To hibernate or not hibernate. That is the question.

mark1

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I'm not an expert and I don't want a single person to believe what I'm saying in this is true and the right way. I've been wondering if deep hibernation is just a defense instinct depending on the climate a tortoise is born into. Or can they semi hibernate? It seems like that's what my little Russian does. He is slower in the fall and the first part of the winter. Then he becomes really active until fall again. If he had been healthy when I got him I may have looked into hibernation but he wasn't. After all these years I don't want to put him in a refrigerator.?
i believe "semi-hibernate" is what they all do in between temperatures incompatable with activity and temperatures where they can be active , especially water turtles , water temperatures fluctuate often and a lot during normal winters ..... might have something to do with why they call what reptiles do brumation , and not hibernation ...........

hibernation is absolutely a survival method , it's a survival method they have evolved to be capable of ........ not all turtles or tortoises are freeze tolerant , some have evolved that ability ...... reasons for northernmost distribution boundries are pretty clear cut and understandable ...... limits for southernmost distribution boundries , not so clear cut or understandable , at least to me ......

i have been told that necropsies on captive kept turtles and tortoise often reveal liver disease , regardless of cause of death ...... the liver and pancreas are major factors in their ability to hibernate ....... blood glucose and fat storage of turtles and tortoises that hibernate vary by season , turtles and tortoises that don't hibernate do not have this seasonal variation ..... blood glucose and fat storage involve the liver , pancreas , and hormones associated with the pituitary , thyroid and adrenal glands ...... my question would be when these turtles or tortoises that have evovled these seasonal physiological cycles are deprived of one part of the cycle , what does that do ?

i'd be interested in seeing pictures of temperate adult captive born turtles or tortoises that have never been hibernated ....... the oldest box turtles i've got that i know were not wild caught and have been hibernated their entire lives are 12-15 yrs old.....

read a story about a blanding's turtle project in ohio , a female they captured was first captured 70yrs prior ........ so she hibernated succesfully for more than 70yrs

these are a 6yr old and a 12-15 yr old captive born box turtles .. i'd like to see something similar , non-hibernated for comparison ...... not that i think either way better , i've just not seen it but one way .....

DSCF7924-2.jpg



 

amenezes

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It's all interesting stuff! Thanks everyone for all the information. I am building a little box with heat for him and I think he'll be fine for now. He seems happy and eating well.
 

maggie3fan

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@mark1 ...is this what you mean? This is an Eastern 14 years old, never hibernated...
100 0814
She lives inside during the winter under an incandescent 65 watt bulb and a che...spring and summer she lives outside...
100 0816
This is terrapin ornata ornata...Supposed to be 11 years old, I've had for 10 years, same thing as the Eastern...
100 0817
these two don't need hibernation for deep sleep...lol
100 0813
 

Cathie G

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i believe "semi-hibernate" is what they all do in between temperatures incompatable with activity and temperatures where they can be active , especially water turtles , water temperatures fluctuate often and a lot during normal winters ..... might have something to do with why they call what reptiles do brumation , and not hibernation ...........

hibernation is absolutely a survival method , it's a survival method they have evolved to be capable of ........ not all turtles or tortoises are freeze tolerant , some have evolved that ability ...... reasons for northernmost distribution boundries are pretty clear cut and understandable ...... limits for southernmost distribution boundries , not so clear cut or understandable , at least to me ......

i have been told that necropsies on captive kept turtles and tortoise often reveal liver disease , regardless of cause of death ...... the liver and pancreas are major factors in their ability to hibernate ....... blood glucose and fat storage of turtles and tortoises that hibernate vary by season , turtles and tortoises that don't hibernate do not have this seasonal variation ..... blood glucose and fat storage involve the liver , pancreas , and hormones associated with the pituitary , thyroid and adrenal glands ...... my question would be when these turtles or tortoises that have evovled these seasonal physiological cycles are deprived of one part of the cycle , what does that do ?

i'd be interested in seeing pictures of temperate adult captive born turtles or tortoises that have never been hibernated ....... the oldest box turtles i've got that i know were not wild caught and have been hibernated their entire lives are 12-15 yrs old.....

read a story about a blanding's turtle project in ohio , a female they captured was first captured 70yrs prior ........ so she hibernated succesfully for more than 70yrs

these are a 6yr old and a 12-15 yr old captive born box turtles .. i'd like to see something similar , non-hibernated for comparison ...... not that i think either way better , i've just not seen it but one way .....

DSCF7924-2.jpg



Yes and there's the underground or burrow to factor in on some also. I've read that people build underground homes because they're easier to heat. Who says that they don't come out now and then if they get warm enough to eat a bit.?
 

mark1

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@mark1 ...is this what you mean? This is an Eastern 14 years old, never hibernated...
View attachment 334312
She lives inside during the winter under an incandescent 65 watt bulb and a che...spring and summer she lives outside...
View attachment 334313
This is terrapin ornata ornata...Supposed to be 11 years old, I've had for 10 years, same thing as the Eastern...
View attachment 334314
these two don't need hibernation for deep sleep...lol
View attachment 334315
yes , thank you , they look good , were they captive born ?
 
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mark1

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Yes and there's the underground or burrow to factor in on some also. I've read that people build underground homes because they're easier to heat. Who says that they don't come out now and then if they get warm enough to eat a bit.?
it would take an extended hot period to get them to eat anything , along with the opportunity to find something to eat ......... myself i think ground temperature influences ground hibernating turtle and tortoise behavior more than air temp .....
 

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it would take an extended hot period to get them to eat anything , along with the opportunity to find something to eat ......... myself i think ground temperature influences ground hibernating turtle and tortoise behavior more than air temp .....
What I find absolutely fascinating is here we are trying to figure this all out because of turtles & torts who have come into our lives; we're trying to figure out how best to give them as "natural" a life as we can in our care; we observe, comment & discuss OUR ideas; the turtles & torts respond back as best they can. How else are you gonna figure this out since there is no Turtle or Tortoise Gawd to tell us how to do things like brumate or determine sex? You guys seriously rock!!
 

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it certainly outwardly appears to have health benefits ..... i'd guess it has to do with running down their reserves , and the vivid color in the spring is probably due to some hibernation related hormonal process .........i would think a solid understanding of how they hibernate naturally would be imperitive before someone would attempt it , especially to do it artificially ....... i've done it in a fridge before , but only on turtles that i had gathered up which had already gone into hibernation naturally ..... i wouldn't have a clue as to how to completely artificially put them into hibernation ....
For me it boils down to risk mitigation. I am far more confident in letting my Russian choose his eating/sleeping desires over the fall and winter in an enclosed chamber than my ability to brumate him in a fridge safely. My lack of experience and knowledge with brumation makes him more at risk than a yearly “slow period.” Possibly not the ideal, but definitely safer than me getting it wrong…
 

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I have successfully hibernated my DT Parker for 3 yrs now. First year, I think temps were a bit too warm so I worked on that by putting him in an unheated area of the house. Up off the floor, basically in a box. A cool, dark, quiet place. I have followed all @Tom care sheets,which have helped immensely. Last cpl yrs, I had a vet check before hib but our rep vet retired, so idk, this year. He is slowing down, eating less, sleeping more, but on the days we get some decent temps, he goes outside, basks, some eating. I soak him ALOT. He seems to love his soaks. It helps warm him up and hydrate him. When I pick him up, I can tell by holding him whether he is hydrated, or peed a lot recently. I make sure he has some ‘fat’ built up on his legs, and looks healthy in every way. So far, so good. ?. I keep him up as long as I can depending on temps and then stop feeding him a week or so before I put him down for his winter nap. I’m with you, the fridge thing kind of freaks me out, although logically, it makes perfect sense.
TBH, I enjoy the break of brumation since I worry about Parker like a kid...... it gives me a bit of down time too. ???‍♀️

PS. I also do a check on him every 2-3 weeks during hibernation. We quietly open box and touch his leg. If he flinches, were good. Quick visual inspection and close box back up.
 
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Tom

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For me it boils down to risk mitigation. I am far more confident in letting my Russian choose his eating/sleeping desires over the fall and winter in an enclosed chamber than my ability to brumate him in a fridge safely. My lack of experience and knowledge with brumation makes him more at risk than a yearly “slow period.” Possibly not the ideal, but definitely safer than me getting it wrong…
This topic comes up frequently during this time of year. I typed this up recently for another thread. It may offer some insight to this one too:

There is nothing dangerous about hibernation. Its a totally natural process. The only thing dangerous about it is people doing it wrong. Its like when a clutch of sulcatas hatches and the person moves them straight from the incubator to an outdoor enclosure where they live 24 hours a day in dry conditions with infrequent soaks. A large percentage of those babies die, and those breeders will say "some of them aren't meant to survive... Babies started this way will die because of the breeder's ignorance and mistakes. Hatching is not dangerous to the babies. Being started all wrong is what is dangerous to them.

In the same way, hibernation is not dangerous to them, but letting them eat too late into the season, not soaking them enough before and after hibernation is a mistake, and letting them experience wild temperature fluctuations that are too high or too low is a mistake. It can be done outside in some parts of the world and some parts of the country, but freak warm spells or freak cold spells can wreak havoc on torts hibernating in the ground outdoors. Using a fridge allows the keeper to maintain consistent correct temperatures throughout all of hibernation, as well as the ability to make gradual temperature adjustments down to the correct temperatures in fall, and up to the correct temperatures in spring when its time to wake up. In my area the outside temperature is consistently too warm, and we have wild fluctuations in temperature. We will see a week with highs in the 50s and raining, and then the next week temps in the 80s and sunny, and as high as low 90s, even in January. This really messes with them. They can be fooled into thinking its springtime in these warm spells, and they will wake up, get active, eat and drink, and then the normal colder January weather returns, and they die from food rotting in their gut. People read about these tortoises dying without understanding why they died and then conclude that "hibernation is risky", or scary, or not worth it, etc... Hibernation is easy and trouble free if a few simple facts are observed and taken into account. Its the people who leave them outside to fend for themselves in a small outdoor enclosure, and erroneously conclude that they survived without out help for millions of years, that experience these deaths. Sure they've survived in the wild with out human help, BUT, #1. There are often deaths in the wild for a wide variety of reasons, and #2. Our little tiny backyard enclosures are NOT the wild and do not always allow the torts to do what they would do in the wild to survive the winter.

You don't ever HAVE to hibernate your tortoise, but in my opinion, you SHOULD hibernate your tortoise after learning about how to do it correctly. This is not difficult. We all had to learn some basic care info to keep our tortoises alive and thriving. In the same way, we can learn some basic hibernation info to allow our tortoises to safely carry out this natural, easy, safe, annual process. In the same way that 100% of my sulcata hatchlings thrive and grow up healthy, 100% of the reptiles of all species and ages that I hibernate survive and thrive. This includes first year babies, in addition to larger more mature animals.
 

mark1

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the only thing i personally worry about when i hibernate my turtles is freezing for too long a period of time ....... a refrigerator alleviates that issue , probably would need to pay attention to moisture/humidity ..... i would guess as far as outdoors you'd need to worry about predators with tortoises , not a problem with box turtles or water hibernating turtles ....

there is quite a bit written on the natural behavior of russian tortoises , this one seems pretty descriptive

A short spring before a long jump: The ecological challenge to the steppe tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi)
 

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the only thing i personally worry about when i hibernate my turtles is freezing for too long a period of time ....... a refrigerator alleviates that issue , probably would need to pay attention to moisture/humidity ..... i would guess as far as outdoors you'd need to worry about predators with tortoises , not a problem with box turtles or water hibernating turtles ....

there is quite a bit written on the natural behavior of russian tortoises , this one seems pretty descriptive

A short spring before a long jump: The ecological challenge to the steppe tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi)
Thank you for the article, Mark. I had not seen that one before. I've saved it to read later when I have more time
 

Jan A

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the only thing i personally worry about when i hibernate my turtles is freezing for too long a period of time ....... a refrigerator alleviates that issue , probably would need to pay attention to moisture/humidity ..... i would guess as far as outdoors you'd need to worry about predators with tortoises , not a problem with box turtles or water hibernating turtles ....

there is quite a bit written on the natural behavior of russian tortoises , this one seems pretty descriptive

A short spring before a long jump: The ecological challenge to the steppe tortoise (Testudo horsfieldi)
Three months of sex & foraging & 9 months of brumation for Russians. Their climate must really be cold.
 

mark1

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and really hot and dry , i'm sure some of that is aestivation ..... i'd guess aestivation to be more dangerous than hibernation .....
 

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I think it might be appropriate to bring up here - Turtles and tortoises brumate, not hibernate. I normally try to avoid the "correction police" type behavior, but this discussion bring up exactly why scientists decided it was necessary to create the term brumation to differentiate from hibernation. I know it seems like correcting someone for saying rattlesnakes are poisonous and telling them -no they are venomous. Most of the time we all know what is meant and it really makes little difference. But when the discussion turns to a person afraid of eating rattlesnake meat - it is indeed appropriate to remind they are not poisonous - they are however venomous - so the meat is completely safe, the bite is not!

With this discussion it is therefore appropriate to look at the difference between hibernation and brumation. Many of the myths and preconceptions about allowing a tortoise to brumate comes from our impressions of hibernation.

A hibernating mammal goes into a deep coma-like sleep when hibernating. Nothing disturbs it. It stores fat for the winter and can loose up to 30% of its body weight by the time it awakens in spring. It does not eat or drink at all during this process. Awakening too early can be life-threatening. Not having enough fat reserves can be life threatening. Their body temperature is maintained and their metabolism continues through hibernation. It cannot "semi" hibernate. It is "down for the count" until spring.

A brumating turtle or tortoise does not go into a coma-like sleep. Their body simply slows - breathing, heart rate and metabolism. In fact metabolism can almost totally shut down. Heart rates will drop to 1 beat per minute. Breathing almost stops and in aquatic turtles, the need for oxygen is lowered enough to where all oxygen requirements can be absorbed directly from the water with no need to breath at all. They do not store fat to live off. They store glycogen reserves in their blood and cells to use as the little energy the need to last all winter. A turtle or tortoise will not loose weight during brumation as no fat is being consumed. They should weigh just about the same in spring as they did in fall when starting their brumation. The little weight loss some tortoises have is because of dehydration. A brumating reptile does often need to drink while brumating. The level of brumation will determine this. Brumation is not all or nothing. It is a continuum of degrees of brumation. They can be totally out under the ice until spring thaw, or in a more sleepy, uninterested in food state that still basks in warm spells throughout the winter. When warmer spells come, breathing and drinking increase, but the desire for food seems to be eliminated. Still in a reduced metabolic mode, the glycogen in their system fuels the very slow metabolic needs when more active during brumation. This is a similar condition to aestivation in summer and very hot weather. Chelonians can shut down metabolic needs and survive extremely long periods when conditions are not favorable. Totally unlike hibernation!!

I have watch turtles go through winters and brumate for over 40 years now, since I started building semi-wild environments in my ponds. I have spotted turtles from very cold climates and Suwanee cooters from N Florida where they probably naturally would never brumate. All thrive in my outdoor ponds year round. In Central California where the temperatures are much more mild, yet cold enough to trigger brumation. My spotted never get as cold as their natural climate, and stay a bit more active through winter. My Suwanee cooter get much colder than they would ever experience in a winter in N Florida, and just lay on the bottom most of the winter, coming up to breathe perhaps a few times a month. My oldest Suwanee cooter is 37 as she hatched in 1984 and I've had her ever since. She is thriving and still lays eggs every year. I have never lost a single turtle to brumating through the winter, with about 100 turtles normally in my pond.

So perhaps it is of value to keep in mind our chelonians brumate, not hibernate when deciding what is or is not appropriate and indeed within the range of things brumation allows for.
 

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I have the same problem with my Eastern Box Turtle. She is becoming much less active because she wants to brumate even indoors!

She has a lost a good bit a weight but I know she is happy.

Fortunately I am able to keep her semi active and she still eats a little bit. I let her go for a day or two but I wake her up to not let her brumate at room temperature.

She will go under her UV/Haolgen lamps and stay there for a good time.

I think there is a balance with these reptiles.
 

maggie3fan

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I think it might be appropriate to bring up here - Turtles and tortoises brumate, not hibernate. I normally try to avoid the "correction police" type behavior, but this discussion bring up exactly why scientists decided it was necessary to create the term brumation to differentiate from hibernation. I know it seems like correcting someone for saying rattlesnakes are poisonous and telling them -no they are venomous. Most of the time we all know what is meant and it really makes little difference. But when the discussion turns to a person afraid of eating rattlesnake meat - it is indeed appropriate to remind they are not poisonous - they are however venomous - so the meat is completely safe, the bite is not!

With this discussion it is therefore appropriate to look at the difference between hibernation and brumation. Many of the myths and preconceptions about allowing a tortoise to brumate comes from our impressions of hibernation.

A hibernating mammal goes into a deep coma-like sleep when hibernating. Nothing disturbs it. It stores fat for the winter and can loose up to 30% of its body weight by the time it awakens in spring. It does not eat or drink at all during this process. Awakening too early can be life-threatening. Not having enough fat reserves can be life threatening. Their body temperature is maintained and their metabolism continues through hibernation. It cannot "semi" hibernate. It is "down for the count" until spring.

A brumating turtle or tortoise does not go into a coma-like sleep. Their body simply slows - breathing, heart rate and metabolism. In fact metabolism can almost totally shut down. Heart rates will drop to 1 beat per minute. Breathing almost stops and in aquatic turtles, the need for oxygen is lowered enough to where all oxygen requirements can be absorbed directly from the water with no need to breath at all. They do not store fat to live off. They store glycogen reserves in their blood and cells to use as the little energy the need to last all winter. A turtle or tortoise will not loose weight during brumation as no fat is being consumed. They should weigh just about the same in spring as they did in fall when starting their brumation. The little weight loss some tortoises have is because of dehydration. A brumating reptile does often need to drink while brumating. The level of brumation will determine this. Brumation is not all or nothing. It is a continuum of degrees of brumation. They can be totally out under the ice until spring thaw, or in a more sleepy, uninterested in food state that still basks in warm spells throughout the winter. When warmer spells come, breathing and drinking increase, but the desire for food seems to be eliminated. Still in a reduced metabolic mode, the glycogen in their system fuels the very slow metabolic needs when more active during brumation. This is a similar condition to aestivation in summer and very hot weather. Chelonians can shut down metabolic needs and survive extremely long periods when conditions are not favorable. Totally unlike hibernation!!

I have watch turtles go through winters and brumate for over 40 years now, since I started building semi-wild environments in my ponds. I have spotted turtles from very cold climates and Suwanee cooters from N Florida where they probably naturally would never brumate. All thrive in my outdoor ponds year round. In Central California where the temperatures are much more mild, yet cold enough to trigger brumation. My spotted never get as cold as their natural climate, and stay a bit more active through winter. My Suwanee cooter get much colder than they would ever experience in a winter in N Florida, and just lay on the bottom most of the winter, coming up to breathe perhaps a few times a month. My oldest Suwanee cooter is 37 as she hatched in 1984 and I've had her ever since. She is thriving and still lays eggs every year. I have never lost a single turtle to brumating through the winter, with about 100 turtles normally in my pond.

So perhaps it is of value to keep in mind our chelonians brumate, not hibernate when deciding what is or is not appropriate and indeed within the range of things brumation allows for.
Thanks ever so for taking the time to put that together for us. I hope a moderator will sticky this in the right place for it. You really opened my eyes....
 

amenezes

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I think it might be appropriate to bring up here - Turtles and tortoises brumate, not hibernate. I normally try to avoid the "correction police" type behavior, but this discussion bring up exactly why scientists decided it was necessary to create the term brumation to differentiate from hibernation. I know it seems like correcting someone for saying rattlesnakes are poisonous and telling them -no they are venomous. Most of the time we all know what is meant and it really makes little difference. But when the discussion turns to a person afraid of eating rattlesnake meat - it is indeed appropriate to remind they are not poisonous - they are however venomous - so the meat is completely safe, the bite is not!

With this discussion it is therefore appropriate to look at the difference between hibernation and brumation. Many of the myths and preconceptions about allowing a tortoise to brumate comes from our impressions of hibernation.

A hibernating mammal goes into a deep coma-like sleep when hibernating. Nothing disturbs it. It stores fat for the winter and can loose up to 30% of its body weight by the time it awakens in spring. It does not eat or drink at all during this process. Awakening too early can be life-threatening. Not having enough fat reserves can be life threatening. Their body temperature is maintained and their metabolism continues through hibernation. It cannot "semi" hibernate. It is "down for the count" until spring.

A brumating turtle or tortoise does not go into a coma-like sleep. Their body simply slows - breathing, heart rate and metabolism. In fact metabolism can almost totally shut down. Heart rates will drop to 1 beat per minute. Breathing almost stops and in aquatic turtles, the need for oxygen is lowered enough to where all oxygen requirements can be absorbed directly from the water with no need to breath at all. They do not store fat to live off. They store glycogen reserves in their blood and cells to use as the little energy the need to last all winter. A turtle or tortoise will not loose weight during brumation as no fat is being consumed. They should weigh just about the same in spring as they did in fall when starting their brumation. The little weight loss some tortoises have is because of dehydration. A brumating reptile does often need to drink while brumating. The level of brumation will determine this. Brumation is not all or nothing. It is a continuum of degrees of brumation. They can be totally out under the ice until spring thaw, or in a more sleepy, uninterested in food state that still basks in warm spells throughout the winter. When warmer spells come, breathing and drinking increase, but the desire for food seems to be eliminated. Still in a reduced metabolic mode, the glycogen in their system fuels the very slow metabolic needs when more active during brumation. This is a similar condition to aestivation in summer and very hot weather. Chelonians can shut down metabolic needs and survive extremely long periods when conditions are not favorable. Totally unlike hibernation!!

I have watch turtles go through winters and brumate for over 40 years now, since I started building semi-wild environments in my ponds. I have spotted turtles from very cold climates and Suwanee cooters from N Florida where they probably naturally would never brumate. All thrive in my outdoor ponds year round. In Central California where the temperatures are much more mild, yet cold enough to trigger brumation. My spotted never get as cold as their natural climate, and stay a bit more active through winter. My Suwanee cooter get much colder than they would ever experience in a winter in N Florida, and just lay on the bottom most of the winter, coming up to breathe perhaps a few times a month. My oldest Suwanee cooter is 37 as she hatched in 1984 and I've had her ever since. She is thriving and still lays eggs every year. I have never lost a single turtle to brumating through the winter, with about 100 turtles normally in my pond.

So perhaps it is of value to keep in mind our chelonians brumate, not hibernate when deciding what is or is not appropriate and indeed within the range of things brumation allows for.
Great info indeed!
 

Tom

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. i would guess as far as outdoors you'd need to worry about predators with tortoises , not a problem with box turtles or water hibernating turtles ....
Do you not have to worry about raccoons rooting around in the ponds? I guess the turtles would move to the deepest parts of the pond out of reach of the raccoons. Is that correct?
 

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