Sonoran Desert Tortoise Hibernation Question

AZWahoo

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I have an ~ 18 year old Sonoran desert tortoise - I adopted him about 3 years ago. I built a burrow for him in the yard as recommended/specified on the ASDM webpage

(https://www.desertmuseum.org/programs/tap_burrow_t1.php[1] ).

His previous human kept him in a hutch-like contrivance outdoors, and he would hibernate there. He has been domesticated his whole life, as far as I know.

I have tried to adapt this tortoise to a more natural lifestyle - feeding him natural grasses and plants instead of grocery-store greens. Giving him free reign to wander and dig in the backyard. The first year with me he hibernated in the artificial burrow without a problem.

The past two winters, instead of hibernating in his specially-built burrow, he's dug a shallow hole under an agave - his hind legs and tail are quite exposed. I've been covering the agave with a blanket when we get a freeze warning - leaving space for air exchange.

Should I pull him out of his current spot and move him to the artificial burrow? Should I leave him be and cover him when it gets down to freezing?

Thanks, Chris
 

Yvonne G

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Hi Chris, and welcome to the forum!

A transposed tortoise doesn't always know what's good for him. It would be in this tortoise's best interest to box him up in shredded newspaper and 'store' him in a cool, dry spot until Spring. He should be kept around 45F degrees, and dry. Desert tortoise's eyes will freeze if allowed to be in temperatures down below 32F degrees, so a blanket won't help.
 

Tom

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Yvonne is right. Blankets and other insulators only work for animals that are producing their own body heat.

Your diet ideas sound great, and trying to simulate what happens in the wild is an admirable goal, but we must remember that our yards are not the wild. Have you ever seen a DT out in the wild with its butt half sticking out from under a Yucca? They would be eaten when the first coyote crossed their path, or they'd freeze to death on the first cold night in winter.

As far as what you should do: It depends on what the temperatures are in your man-made artificial burrow. If it stays around 45-50, all winter long, even during the two week long winter warm spells with temps in the 80s or 90s in January, and during the few cold spells with night temps in the 20s, then he should be fine to stay outside. In most cases an above ground man made burrow will not hold those kind of steady temps throughout the extremes of winter.

I've had success boxing them up and keeping them on the floor of my cold garage, but even that doesn't work when those winter warm spells hit. I use a refrigerator to hibernate my russian tortoises, because they need it even colder and more stable than the DTs. This could work well for your DT too. They come out of hibernation with so much more vigor, health and appetite when things are consistently cold and stable throughout the duration of their hibernation.
 

littleginsu

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Where in AZ are you? The last two Winters where I am have been so mild, I wonder if that's why your guy had trouble figuring out it was time to get in a safe burrow? This year has already proven it is going to be a much, much colder winter. Hopefully you can get him to settle down in a box somewhere nice, cool and safe!
 

AZWahoo

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Hi Chris, and welcome to the forum!

A transposed tortoise doesn't always know what's good for him. It would be in this tortoise's best interest to box him up in shredded newspaper and 'store' him in a cool, dry spot until Spring. He should be kept around 45F degrees, and dry. Desert tortoise's eyes will freeze if allowed to be in temperatures down below 32F degrees, so a blanket won't help.

Thanks for the input... I much appreciate it! Chris
 

AZWahoo

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Where in AZ are you? The last two Winters where I am have been so mild, I wonder if that's why your guy had trouble figuring out it was time to get in a safe burrow? This year has already proven it is going to be a much, much colder winter. Hopefully you can get him to settle down in a box somewhere nice, cool and safe!

To reply to your question: I am in Tucson. C
 

AZWahoo

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UPDATE. I have moved "Bubba" from his shallow self-dug burrow to the man-made burrow. I am monitoring temperatures inside the burrow and out. In the past two days, the outdoor temps have ranged from a low of 38 to a high of 80. The burrow temps have remained in the 48-55 degree range. Compared to the burrow, my garage would have similar or even wider temperature fluctuations. Will keep you posted. C
 

AZWahoo

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The temps in the burrow remained pretty stable - never lower than high 40s, never higher than low 60s - throughout the winter, and today Bubba emerged for the first time since fall, quite energetic, robust, and thirsty!
 

smc

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I'm in Tucson also - behind Lakeside. Is your tortoise out of hibernation yet?
 
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