To hibernate or not to hibernate, that is the question

Tim84

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2015
Messages
25
I would appreciate some advice and the reasons around such advice too as there seems to be a lot of conflicting information available.

Toby is 47+ and has always been hibernated for several months in a cardboard box of straw in the garage. For background see here

We live somewhere slightly colder than he's been living in the past, literally just a couple of 'c but it will regularly hit 0'c over winter.

He lives outside and, I think, wants to hibernate already as seems to be slowing down and not eating. Shall we:
- keep him going for a few more weeks then hibernate in a box of straw as per past 47 years
- as above but hibernate in a better way i.e. soil etc.
- buy a tortoise table, bring him in, skip hibernation altogether? I'm leaning towards this one
 

wellington

Well-Known Member
Moderator
10 Year Member!
Tortoise Club
Joined
Sep 6, 2011
Messages
42,193
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
I have a Russian and I don't hibernate and he never has been from me or his previous owner. However, if he was always hibernated, I think I would keep that going and make adjustments for the cooler temps. Just what I would do. Thinking it would be hard on him not to after all those years doing so.
 

Tim84

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2015
Messages
25
Thinking it would be hard on him not to after all those years doing so.

This is my main concern; is keeping him awake going to be too much change for him to take? He was in a deep sleep this morning and took some waking up so is clearly trying to hibernate and it's too early.
 

Gillian M

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Aug 28, 2014
Messages
15,185
Location (City and/or State)
Jordan
I'm not making an issue of it. :<3:OLI hibernated when I first got him. I believe that at a later stage he got used to the much higher temp at home, in comparison to that outdoors during Winter, and therefore did not hibernate any more. Please keep in mind that torts living in the wild have no alternative but to hibernate. On the other hand, those living in houses, do not necessarily have to.;)
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
57,233
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
If it ain't broke, don't "fix" it.

If whatever you have been doing have been working for 47 years, then I say you have a successful system going. Why change it? Why change anything about it?

I say you should be teaching us about hibernation methods.

Where are you? What species is Toby? What are the typical temperature highs and lows outside where you are and what are the highs and lows in Toby's box of straw in the garage over winter?
 

kirsty Johnston

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
1,027
Location (City and/or State)
Scotland
I agree that if you have a system that works don't change it but would also ask how long it's been since you moved house?
I recently moved in August and have made the decision not to hibernate this year due to the distress of moving and my vet and my good friends on the TFO have recommended I don't hibernate due to that also.
 

Tim84

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2015
Messages
25
Thanks for the replies. Unfortunately it's not my successful system, not my garage he was in, and it's not me that's moved house! He belonged to my grandparents for the last 47 years and someone else before that.

It was only joining this forum that helped me identify his species; spur thigh.

The highs and lows over winter will probably be roughly -6'c to 10'c. I'm in the Chilterns, UK.

If I hibernate him it'll be in the shed, so presumably similar temperatures and fluctuations.
 

kirsty Johnston

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
1,027
Location (City and/or State)
Scotland
Thanks for the replies. Unfortunately it's not my successful system, not my garage he was in, and it's not me that's moved house! He belonged to my grandparents for the last 47 years and someone else before that.

It was only joining this forum that helped me identify his species; spur thigh.

The highs and lows over winter will probably be roughly -6'c to 10'c. I'm in the Chilterns, UK.

If I hibernate him it'll be in the shed, so presumably similar temperatures and fluctuations.
Oh I see. I wouldn't recommend hibernation then due to the change in territory. Tortoises do typically slow down in the winter but if you keep the temps right all should be good!
Also for next year if you do hibernate it's very important not to let the temps drop in to the minus temps. It can be life threatening :(
I also have a spur thigh and live in the uk. Feel free to drop me a message if you need anything! I think it's great you have took him on :)
 

WithLisa

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2015
Messages
967
Location (City and/or State)
Austria
If he is used to his outside enclosure I guess he wouldn't like to move into a small, dark tortoise table (and it would be yet again a stressful territory change).
Could you heat the shed or build a heated box for hibernation (to save electricity)? Or maybe you want to use a fridge?

My Hermanns are hibernating in a cold frame in their enclosure, during severe frost I use a heat cable and a thermostat to keep it frost-free.
 

kirsty Johnston

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
1,027
Location (City and/or State)
Scotland
If he is used to his outside enclosure I guess he wouldn't like to move into a small, dark tortoise table (and it would be yet again a stressful territory change).
Could you heat the shed or build a heated box for hibernation (to save electricity)? Or maybe you want to use a fridge?

My Hermanns are hibernating in a cold frame in their enclosure, during severe frost I use a heat cable and a thermostat to keep it frost-free.
It's not that I don't agree with you because I actually do but hibernating a tortoise which has been through distress is a really bad idea. You should only ever hibernate when the tortoise is in full health and there hasn't been any blips for the past year.
I for one would prefer that my tortoise hibernates but it's not the best thing for his health (this year anyway) and hibernation is a complex procedure that nobody fully understands and I personally wouldn't take that risk
 

WithLisa

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jan 3, 2015
Messages
967
Location (City and/or State)
Austria
It's not that I don't agree with you because I actually do but hibernating a tortoise which has been through distress is a really bad idea.
But if you think change of territory nearly half a year ago is too much stress, that means Toby could never again hibernate? To be overwintered he would have to move into an indoor enclosure and he would have to move outside again in spring (quite similar to the current situation).
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
57,233
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
But if you think change of territory nearly half a year ago is too much stress, that means Toby could never again hibernate? To be overwintered he would have to move into an indoor enclosure and he would have to move outside again in spring (quite similar to the current situation).

I thought Kristy made a good point above, but you are right here Lisa. Using the commonly prescribed terms, no one would ever be able to hibernate a tortoise...

I think the fear of hibernation that is "out there" in the world comes from all the horror stories of people who made obvious mistakes with it and ended up losing beloved tortoises. You and I have not made those mistakes, we have success with it year after year, and so we are not afraid of it.

I have seen many times what kills tortoises that have been hibernated in ways that I feel are not correct are unsafe. It is very climate dependent too, and this adds to the confusion and worry. For example, due to my climate, we cannot hibernate tortoises here in Southern CA the way you do there. We get weeks at a time of temps in the 26-32C range over winter, sometime followed by weeks with daytime highs of only 10C. We get occasional below 0C nights all winter long, but those are usually followed by warmer days.

Anyhow, I can see how it is a difficult concept for people who have not done it, because there are so many differences of opinion on how it needs to be done, largely based on where people live.
 

kirsty Johnston

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
Jul 16, 2014
Messages
1,027
Location (City and/or State)
Scotland
But if you think change of territory nearly half a year ago is too much stress, that means Toby could never again hibernate? To be overwintered he would have to move into an indoor enclosure and he would have to move outside again in spring (quite similar to the current situation).
So this is one of the most highly debated things on this forum. I hear your point and it's valid but on this particular circumstance what I'm reading is that a tortoise has been moved away from his normal home where he stayed for the past 47 years and moved some where different. After moving house myself a few months ago I can safely say that my tortoise is still distressed and not 100% sure of its surroundings. I have made the decision not to hibernate because I wouldn't forgive myself if anything did happen now I've had a piece of doubt - but I won't criticise someone who goes down the other route. All I am doing is putting my opinion and experience in the mix.
Everyone is on a different side of the fence I'm afraid! :)
 

Tim84

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2015
Messages
25
It seems there is indeed no straightforward answer for this one! I'd like to keep up with hibernating him as it's what he knows, however, with all the variables like new owners, new enclosure, new climate, probably new diet etc. since about March I have no idea whether we've pushed Toby to his limits!

Is keeping him awake and indoors over winter going to open any potential complications?
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
90,782
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
I allow all my hibernating species to hibernate. The only exceptions are babies younger than 3 years and thin or ill tortoises.
 

Tim84

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2015
Messages
25
How would I tell if Toby is 'thin' if I don't have a starting or 'happy' weight to go by, Yvonne?
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
90,782
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
Ascott and I can tell by looking at the 'meat' on their upper arms. You can also tell by hefting them. If he feels like a rock of the same size he's not thin. If he feels like a shell full of air, he's thin.
 

Tim84

New Member
Joined
May 17, 2015
Messages
25
I'll get some pictures in the daytime then, he's not coming out much since the weather got colder so we've been giving him warm baths too. I'll get a picture in his next bath!
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 23, 2008
Messages
90,782
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
To answer your other question - Last winter I had to keep a female desert tortoise up over the winter because she was thin. I didn't notice any stress or difference in her behaviour in the overwinter quarters. She had a large area with a hiding place, a heat pad, a waterer, lights and plenty of food. She seemed happy and always came out to eat every morning when I opened the lid.
 
Top