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Hibernation Question

Discussion in 'Marginated tortoises' started by Becca267, Oct 11, 2017.

  1. Becca267

    Becca267 Member

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    I have a marginated tortoise that is about 4 years old. We've had him for about 7 months at this point. At his previous home he had an insulated house that he could go into and I was told that nothing special was done for the winter. We live the Fort Worth area and while our winters aren't really too bad (especially for this former New Englander) there are a lot of temperature fluctuations. The average highs are in the 50's and the lows are in the 30's, but there will be 70 degree days and 30 degree days a few times during the winter. I'm concerned that the temperature swings would be hard on him, but them again, this isn't his first DFW winter.

    The current plan was to add an insulated house (formerly a cat house) to his enclosure and fill it with straw. He also has a somewhat underground cave (surrounded by rock), but I'm concerned that won't be dry enough for him. We have a ceramic heater bulb and could certainly rig up a different set-up. We have also considered getting a mini-greehouse for him.

    Overall he seems healthy, though very shy. He took a while to adjust to his new home, but by the end of summer was eating like a champ. He has slowed his eating down, so I know it's time to make the final decision and I'm looking for advice on what sounds like the best course of action.
  2. Grandpa Turtle 144

    Grandpa Turtle 144 Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    You shouldn’t hibernate any tort before you have had it a year to make shire its healthy and fit ! Have a great day !
  3. JoesMum

    JoesMum Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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  4. tglazie

    tglazie Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Hello Becca,

    If I recall correctly, you had the tortoise who would eat only when the coast was clear and you were uncertain as to whether or not he was eating, yes? Anywho, glad to hear he's adjusting.

    Regarding overwintering, I would recommend you set up your tortoise indoors if at all possible during this first winter. I've honestly never been a fan of leaving tortoises outdoors during the winter months under any circumstances (sulcatas and other giants are an obvious exception to this, but these animals require heated night boxes, and that has nothing to do with what we're talking about here, so apologies for the digression; I'm somewhat known for those). I know how variable Texas winters can be. One day, it could be dry, sunny, and in the lower eighties, and within hours after nightfall, the temp can drop into the forties within three hours. There's also the nasty little problem around new years day when the temps can drop into the upper thirties and stay that way for up to two weeks, with little to no reprieve. This can wreck havoc on a tortoise's systems, and I've had any number of friends and acquaintances try to keep baby margies I've produced this way, and many of these folks had their animals pass away. I know that strict outdoor keeping among Texans is a common thing. I once fostered a pancake tortoise that a gentleman kept outdoors in Houston year round; that was a tough little tortoise. We tend to see our subtropical/warm temperate environment as perfect for tortoises, that they can withstand the rigors of this landscape. This is something I simply find absolutely disagreeable, however, and I always overwinter my animals indoors. Even animals I've owned for decades, if I'm going to brumate them, I'm going to brumate them indoors. I will condition them and bathe them before brumation largely indoors.

    Texas is a great environment for these tortoises, but it is not the equivalent of their environment in the wild, and even if it were, I seriously doubt we would want to replicate those conditions to the T. What we want for our tortoises is to keep them safe, to ensure their well being and to take every necessary measure to ensure that well being. This is why I keep my tortoises indoors during winter months, allowing them access to the outdoors only when the weather is suitable. For most days of the year, weather is entirely suitable outdoors. Even during this last cold front, I kept the kids outdoors. Sure, they weren't especially active, but that changed today when the sun came back out and the temps reached the mid seventies. Margies can warm themselves quite easily, given their dark coloration, so they can take advantage of sun even in relatively cool weather. However, they tend to prepare themselves for winter sleep as the weather cools and the day length shortens. I try to counteract this by bringing animals I don't intend to brumate indoors, exposing them to a warm, bright mercury vapor bulb in the evenings.

    Now, this is the way I do things, but it isn't the only way. I know a number of folks who use cold frames, greenhouses, and/or night boxes for their margies. Do what you feel comfortable doing, but I would strongly advise against leaving the tortoise out to brave the cold, even with a burrow. You should be able to lock your charge away on cold days when he shouldn't be outside. For me, it is just easier to bring them indoors into an environment over which I have complete control.

    What I find unfortunate about this part of year is the fact that many of my tortoises don't like coming indoors. Notably, Big Gino and Lady Gino absolutely hate it. They go from living in large, open enclosures filled with natural graze to living in a small six by six enclosed area. Big Gino is especially irritable whenever his movements are restricted, and he just paces and paces. Interestingly, some animals behavior changes for the better. Marge, one of my females, is notoriously shy when she is outdoors. She never eats in front of me, and I have to watch her on hidden camera to ensure that she's engaging in normal behavior. She was raised strictly outdoors as a young one as well, given that I didn't raise her. Strangely, she is this wild little beast outdoors, but bring her inside, and she will actually eat in front of me. I mean, she's not puppy dog tame, and she would never under any circumstances approach me as being the provider of food, but she will actually sit and eat while I walk about the reptile room doing chores, and it is the darndest thing. I don't know what inspires this emotional change from fear to indifference, but it is probably the one thing I enjoy about the coming winter, the fact that little Marge who is in charge doesn't mind spending time not running away from me.

    Also interesting is the fact that my oldest Graecus behaves just the same as he would outdoors. He paces, sure, but he's always pacing. He just does the same thing in a smaller space, and he approaches me anytime I show my face, given that he knows me as the food guy. Anywho, getting off track here. The crux of my advice, set him up indoors in the winter. Try to get him to stay up. This may be a challenge. First winters are often difficult. But better for him to have a rough time of it indoors where you can control the temp and humidity variables than outdoors with little to no heat, dry cool weather (or even worse, cold rainy weather), and the potential for unwelcome intruders causing him harm.

    T.G.
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  5. Becca267

    Becca267 Member

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    Just wanted to update on what we ended up doing for Petunia this winter. We kept him outside with a cold frame made up of greenhouse panels with his ceramic heater until the temperatures started to dip too low at night (in December) at that point we made him a nice spot in our heated greenhouse. He happily hung out there for a few weeks and then started breaking out of his "spot". Since then he has been allowed to wander the greenhouse and we have moved his food and water the walkway area. He can't get to any of the plants that are bad for him to eat and he has lots of cover (which he loves). We mostly have succulents (that don't need to be too wet) and plants we are holding over till next growing season, so while we water regularly it isn't too humid in there. He has definitely slowed down, but regularly moves around (we play find the tortoise regularly). We also have our two year old box turtles in there this winter too (they are happy in their turtle table).

    In another week or two he should be able to go back outside to his enclosure in the garden. Our daytime temperatures are getting higher and the nights are getting warmer. We're even considering getting a second greenhouse that we will use for some of our garden plants (that we just need to keep from freezing) and tortoises/turtles (we may get a second tortoise...don't worry they won't share an enclosure) and keep our current greenhouse just for plant propagation, daylily seedlings, and the carnivorous plant collection.

    So all that to say, he didn't get to come into the house this winter, but did go inside. He seems happy and is healthy and we've already started to figure out plans for next winter (for both our animals and our plants).
  6. tglazie

    tglazie Well-Known Member 5 Year Member

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    Glad to hear he made it through the winter alright, and it is good to hear that you're expanding your setup with new ideas and thoughts to get another tortoise. Soon enough, you'll have a big group with your property divvied up by short fences. Mine also made it through with flying colors. Got my first five eggs on Sunday from the majestic Lady Gino. I will post pics. I've also got crazy growth on the plants underway, but I planted stuff back on January 1st. There were some freezes, and it was touch and go with the frost blankets for a while there, but everything is chugging along.

    T.G.
  7. Becca267

    Becca267 Member

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    I've been limited to the 20'x30' space around our fig tree for Turtles and Tortoises by the rest of the family. Petunia's space is about 48 sq feet assuming I did my math correctly, but most of it is actually outside the designated area. Yay for building and then modifying the garden plan. Our garden isn't very big (by our standards) and the rest of the yard is devoted to the swimming pool, daylily beds, a tropical garden, 2 shade gardens. At an old house we used to have chickens as our garden companions. Since they are illegal in this city, we've switched over to tortoises and turtles. My husband started figuring out how many enclosures we can comfortably fit in that space last summer. He even spent a whole afternoon pruning the fig tree to make space under/around it. He may not the the "pet owner" in this situation, but he is certainly the "pet enabler", I return the favor by supporting his plant addiction 110%. We want to utilize the space effectively while also keeping it aesthetically pleasing, so we're trying to think before we build.

    I just re-seeded Petunias space with a nice variety of greens and weeds. We will need to head out the nursery and pick up some other plants for his space soon. He love the hibiscus and the petunia he had last year. Our last frost date is next week, so I'm hoping to get it all squared away by the end of the month. We're also adding some garden beds around his enclosure to blend it into the garden a bit more, and to make homes for some of our homeless plants.
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