed there for a couple weeks now. As long as we don't have torrential rain, I think he'll be ok in there. The enclosed porch might actually be too warm, and he might keep waking up. Worst case, I'll have to dig him up and move him if there's flood risk or something.

He will not be okay there. It is too warm in SoCal. They need it to be around 40 degrees constantly for hibernation. Its not even dropping that low at night here yet, and we are having 80-90 degree days still. At those temps and without eating, he will use up his fat and energy reserves far too quickly.

Did you soak frequently before he went down? Ar you sure he is well hydrated?

Also, If your burrow is not deep enough, your tortoise could die when temps do finally dip below freezing.

Leaving them outside to fend for themselves is often a death sentence.
 

Yvonne G

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Cold and wet is a death sentence for Russian tortoises during hibernation. If you get any rain at all during the winter, you need to box up that russian tortoise and put him inside someplace. Preferable someplace where it is going to be below 50F and above 40F. Inside a shed is good, or in a back bedroom closet with the door shut.

The first year I had russian tortoises, they were sort of a novelty to have, and a friend and I drove down to SoCal and visited a couple of the warehouses where pet shops buy from. We were able to pick up 30 tortoises at $10 apiece, but we had to buy in multiples of 30. I was affiliated with the local tortoise club, so we bought 60 of them and sold off what we didn't want at club meetings.

So, I had about 15 russian tortoises in a real nice outdoor yard. I didn't know much about the species, and didn't realize that they are used to going into hibernation early, due to their short 'growing' time in their home range. So they all disappeared before I thought to capture them. The next spring, only a few came up from hibernation. They rest all had died.

So, if you get any rain at all, box up your Russian and put him someplace cool, quiet and dry.
 

ascott

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Thanks for the replies. He has gone into his burrow and stayed there for a couple weeks now. As long as we don't have torrential rain, I think he'll be ok in there. The enclosed porch might actually be too warm, and he might keep waking up. Worst case, I'll have to dig him up and move him if there's flood risk or something.


You may find yourself digging him out indeed..lol...I have 4 adult CA Desert Tortoise here in the high desert...while not russians similiar in many ways...especially brumation.

I do like them to brumate indoors and have decided this after more than a time or two of being knee high in water diverting water away from pouring into burrows...other times slopped down in the freezing rain and cold mud hand digging out a resting tortoise...so inside is the preferred method here...while they have hunkered down in their burrows in the past and rode out the winter just fine i still prefer indoors..so if the tort is new to your yard and you then the space has not been tested out..just understand that this species, as with the Ca Desert Tort...does not do well in cold wet earth...while they can withstand some cold temps with little problem it becomes an entirely different situation when cold and wet. So you may want to consider as many variables as possible and ward against them if you are going to let the tort remain outdoors..and then after all of that..still have an emergency extraction plan on hand.

But a problem can also develop without you ever knowing --if the tort is dug down..they dont tunnel burrow the way a Ca Desert Tort, they dig down and they do more of a backfill over top and can end up anywhere from a foot down to several feet...so they can easily be lost/overlooked...while cooler temps are desirable they are also never certain every day ..so some fluctuation is going to happen...but with the variations in weather do be mindful to check in on him, they can set themselves up nicely and then not be prepared for sudden extreme weather...and this is where you come into play...so when you decide to allow the tort to brumate outdoors there is so much you have to be on top of to assure the safest outcome for this now forced captive animal...and also understand that tortoise can and do die in the wild during brumation if faced with sudden weather extremes...

If you decide to brumate the tortoise indoors then you can tuck him away in a safe dry box or tote quietly in a dark cool quiet space...this will also allow you the ability to check in on him...and since this will be your first g o around it may work out better for you both..

This is a mature Russian you have and not a baby?
 
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AMS

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Ascott, thank you. I was hoping to hear from you. He seems pretty full-grown, about 7 inches long I'd say. He just wandered into our yard one day, it was cold and rainy so my wife brought him inside. We've had him all summer. I built his burrow, it's not very deep, about 10 inches or so with a board over top and lots of dirt on the board. He still digs around in there, usually a little above the floor and off to the side. I put a couple handfuls of leaves over the entrance, I figured it will insulate him and I can also tell if he comes out at all. Last little rain we had, his den was perfectly dry, but if it really rains a lot he may be in danger. I'm a little concerned now with trying to keep him cool enough, because as Tom mentioned we still get 80 degree days all winter, and nights are 60s. I'm down by Temecula, so it doesn't get as cold as the high desert. Although it did snow on us last winter....so maybe on the porch in some kind of insulated box would be better.
 

ascott

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Ascott, thank you. I was hoping to hear from you. He seems pretty full-grown, about 7 inches long I'd say. He just wandered into our yard one day, it was cold and rainy so my wife brought him inside. We've had him all summer. I built his burrow, it's not very deep, about 10 inches or so with a board over top and lots of dirt on the board. He still digs around in there, usually a little above the floor and off to the side. I put a couple handfuls of leaves over the entrance, I figured it will insulate him and I can also tell if he comes out at all. Last little rain we had, his den was perfectly dry, but if it really rains a lot he may be in danger. I'm a little concerned now with trying to keep him cool enough, because as Tom mentioned we still get 80 degree days all winter, and nights are 60s. I'm down by Temecula, so it doesn't get as cold as the high desert. Although it did snow on us last winter....so maybe on the porch in some kind of insulated box would be better.

Okay so if it were me..I would let him do his thing until doing his thing is not good..does that make sense? What I mean by that is that since he will likely not have to deal with freezing temps and he is currently able to be reached if needed to and there are no known predatory risks to him in a sleepy state...then let him do his thing, just keep an eye on him and his surroundings. However, if it were me, I would keep a tote fit to size for him handy in the event the weather turns to heavy rain that can wet the inside sleeping area or a freak cold/snow should occur, this way you can retrieve him and place him in the tote, toss a blanket or cotton tshirt over him and tuck the box away into a dark, out of the way place in your home..if you keep your home on the warm side then perhaps pick a closet in a room you can close heating vents or a utility room that has no heating...this way you can keep an eye on him. Since you are dealing with a grown tortoise his system will be a bit more forgiving to temps than a baby would. Yes, his system will burn some energy but not the same as if he were awake and moving about...however, do not be surprised if he should slowly wake and become active..if this happens you will want to have a temp indoor set up for him to live in through the remainder of the winter with lights, heat and regular feeding..essentially a short brumation with an early wake up..and since he is still new to you that would not be a bad thing either..it is of course best to keep cool, but will still be doable up to the 50ish mark...again because he is grown and not a baby...

If you find yourself with him inside in a tote and have to check on him, you will look for his eyeballs to remain normal plumpness and not sunken inwards..you will look at the skin around the limbs to remain plumped and juicy and not saggy..these would be signs that he is not dehydrating at an unsafe rate as well as weight not dropping too rapidly....you will also want to gently lift him a tiny bit to assure he still feels heavy like a little boulder in relation to his size...I hope I am explaining this right so you get a sense of my meanings?
 

AMS

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That seems like a reasonable plan. When should I expect him to wake up, barring having to extract him early? March? I guess that probably depends on how warm the weather gets...

Your explanation was excellent, thank you. Looking forward to seeing a happy little Larry when it warms up.
 

Tom

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That seems like a reasonable plan. When should I expect him to wake up, barring having to extract him early? March? I guess that probably depends on how warm the weather gets...

Your explanation was excellent, thank you. Looking forward to seeing a happy little Larry when it warms up.

I tried to walk away from this, but my conscience just won't let me. You can go ahead and ignore what I'm telling you if that is what you want to do, but I'll feel better for having tried…

It is not cold enough in your area to "hibernate" a russian tortoise outside in your area. The high daytime temps and inconsistent night temps will cause the tortoise to remain in an unhealthy "limbo" state. They will burn through their fat and energy reserves too quickly in if we have a prolonged warm spell, they will likely eat, and then go back into their torpor with a full gut at the onset of the next winter cold spell.

Your tortoise might survive this. Some percentage of them do. But many die and it is a direct result of keeper error. Then the people whose tortoise died go on to tell other that hibernation is dangerous and it killed their tortoise… I don't want you to go through this and I certainly don't want poor Larry to pay the price for your learning experience here.

YOU NEED TO: Either make an indoor set up with proper temps and lighting and keep him awake all winter, or you need to use some artificial means to get him cold enough to properly hibernate all winter.

Also take note that while Ascott means well and does have some base of tortoise knowledge, she does not, and has not kept russians. Their requirements are different than those of DTs. They need it colder. DTs will hibernate just fine with stable temps between 50 and 60. My russians will sit in the dark at 50 degrees scratching at their containers because its too warm.

I don't want to argue and I'm not going to bug you anymore, but I see a well-known train wreck coming and its worth typing a few words and risking being a pest to try to stop it.
 

leigti

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I think you are taking too many risks trying to hibernate your tortoise outside. Think about where they come from, what the weather is like there, with the winters are like. It is not Southern California claimant to say the least.
Either keep him up all winter indoors in a nice bright enclosure and the lights on 14 hours a day, or use the refrigerator method for a controlled environment and temperature. There are several threads on here that explain both options well.
 

AMS

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Well, I will certainly consider that. It's worth mentioning that he hasn't come out at all, even during several days of high temps. So he's either comfy or he's dead already. I suppose I should open his burrow and take a peak. Yes, I am aware that the climate here isn't much like the Steppes of Mongolia or Russia. He spent most of his days in the burrow when it was hot (all summer), came out for a bit, then disappeared again as soon as it got cool. Nights are down around 50 now, and I bet his burrow is nice and cool. When he was out last, he didn't really eat anything, but I did make sure he was hydrated.
 

nan rappaport

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I too am in the Temecula/Murrieta area and cant belive this crazy warm weather we are still having. My DT stopped eating about 10 days ago and hes slowed way down on moving around. after this weekend im going to get him in his box and hopefully he gets to sleep. The nights have been getting down below 50 but the days are still in the high 70' to low 80's my question is can i put him in the refrigerator on days when the weather gets to hot and pull him out at night when it cools down? I have no garage or out door facility to keep him in.whats the best temp to keep him at? It seems every where i read everyone has difference of opinions.
 

ascott

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I too am in the Temecula/Murrieta area and cant belive this crazy warm weather we are still having. My DT stopped eating about 10 days ago and hes slowed way down on moving around. after this weekend im going to get him in his box and hopefully he gets to sleep. The nights have been getting down below 50 but the days are still in the high 70' to low 80's my question is can i put him in the refrigerator on days when the weather gets to hot and pull him out at night when it cools down? I have no garage or out door facility to keep him in.whats the best temp to keep him at? It seems every where i read everyone has difference of opinions.


What has his hibarnacle been in past winters? Are you talking about a baby or an adult? How long have you had the tortoise/facilitated brumation in past winters?
 

nan rappaport

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I have only had him for two months i rescued him from some ignorant owners. They let him run loose in their yard with two huge sulcatas.he had a sinus infection that he had dor a long time because it deformed the bone in his head. I had him on Enrofloxacin for 3 weeks and the bubbles and nasel discharge is gone. He also has a bladder stone that will need to be removed most likely next april when the weather starts warming up. I wasnt going to hibernate him but he seems to be going thru the motions of getting there. He hasnt ate in 12 days and he hasent come out of his hide at all today. Yesterday he came out around noon for a few hours and that was it. Im soaking him every other day and i havent seen any poo or pee in over 8 days now. Please please please help me im torn on what to do. Hes about the size of a dinner plate and he weighed 7.9 lbs
 

ascott

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I have only had him for two months i rescued him from some ignorant owners. They let him run loose in their yard with two huge sulcatas.he had a sinus infection that he had dor a long time because it deformed the bone in his head. I had him on Enrofloxacin for 3 weeks and the bubbles and nasel discharge is gone. He also has a bladder stone that will need to be removed most likely next april when the weather starts warming up. I wasnt going to hibernate him but he seems to be going thru the motions of getting there. He hasnt ate in 12 days and he hasent come out of his hide at all today. Yesterday he came out around noon for a few hours and that was it. Im soaking him every other day and i havent seen any poo or pee in over 8 days now. Please please please help me im torn on what to do. Hes about the size of a dinner plate and he weighed 7.9 lbs

I would not let him brumate...with being new and not healthy I would set him up indoors in a temp enclosure..I would set up lights and heating for day and night..I would also bug him several times a day to keep him up...I would also do a couple long warm water soaks and keep offering wet type foods to see if that can move the stone along or perhaps break it down some...
 

nan rappaport

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I did have him under heat at night and he was outside in the day when it was in the 80's but he still refused to eat so thats when i decided to go with his instinct to hibernate when all eating ceased. I had to pull him out of his hide today so i could soak him. He opened his eyes for a min. And i was able to see him drink some water. No bubbles or discharge. Would it be that bad to let him go thru a short hibernation? Im with him 24/7 i have a refrigerator / cooler that i can maintain a constant temp. For him. And what do i do if i over winter him and he still refuses to eat?
 

ascott

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I did have him under heat at night and he was outside in the day when it was in the 80's but he still refused to eat so thats when i decided to go with his instinct to hibernate when all eating ceased. I had to pull him out of his hide today so i could soak him. He opened his eyes for a min. And i was able to see him drink some water. No bubbles or discharge. Would it be that bad to let him go thru a short hibernation? Im with him 24/7 i have a refrigerator / cooler that i can maintain a constant temp. For him. And what do i do if i over winter him and he still refuses to eat?

You see, the problem with a tortois3 that was either recently ill or recently relocated is that what is perceived as "normal" behavior for brumating species could infact be underlying issues that can quickly consume a resting tortoise. The main goal when forcing a tortoise to remain up is to keep him warm and hydrated...along with bugging him to encourage movement..you see when a tortoise is under the weather they can and literally sleep themselves away...your goal is to try your best to not let that happen....I would personally set up the indoor enclosure, heat it up to a constant 80 to 85, day and night along with a basking spot that reaches 100 to 115...I would be certain to do a couple long warm water soaks each and every day...I would offer some yummy wet foods and would do this the entire winter...just what I would do...
 

AMS

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I just wanted to let everyone know that Larry survived in his outdoor burrow just fine. He was dusty and sleepy when he came out, but some nice soaks in warm water and lots of sunshine got him going. He's back to his normal self now. He comes out in the morning and stares at the window til someone notices and goes out to talk to him and feed him.
 
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