Hibernation? Brumation?

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10 Year Member!
Feb 27, 2009
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This topic continues to be one of those never ending debates on TFO. First, I'd like to point out how correct the OP is by stating that tortoises brumate (not hibernate). Knowing the two makes a difference and better understanding of it's necessity, or not. Brumation is a state of lethargy, not of deep sleep like hibernation. When a tortoise or any reptile is brumating, they are not in a suspended state as a hibernating mammal is. They are essentially in a semi awake state, eyes closed, cognizant of their surroundings but unable to react with any amount of urgency because of their reduced body temperature core. While in brumation tortoises react to temperature changes in the soil around them. When temperatures get colder, they begin to dig deeper. When the temperatures warmer, they move upward. The warming of the soil above them is precisely what brings them out of brumation in the spring. But, for every time they have to reposition themselves, they're expending valuable energy reserves. Those same reserves are required for their survival through brumation. Realistically, brumation can be stressful on them each and every time. It's only purpose in nature is to survive less than ideal environmental conditions when temperatures are too cold sunlight intensity and duration is limited and food is non-existant.

Take away the environmental adversity and you remove the need for a reptile to brumate. The idea that a tortoise must brumate simply is not true and has been proven over and over again since we've been keeping them for the past 60+ years in captivity.

Some examples and disputes to the claim of brumation necessity:

"You shouldn't brumate a baby tortoise for the first year or two".
Why not? They brumate from day one in the wild. In fact, many babies born later in the in season don't ever leave the nest until spring. If it is necessary for their survival why would you not do it from the start in captivity? Wouldn't that affect chances of survival if you don't? How come they survive when you don't brumate them the first couple of years? Or when you never brumate them at all? Yet they survive just the same.

"They only need to brumate for 4-6 weeks".
In the wild tortoises in most areas brumate anywhere from 18-30+ weeks depending upon what the weather conditions in their geographic location dictates. So if it's necessary for them to brumate why such a short time in captivity? What is 4 weeks doing for them?

"My tortoise lost weight while brumating so I woke it up".
First of all, they will always lose weight during brumation because they are burning energy, as little as it is. Their bodies are still functioning just at a very, very slow rate. They're still breathing, their hearts are still beating. What they are not doing (or should not be doing) is processing foods and wastes.

Breeders for many decades have had their tortoises successfully reproduce and produce fertile offspring year after year without ever brumating the adult tortoises. Those offspring have grown to adults and gone on to do the same, again without ever brumating. So again, if brumation is a "necessity" for their survival, how did all of these tortoises survive?

The real danger can be brumation itself. In the wild tortoises have many more resources to facilitate their successful brumation such as prime locations, fall food sources and exposure to sun, albeit diminished, to help control ground temperatures. Still, things like deep frosts, flooding and rodent attacks can be fatal to them while brumating.
In captivity there is absolutely no reason that tortoises need to be exposed to the diverse weather conditions that result in their brumation.
If maintained at regular activity temperatures, light intensity & duration they will remain active and continue to thrive just fine with no inclination to need to brumate. After nearly 60 years of us keeping tortoises in captivity on a large scale there is still no evidence whatsoever that tortoises need to brumate and no evidence of any side effects of them not brumating.
I have personally been keeping tortoises and turtles for just about 35 years, have brumated and have not brumated and have seen no difference in any of the animals that I have in terms of their activity, longevity or health whatsoever.
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