Tom's Brumation Thread

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Every fall we get bombarded here on the forum with all sorts of questions and problems regarding hibernation and tortoises "slowing down" for winter. The purpose of this thread is to talk about all aspects of this subject, to dispel some of the myths and mysteries, and give a "how to" list of instructions for people who want to do it. Hopefully, this thread will answer the vast majority of questions that we commonly encounter, but further questions are welcome, and more detailed explanation is always available for the asking.

Hibernation? Mammals hibernate. Its a process that involves burning fat stores to survive cold weather. I've been misusing the term for decades and didn't really care because everyone knew I meant. @Markw84 was kind enough to explain it in more detail and correct my ignorant mistake after all these years. Reptiles, including our temperate species of tortoises, do NOT hibernate. They brumate. Brumation involves different bodily processes than hibernation. Its a fascinating subject and I encourage anyone interested to dive deeper into it, but "brumation" is the correct term for what our tortoises do.

Tropical species like sulcatas, red foots, and star tortoises for example, do NOT brumate. Leaving one of these outside without a temperature controlled shelter during a North American winter is cruel and often fatal if temps drop low enough for long enough. You can get away with it in some cases in south Florida and parts of Arizona, but it is not "good" for these animals to drop below certain temperatures, even if they can "survive" these un-naturally low temperatures. I have seen countless tortoises die this way because ignorant people tell other ignorant people that "Its fine... I've been doing it for years..", and then they have no explanation for why the tortoise died. I'll end this paragraph with this: Keep tropical tortoise species at tropical temperatures. Enough said.

On to temperate species... What does temperate mean? Stolen from "Wikipedia":
In geography, the temperate climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes (23.5° to 66.5° N/S of Equator), which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth. These zones generally have wider temperature ranges throughout the year and more distinct seasonal changes compared to tropical climates, where such variations are often small and usually only have precipitation changes.

I learned about the difference between tropical animals and temperate animals back in grade school, high school, college, and in my pet store jobs too. If no one previously introduced you to these terms and concepts, well... you're welcome! :) No part of the USA is in the tropics. Not even the southern most of the Florida keys, and certainly not Chula Vista here in Southern CA, nor the Southern tip of Texas reaching down so low. I was in Ft. Meyers FL two years ago in March and when I came outside one morning during an unusual cold spell, the overnight temperature had dropped to 49 degrees. That is not tropical! The temperature there hardly ever gets that low, but it happens and the tortoise keepers there know how to work around it. Phoenix Arizona feels like you are living inside an oven in summer time, but even there it occasionally drops down to freezing overnight during the odd winter cold spell.

How does this relate to our tortoises? Many of the tortoise species we keep are not native to areas within the tropics. These are the "temperate" species, and the subject of this thread. Russians, all the hermanni, most of the greeks (arguably all of them...), Chersina, Chaco tortoises, and all of the North American Gopherus species. These species all experience four seasons in their native ranges. The temperature extremes certainly vary between say Russian tortoises from Kazakhstan at one extreme and Tunisian Greeks from Northern Africa at the other. Most of these species brumate in the wild in winter time. It is my opinion, based on my years of keeping all sorts of tortoises and other reptiles from all over the world, that species that brumate in the wild should also be brumated in our captive environments. I find this yields the best results, maintains good health, and is most "natural" for these species.

But what if I don't want to brumate my tortoise, for any reason? You don't have to. As far as we can tell, it does no harm to them, and it doesn't stop reproduction or shorten their lifespans. As far as we know... There have been forum members who kept their temperate species up, eating and awake all winter for many years in a row with no apparent ill effect. If there is some detriment to not brumating these species, it remains hidden to me. Having said that... Your tortoise may have other ideas, and even with your best efforts, they somehow "know" it is winter and that they should be "asleep". We don't know how they know this, but they know. Some of them are in windowless basements with full spectrum bright lighting, including strong summer-like UVB levels, and temperatures are maintained unchanged, but they still somehow know what time of year it is outside.

Here are steps to take if you don't want to brumate your temperate species:
1. Add bright LED lighting in the 5000-6500K color range. Lots of it. Make it look like daytime outside looks.
2. Set light timers to be on for 13-14 hours.
3. Bump all ambient temperatures up a bit.
4. Keep night temps warmer. Shoot for no lower than the 70s over night.
5. Pull the tortoise out of hiding and soak it often. Don't let it stay hidden in a cool hide box all day.
6. I usually run HO UV tubes for 2-3 hours mid day. To keep a tortoise up, I might bump them up to 6-8 hours a day.

Sometimes these efforts fail, and the tortoise is just determined to remain dormant, not eat, and sleep away the winter months. In that case, you may decide to switch tactics and brumate the tortoise.

Many people are afraid of brumation. There are lots of horror stories and many tortoises die during the process when it is not done correctly. It is my observation that in almost all of these cases, people did one thing or another wrong to cause the problem. I myself have brumated dozens of reptiles over dozens of years and had only one problem. The one time I had a problem it was because I broke my own rules and followed the advice of someone who didn't understand my climate, and I let my Argentine tegus hibernate on their own outside. This was a mistake because my winters are not cold enough, and not consistently cold at all. We have spells in January with warm sunny temps the 80s regularly. These warm spells wreak havoc with animals that are supposed to be brumating. When done correctly, I have a 100% success rate. That is not coincidence or luck. That is the result of understanding the basics of the process and following a few simple steps. The reason so many tortoises die and we hear so many sad stories is because most people leave them outside to fend for themselves during the wind down time, regardless of current weather and temperatures, OR the other big one is people letting them brumate outside subject to the cruel whims of Mother Nature through a harsh frozen winter. There are some climates that get cold and stay cold outside, but not anywhere in the Southern United States. Here are some issues with brumating them outdoors in their enclosures:
1. Temperature fluctuation, temps too cold, and temps too warm, are all major problems. Wild weather swings can kill them. In my area we can have night temps in the 20s, and two days later hit a high of 90 degrees in January.
2. Rats. A dormant tortoise can literally be chewed to the bone.
3. Ants in some areas. Ants go underground to escape the cold too. They still need food when they are down there. A cold sleeping tortoise is ant food.
4. Flooding from rain or melting snow. Many a tortoise has drowned in cold water in ts shelter or burrow.
5. Burrow collapse. In cold weather, the tortoise will not have the energy to dig out and they can suffocate.
6. Predators. Food is scarce in winter. Raccoons, coyotes and others can sniff out tortoises as food sources.
7. Pet dogs. Many people let the dog out into the back yard for potty breaks and due to the cold weather, they stay inside. Next to dehydration, dogs are the number one killers and maimers of tortoises. A dog can find, dig up, and demolish a tortoise in seconds.

None of these things can happen to them indoors in controlled conditions, or outdoors in some sort of structure with the correct set up. For my way of doing it, the temperatures and conditions are completely controlled. The weather isn't much of a factor. With all the things that can go wrong, and all the uncertainty, I don't know why anyone would leave the tortoise to its own devices outside. Many people do though. Some people who are skilled and experienced at it, and know their own area and climate well, have the ability to make it work year after year. Until it doesn't work one year. Most of the people who do it this way will have lots of stories about the ones they lost. I don't lose any of them. I only have one sad story and its because I did it 'their way" that one time.

I'm frequently asked: How do they survive in the wild? 1. Many don't. 2. Your back yard is not the wild. In the wild tortoises have hundreds of square miles of territory to scout out and look for just the right conditions to dig in and survive the winter. They need the right soil type, the right slope, a slope facing the right direction, the right vegetation, etc... Many tortoise species, like our CA desert tortoises make long deep burrows and stay way down underground where temperatures are cool and stable, unlike the surface.

Another big point of contention is the age or size at which a tortoise should first brumate. Many sources say don't do it for the first year, or the first three years, or the first five years. Why not? They all do it in the wild. Winter happens in the wild every single year, even the year they hatch. Again, if left outside in some sort of above ground shelter or burrow, they are not likely to survive. If prepared for brumation correctly, kept at the correct temperature, and brought out of brumation correctly, they all survive and thrive. I do this with all temperate baby lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises their first year and every year. Bert Langerwurf, "The Lizard King", told me, "if you don't hibernate Argentine tegus their first year and every year, they will never reproduce." I never tested this theory, but he did and firmly believed it. Failure to brumate doesn't seem to stop our beloved tortoise species from reproducing, but I have to believe it does have endocrinological effects. I don't skip brumation for any temperate reptile unless I have some reason to suspect they are unhealthy or unfit for it in some way. I don't see bruamtion as some big monumental scary thing. Its just a normal easy annual process that all temperate reptiles engage in to survive a cold winter.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: MAKE A DECISION!
Either you are going to brumate your tortoise, or you are not. This is a deliberate process, not something that just sort of happens. Either way is fine, but some limbo area in between is NOT fine. Many times the tortoise slows down, gets less active, stops eating, and people just leave them sitting there in an indoor enclosure at room temperature. This is not okay. This is not brumation. Likewise, leaving them outside to fend for themselves as winter approaches is not okay either. The weather can and does change drastically day by day in Fall. It could be too warm or too cold, If they are just sitting outside subjected to these extremes while trapped in our small enclosures. It can be disastrous in many ways. We have brought these animals into our captive environments and we must help them to survive and thrive in these foreign environments. Either wake that tortoise up using the steps listed a few paragraphs earlier in this thread, or follow these next steps and begin the process of preparing the tortoise for brumation. YOU decide if your tortoise is going to brumate, or not, and plan accordingly. Make this decision by late summer and start taking the right steps for which ever way you want to go.

How to prepare a tortoise for brumation:
1. Bring them down gradually. I find about one month to be just right to get them ready for a winter slumber. It could be condensed into two or three weeks, or extended to six weeks, but somewhere around four weeks works best in my experience.
2. Make sure their gut is empty BEFORE dropping temps or shortening days. Two weeks of no food with the normal warm temps should do it. This should illustrate why letting them do this on their own outside isn't safe. They need to be fasted for two weeks while the temperatures and light duration stays "normal". What happens if the weather turns cold three days into the fast? What happens if there is a warm spell and they keep eating outside while we want them to be fasting? We have to have control of the lighting and temperatures to some degree. Indoors is the obvious solution, but a temperature controlled night box with a heat lamp outside can make it work too. If we control the temperatures, it does't matter what the weather does. I set my night boxes to stay around 65F overnight for these first two weeks of fasting. If the weather is warm and sunny, they control their own basking temperature. If the weather is cold and overcast, I set the basking light inside the night box on its timer, so they can warm up to operating temperature, digest the food in their gut, and get it moving out. After two weeks of fasting at warm temps, I start dropping the thermostat setting every other day and running the basking lamps less and less each day. After two weeks of cooling which comes after two weeks of fasting at warmed temps, they are ready to be placed into their brumation container and dropped to the correct temperature for the species.
3. Make sure they are well hydrated by soaking them frequently in the days and weeks before and after brumation. Soak early and often. This goes for all species.
4. Make sure the temperature is consistent and cold enough for the entire brumation time. 38-39F for Russians, 49-50F for DTs. 45ish for Greeks, hermanni and Chersina. How do you do this outside? Everywhere in North America and Europe has highly variable temperatures all winter long.
5. Don't let them brumate outside in a self dug burrow in your backyard. NOT safe! Don't do it in your basement, unless the temps are stable and correct for your species. What about in the closet? Does your closet in your house stay a consistent 38-45 degrees all winter long? Mine sure doesn't. Use a thermometer.

More notes to consider:
1. How long to brumate? In most cases, 8 weeks is enough and 16 weeks is not too long. I tend to go shorter for babies, and longer for larger adults, but this varies. On average, I do 12-14 weeks for adult animals. There is a wide margin of error available here. There is no "set" time for this.
2. When do I start this process? This may vary with your climate, but I usually feed them up good and soak frequently in October, and begin the fast in November. Keep soaking during the fast. I finish the cooling process and start the actual brumation around the beginning of December. It is okay to deviate from this general timeline. You should be controlling the temperature through al of this.
3. When do I bring them out of brumaton? Mine sleep all December, January, and February. I start watching for a long warm sunny spell in the 10 day forecast in March. If it stays cold longer than usual, I might leave them until we get closer to April. If we have a warm February and March is warm and sunny early on, I wake them earlier. I let the weather influence this decision, but I still control the temperatures throughout.
4. What sort of container do I brumate them in? I like plastic shoe boxes. I use some of whatever substrate they are already used to, and I keep if very lightly damp. Not wet, but not dry and dusty either. I make the substrate 3-4 inches deep. You can drill holes around the top, but this isn't necessary as they are not air tight.
5. How do I keep the temperature constant and consistent? Use a fridge. Full size fridges are the best way and most reliable. Mini fridges tend to not hold a consistent temp very well. Your thermometer will be your guide. A few years ago, I had an observation with my Chersina's outdoor insulated night box. Much like my swimming pool in winter, the well insulated night box remained at a stable temperature that was an average of the day time high and night time low. 65 degree days and 35 degree nights held a box temp of 48-50 with little change day to day. I let my Chersina brumate outside the last few years this way and it worked very well. During winter warm spells I had to put some ice bottles in the box a few times, far from the tortoise and where they couldn't be reached, but the temp stayed very consistent even when we had these hot spells or cold spells too. There are many variables involved and ultimately your thermometers are the only way to get a reliable answer on whether or not something like this will work for you and your tortoise, but it CAN work for some people. For someone who lives where it is much colder than here, a heat source could be set to 40-45 degrees, depending on the needs of your species, so that the insulated night box never gets too cold. A well built insulated box protects them from temperature extremes, predators, inclement weather, and you don't have to buy or run a fridge. If you can get the right temperatures, this method can work for you. If not, the fridge method always works.
6. Fridges are not air tight, and neither are plastic shoe boxes. Your tortoise will not suffocate.
7. I don't weigh them or mess with them much during brumation. You can if you want to. I prefer to leave them alone.
8. How do I bring the tortoise out of brumation? When I see that March warm spell coming, I begin adjusting the thermostat up a couple of degrees each day. Usually the tortoise will start to move around within a few days. When I see tortoise activity as the temperature is slowly coming up, I'll move them into their night box at a similar temp to where they were in the fridge, and the next day I'll look for activity. If they are awake, I'll turn the heat lamp on and give them the opportunity to bask for a bit, and give them a lukewarm soak. I don't want to shock them with "hot" water, so this first soak is on the cool side, but they have to be active and moving first. I don't want a torpid sleepy tortoise to drown! They tend to come out of brumation quickly. After a day or two, mine are usually rearing to go. If all looks good, I will set the basking lamp to come on the next morning, and then on next morning, I go in and set the ambient temp back to 60-65 to keep it warmer over night. This is not scientific. I do it by "feel" and by observing the tortoise's behavior. If they are moving slow and not with it, I do things gradually and take several days to warm them back up. If they are wide awake and ready to resume living, I let them. I usually offer food within two or three days of coming out of the brumation chamber, and they almost always eat it right away, as long as temps have been warm enough and they've had time to "wake".
9. What if I decided not to brumate, but my tortoise had other ideas and is insistent? That is okay. Do the two week fast and soaks with the warm temps and basking lamps still on, followed by the two week cooling period, and then brumate them for as long as you can. Even 4 weeks of brumation will often "re-boot" their brain and get them going again after a suitable gradual warm up. You may also decide to wait to wake them until well into April to give them more time since you started late. All of the above is fine and works.
10. What if I decided to brumate, but this darn tortoise just refuses and keeps scratching at the sides of the brumation container? This is okay too. Wake him up and keep him up all winter. Have an indoor enclosure set up with the correct heating and lighting, or if you live in a mild climate like mine, gradually bump the night box temp back up and kick on the heat lamp if the weather is not cooperating.

While I have kept brumating species awake through winter and I know others have successfully done it too, it is my opinion that species that brumate in the wild should also brumate in captivity. It just needs to be done correctly. Leaving them outside to figure it out and deal with the rigors of winter in the small spaces (like backyards) that we stick them in, is not my idea of doing it "correctly". I know far too many that have died this way. Don't let these horror stories from people who did not properly prepare, or brumate their animals in a safe, controlled way, scare you. Brumation is totally natural and totally safe when a few simple guidelines are observed.

For review, here is the correct care info for the temperate species we are discussing. You can see pics of the type of "night box" I mentioned here:

As always, questions and conversation are welcome.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

wellington

Well-Known Member
Moderator
10 Year Member!
Tortoise Club
Joined
Sep 6, 2011
Messages
44,389
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
I was waiting for you or someone to write this. I almost pm you last week to ask if you could do a quick thread on it. Soooooo many threads every year asking the same question as you stated in the beginning.
Thank you for writing this.
 

Phil Fishinger

New Member
Joined
Oct 29, 2022
Messages
26
Location (City and/or State)
Belfast
Every fall we get bombarded here on the forum with all sorts of questions and problems regarding hibernation and tortoises "slowing down" for winter. The purpose of this thread is to talk about all aspects of this subject, to dispel some of the myths and mysteries, and give a "how to" list of instructions for people who want to do it. Hopefully, this thread will answer the vast majority of questions that we commonly encounter, but further questions are welcome, and more detailed explanation is always available for the asking.

Hibernation? Mammals hibernate. Its a process that involves burning fat stores to survive cold weather. I've been misusing the term for decades and didn't really care because everyone knew I meant. @Markw84 was kind enough to explain it in more detail and correct my ignorant mistake after all these years. Reptiles, including our temperate species of tortoises, do NOT hibernate. They brumate. Brumation involves different bodily processes than hibernation. Its a fascinating subject and I encourage anyone interested to dive deeper into it, but "brumation" is the correct term for what our tortoises do.

Tropical species like sulcatas, red foots, and star tortoises for example, do NOT brumate. Leaving one of these outside without a temperature controlled shelter during a North American winter is cruel and often fatal if temps drop low enough for long enough. You can get away with it in some cases in south Florida and parts of Arizona, but it is not "good" for these animals to drop below certain temperatures, even if they can "survive" these un-naturally low temperatures. I have seen countless tortoises die this way because ignorant people tell other ignorant people that "Its fine... I've been doing it for years..", and then they have no explanation for why the tortoise died. I'll end this paragraph with this: Keep tropical tortoise species at tropical temperatures. Enough said.

On to temperate species... What does temperate mean? Stolen from "Wikipedia":
In geography, the temperate climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes (23.5° to 66.5° N/S of Equator), which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth. These zones generally have wider temperature ranges throughout the year and more distinct seasonal changes compared to tropical climates, where such variations are often small and usually only have precipitation changes.

I learned about the difference between tropical animals and temperate animals back in grade school, high school, college, and in my pet store jobs too. If no one previously introduced you to these terms and concepts, well... you're welcome! :) No part of the USA is in the tropics. Not even the southern most of the Florida keys, and certainly not Chula Vista here in Southern CA, nor the Southern tip of Texas reaching down so low. I was in Ft. Meyers FL two years ago in March and when I came outside one morning during an unusual cold spell, the overnight temperature had dropped to 49 degrees. That is not tropical! The temperature there hardly ever gets that low, but it happens and the tortoise keepers there know how to work around it. Phoenix Arizona feels like you are living inside an oven in summer time, but even there it occasionally drops down to freezing overnight during the odd winter cold spell.

How does this relate to our tortoises? Many of the tortoise species we keep are not native to areas within the tropics. These are the "temperate" species, and the subject of this thread. Russians, all the hermanni, most of the greeks (arguably all of them...), Chersina, Chaco tortoises, and all of the North American Gopherus species. These species all experience four seasons in their native ranges. The temperature extremes certainly vary between say Russian tortoises from Kazakhstan at one extreme and Tunisian Greeks from Northern Africa at the other. Most of these species brumate in the wild in winter time. It is my opinion, based on my years of keeping all sorts of tortoises and other reptiles from all over the world, that species that brumate in the wild should also be brumated in our captive environments. I find this yields the best results, maintains good health, and is most "natural" for these species.

But what if I don't want to brumate my tortoise, for any reason? You don't have to. As far as we can tell, it does no harm to them, and it doesn't stop reproduction or shorten their lifespans. As far as we know... There have been forum members who kept their temperate species up, eating and awake all winter for many years in a row with no apparent ill effect. If there is some detriment to not brumating these species, it remains hidden to me. Having said that... Your tortoise may have other ideas, and even with your best efforts, they somehow "know" it is winter and that they should be "asleep". We don't know how they know this, but they know. Some of them are in windowless basements with full spectrum bright lighting, including strong summer-like UVB levels, and temperatures are maintained unchanged, but they still somehow know what time of year it is outside.

Here are steps to take if you don't want to brumate your temperate species:
1. Add bright LED lighting in the 5000-6500K color range. Lots of it. Make it look like daytime outside looks.
2. Set light timers to be on for 13-14 hours.
3. Bump all ambient temperatures up a bit.
4. Keep night temps warmer. Shoot for no lower than the 70s over night.
5. Pull the tortoise out of hiding and soak it often. Don't let it stay hidden in a cool hide box all day.
6. I usually run HO UV tubes for 2-3 hours mid day. To keep a tortoise up, I might bump them up to 6-8 hours a day.

Sometimes these efforts fail, and the tortoise is just determined to remain dormant, not eat, and sleep away the winter months. In that case, you may decide to switch tactics and brumate the tortoise.

Many people are afraid of brumation. There are lots of horror stories and many tortoises die during the process when it is not done correctly. It is my observation that in almost all of these cases, people did one thing or another wrong to cause the problem. I myself have brumated dozens of reptiles over dozens of years and had only one problem. The one time I had a problem it was because I broke my own rules and followed the advice of someone who didn't understand my climate, and I let my Argentine tegus hibernate on their own outside. This was a mistake because my winters are not cold enough, and not consistently cold at all. We have spells in January with warm sunny temps the 80s regularly. These warm spells wreak havoc with animals that are supposed to be brumating. When done correctly, I have a 100% success rate. That is not coincidence or luck. That is the result of understanding the basics of the process and following a few simple steps. The reason so many tortoises die and we hear so many sad stories is because most people leave them outside to fend for themselves during the wind down time, regardless of current weather and temperatures, OR the other big one is people letting them brumate outside subject to the cruel whims of Mother Nature through a harsh frozen winter. There are some climates that get cold and stay cold outside, but not anywhere in the Southern United States. Here are some issues with brumating them outdoors in their enclosures:
1. Temperature fluctuation, temps too cold, and temps too warm, are all major problems. Wild weather swings can kill them. In my area we can have night temps in the 20s, and two days later hit a high of 90 degrees in January.
2. Rats. A dormant tortoise can literally be chewed to the bone.
3. Ants in some areas. Ants go underground to escape the cold too. They still need food when they are down there. A cold sleeping tortoise is ant food.
4. Flooding from rain or melting snow. Many a tortoise has drowned in cold water in ts shelter or burrow.
5. Burrow collapse. In cold weather, the tortoise will not have the energy to dig out and they can suffocate.
6. Predators. Food is scarce in winter. Raccoons, coyotes and others can sniff out tortoises as food sources.
7. Pet dogs. Many people let the dog out into the back yard for potty breaks and due to the cold weather, they stay inside. Next to dehydration, dogs are the number one killers and maimers of tortoises. A dog can find, dig up, and demolish a tortoise in seconds.

None of these things can happen to them indoors in controlled conditions, or outdoors in some sort of structure with the correct set up. For my way of doing it, the temperatures and conditions are completely controlled. The weather isn't much of a factor. With all the things that can go wrong, and all the uncertainty, I don't know why anyone would leave the tortoise to its own devices outside. Many people do though. Some people who are skilled and experienced at it, and know their own area and climate well, have the ability to make it work year after year. Until it doesn't work one year. Most of the people who do it this way will have lots of stories about the ones they lost. I don't lose any of them. I only have one sad story and its because I did it 'their way" that one time.

I'm frequently asked: How do they survive in the wild? 1. Many don't. 2. Your back yard is not the wild. In the wild tortoises have hundreds of square miles of territory to scout out and look for just the right conditions to dig in and survive the winter. They need the right soil type, the right slope, a slope facing the right direction, the right vegetation, etc... Many tortoise species, like our CA desert tortoises make long deep burrows and stay way down underground where temperatures are cool and stable, unlike the surface.

Another big point of contention is the age or size at which a tortoise should first brumate. Many sources say don't do it for the first year, or the first three years, or the first five years. Why not? They all do it in the wild. Winter happens in the wild every single year, even the year they hatch. Again, if left outside in some sort of above ground shelter or burrow, they are not likely to survive. If prepared for brumation correctly, kept at the correct temperature, and brought out of brumation correctly, they all survive and thrive. I do this with all temperate baby lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises their first year and every year. Bert Langerwurf, "The Lizard King", told me, "if you don't hibernate Argentine tegus their first year and every year, they will never reproduce." I never tested this theory, but he did and firmly believed it. Failure to brumate doesn't seem to stop our beloved tortoise species from reproducing, but I have to believe it does have endocrinological effects. I don't skip brumation for any temperate reptile unless I have some reason to suspect they are unhealthy or unfit for it in some way. I don't see bruamtion as some big monumental scary thing. Its just a normal easy annual process that all temperate reptiles engage in to survive a cold winter.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: MAKE A DECISION!
Either you are going to brumate your tortoise, or you are not. This is a deliberate process, not something that just sort of happens. Either way is fine, but some limbo area in between is NOT fine. Many times the tortoise slows down, gets less active, stops eating, and people just leave them sitting there in an indoor enclosure at room temperature. This is not okay. This is not brumation. Likewise, leaving them outside to fend for themselves as winter approaches is not okay either. The weather can and does change drastically day by day in Fall. It could be too warm or too cold, If they are just sitting outside subjected to these extremes while trapped in our small enclosures. It can be disastrous in many ways. We have brought these animals into our captive environments and we must help them to survive and thrive in these foreign environments. Either wake that tortoise up using the steps listed a few paragraphs earlier in this thread, or follow these next steps and begin the process of preparing the tortoise for brumation. YOU decide if your tortoise is going to brumate, or not, and plan accordingly. Make this decision by late summer and start taking the right steps for which ever way you want to go.

How to prepare a tortoise for brumation:
1. Bring them down gradually. I find about one month to be just right to get them ready for a winter slumber. It could be condensed into two or three weeks, or extended to six weeks, but somewhere around four weeks works best in my experience.
2. Make sure their gut is empty BEFORE dropping temps or shortening days. Two weeks of no food with the normal warm temps should do it. This should illustrate why letting them do this on their own outside isn't safe. They need to be fasted for two weeks while the temperatures and light duration stays "normal". What happens if the weather turns cold three days into the fast? What happens if there is a warm spell and they keep eating outside while we want them to be fasting? We have to have control of the lighting and temperatures to some degree. Indoors is the obvious solution, but a temperature controlled night box with a heat lamp outside can make it work too. If we control the temperatures, it does't matter what the weather does. I set my night boxes to stay around 65F overnight for these first two weeks of fasting. If the weather is warm and sunny, they control their own basking temperature. If the weather is cold and overcast, I set the basking light inside the night box on its timer, so they can warm up to operating temperature, digest the food in their gut, and get it moving out. After two weeks of fasting at warm temps, I start dropping the thermostat setting every other day and running the basking lamps less and less each day. After two weeks of cooling which comes after two weeks of fasting at warmed temps, they are ready to be placed into their brumation container and dropped to the correct temperature for the species.
3. Make sure they are well hydrated by soaking them frequently in the days and weeks before and after brumation. Soak early and often. This goes for all species.
4. Make sure the temperature is consistent and cold enough for the entire brumation time. 38-39F for Russians, 49-50F for DTs. 45ish for Greeks, hermanni and Chersina. How do you do this outside? Everywhere in North America and Europe has highly variable temperatures all winter long.
5. Don't let them brumate outside in a self dug burrow in your backyard. NOT safe! Don't do it in your basement, unless the temps are stable and correct for your species. What about in the closet? Does your closet in your house stay a consistent 38-45 degrees all winter long? Mine sure doesn't. Use a thermometer.

More notes to consider:
1. How long to brumate? In most cases, 8 weeks is enough and 16 weeks is not too long. I tend to go shorter for babies, and longer for larger adults, but this varies. On average, I do 12-14 weeks for adult animals. There is a wide margin of error available here. There is no "set" time for this.
2. When do I start this process? This may vary with your climate, but I usually feed them up good and soak frequently in October, and begin the fast in November. Keep soaking during the fast. I finish the cooling process and start the actual brumation around the beginning of December. It is okay to deviate from this general timeline. You should be controlling the temperature through al of this.
3. When do I bring them out of brumaton? Mine sleep all December, January, and February. I start watching for a long warm sunny spell in the 10 day forecast in March. If it stays cold longer than usual, I might leave them until we get closer to April. If we have a warm February and March is warm and sunny early on, I wake them earlier. I let the weather influence this decision, but I still control the temperatures throughout.
4. What sort of container do I brumate them in? I like plastic shoe boxes. I use some of whatever substrate they are already used to, and I keep if very lightly damp. Not wet, but not dry and dusty either. I make the substrate 3-4 inches deep. You can drill holes around the top, but this isn't necessary as they are not air tight.
5. How do I keep the temperature constant and consistent? Use a fridge. Full size fridges are the best way and most reliable. Mini fridges tend to not hold a consistent temp very well. Your thermometer will be your guide. A few years ago, I had an observation with my Chersina's outdoor insulated night box. Much like my swimming pool in winter, the well insulated night box remained at a stable temperature that was an average of the day time high and night time low. 65 degree days and 35 degree nights held a box temp of 48-50 with little change day to day. I let my Chersina brumate outside the last few years this way and it worked very well. During winter warm spells I had to put some ice bottles in the box a few times, far from the tortoise and where they couldn't be reached, but the temp stayed very consistent even when we had these hot spells or cold spells too. There are many variables involved and ultimately your thermometers are the only way to get a reliable answer on whether or not something like this will work for you and your tortoise, but it CAN work for some people. For someone who lives where it is much colder than here, a heat source could be set to 40-45 degrees, depending on the needs of your species, so that the insulated night box never gets too cold. A well built insulated box protects them from temperature extremes, predators, inclement weather, and you don't have to buy or run a fridge. If you can get the right temperatures, this method can work for you. If not, the fridge method always works.
6. Fridges are not air tight, and neither are plastic shoe boxes. Your tortoise will not suffocate.
7. I don't weigh them or mess with them much during brumation. You can if you want to. I prefer to leave them alone.
8. How do I bring the tortoise out of brumation? When I see that March warm spell coming, I begin adjusting the thermostat up a couple of degrees each day. Usually the tortoise will start to move around within a few days. When I see tortoise activity as the temperature is slowly coming up, I'll move them into their night box at a similar temp to where they were in the fridge, and the next day I'll look for activity. If they are awake, I'll turn the heat lamp on and give them the opportunity to bask for a bit, and give them a lukewarm soak. I don't want to shock them with "hot" water, so this first soak is on the cool side, but they have to be active and moving first. I don't want a torpid sleepy tortoise to drown! They tend to come out of brumation quickly. After a day or two, mine are usually rearing to go. If all looks good, I will set the basking lamp to come on the next morning, and then on next morning, I go in and set the ambient temp back to 60-65 to keep it warmer over night. This is not scientific. I do it by "feel" and by observing the tortoise's behavior. If they are moving slow and not with it, I do things gradually and take several days to warm them back up. If they are wide awake and ready to resume living, I let them. I usually offer food within two or three days of coming out of the brumation chamber, and they almost always eat it right away, as long as temps have been warm enough and they've had time to "wake".
9. What if I decided not to brumate, but my tortoise had other ideas and is insistent? That is okay. Do the two week fast and soaks with the warm temps and basking lamps still on, followed by the two week cooling period, and then brumate them for as long as you can. Even 4 weeks of brumation will often "re-boot" their brain and get them going again after a suitable gradual warm up. You may also decide to wait to wake them until well into April to give them more time since you started late. All of the above is fine and works.
10. What if I decided to brumate, but this darn tortoise just refuses and keeps scratching at the sides of the brumation container? This is okay too. Wake him up and keep him up all winter. Have an indoor enclosure set up with the correct heating and lighting, or if you live in a mild climate like mine, gradually bump the night box temp back up and kick on the heat lamp if the weather is not cooperating.

While I have kept brumating species awake through winter and I know others have successfully done it too, it is my opinion that species that brumate in the wild should also brumate in captivity. It just needs to be done correctly. Leaving them outside to figure it out and deal with the rigors of winter in the small spaces (like backyards) that we stick them in, is not my idea of doing it "correctly". I know far too many that have died this way. Don't let these horror stories from people who did not properly prepare, or brumate their animals in a safe, controlled way, scare you. Brumation is totally natural and totally safe when a few simple guidelines are observed.

For review, here is the correct care info for the temperate species we are discussing. You can see pics of the type of "night box" I mentioned here:

As always, questions and conversation are welcome.
Cracking info, thank you, answered many questions I’ll soon have in this subject. Appreciate the work you put into it.
 

RatQueen_Irene

Active Member
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
Messages
61
Location (City and/or State)
Corvallis, Oregon
Thank you! Sorry for the question earlier, I couldn't find anything discussing hermann brumation in detail by searching, maybe using the wrong keywords
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Thank you! Sorry for the question earlier, I couldn't find anything discussing hermann brumation in detail by searching, maybe using the wrong keywords
I didn't see your previous question, but we are all here to talk tortoises. Please don't be sorry for asking questions.
 
Joined
Oct 28, 2022
Messages
32
Location (City and/or State)
Wedgefield, FL
Hi Tom

You post mentions that you set the temperature down to 60-something in the enclosure. How do you do that? How would you control the temp? Is there an a/c? (Most of the time i get tripped up by the basics. The part that’s usually an assumed understanding.) I’m trying to watch Sheldon to see where he is at about this. Today he was kinda lazy and didn’t eat a whole bunch, but it was also his first nite in the enclosure and he might not be used to it yet. I don’t really want to Brumate him, mostly cos I’m nervous about him sleeping in a fridge. If i had to, i was going to buy a small box fridge, but your info above said that would be a bad choice.

I am in E.Orlando, FL. The evenings get chilly here in the winter, like can go down to low 40s. My house is always set to 76°-78° But sometimes i don’t use the heat when it gets cold, so it will get to be in the 50s inside. Will all this be safe for Sheldon, provided that i don’t end up having to brumate him? Or do i also need to get these lights for him?

Thanks!
 

wellington

Well-Known Member
Moderator
10 Year Member!
Tortoise Club
Joined
Sep 6, 2011
Messages
44,389
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Lmao, get out of my head. Not only was I hoping you or someone would do this type of thread, but when I seen you did, and you got into the difference of hibernating or brumating, i was think the title should say both.
Most of us use hibernation knowing its wrong but because most newbies don't know what it is or that they brumate not hibernate. I personally a while ago, got tired of explaining, so I use whatever the OP uses.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hi Tom

You post mentions that you set the temperature down to 60-something in the enclosure. How do you do that? How would you control the temp? Is there an a/c? (Most of the time i get tripped up by the basics. The part that’s usually an assumed understanding.) I’m trying to watch Sheldon to see where he is at about this. Today he was kinda lazy and didn’t eat a whole bunch, but it was also his first nite in the enclosure and he might not be used to it yet. I don’t really want to Brumate him, mostly cos I’m nervous about him sleeping in a fridge. If i had to, i was going to buy a small box fridge, but your info above said that would be a bad choice.

I am in E.Orlando, FL. The evenings get chilly here in the winter, like can go down to low 40s. My house is always set to 76°-78° But sometimes i don’t use the heat when it gets cold, so it will get to be in the 50s inside. Will all this be safe for Sheldon, provided that i don’t end up having to brumate him? Or do i also need to get these lights for him?

Thanks!
The rest of the country starts getting cool this time of year. Nights in the low 60s are the norm, and day time highs don't get anywhere nearly as high as yours. The thermostat in the night box is meant to stop it from getting too cool too soon, before the tortoises has emptied its digestive tract. We have nights in the 30s and 40s this time of year, so I use supplemental heat to keep it closer to 60 in the tortoises sleeping quarters at night. In your case, you might need ice bottles to keep it col enough, or bring the tortoise inside into the AC.

The mini fridges that I have tried have not held a steady temperature very well. Only your thermometer will be able to tell you if yours is adequate.

Your indoor temps sound fine for Sheldon, but you will definitely need all the correct heating and lighting if he is to be kept indoors over winter, and not brumated.
 

Tortoise Nana

New Member
Joined
May 11, 2022
Messages
18
Location (City and/or State)
Las Vegas, Nv
Every fall we get bombarded here on the forum with all sorts of questions and problems regarding hibernation and tortoises "slowing down" for winter. The purpose of this thread is to talk about all aspects of this subject, to dispel some of the myths and mysteries, and give a "how to" list of instructions for people who want to do it. Hopefully, this thread will answer the vast majority of questions that we commonly encounter, but further questions are welcome, and more detailed explanation is always available for the asking.

Hibernation? Mammals hibernate. Its a process that involves burning fat stores to survive cold weather. I've been misusing the term for decades and didn't really care because everyone knew I meant. @Markw84 was kind enough to explain it in more detail and correct my ignorant mistake after all these years. Reptiles, including our temperate species of tortoises, do NOT hibernate. They brumate. Brumation involves different bodily processes than hibernation. Its a fascinating subject and I encourage anyone interested to dive deeper into it, but "brumation" is the correct term for what our tortoises do.

Tropical species like sulcatas, red foots, and star tortoises for example, do NOT brumate. Leaving one of these outside without a temperature controlled shelter during a North American winter is cruel and often fatal if temps drop low enough for long enough. You can get away with it in some cases in south Florida and parts of Arizona, but it is not "good" for these animals to drop below certain temperatures, even if they can "survive" these un-naturally low temperatures. I have seen countless tortoises die this way because ignorant people tell other ignorant people that "Its fine... I've been doing it for years..", and then they have no explanation for why the tortoise died. I'll end this paragraph with this: Keep tropical tortoise species at tropical temperatures. Enough said.

On to temperate species... What does temperate mean? Stolen from "Wikipedia":
In geography, the temperate climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes (23.5° to 66.5° N/S of Equator), which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth. These zones generally have wider temperature ranges throughout the year and more distinct seasonal changes compared to tropical climates, where such variations are often small and usually only have precipitation changes.

I learned about the difference between tropical animals and temperate animals back in grade school, high school, college, and in my pet store jobs too. If no one previously introduced you to these terms and concepts, well... you're welcome! :) No part of the USA is in the tropics. Not even the southern most of the Florida keys, and certainly not Chula Vista here in Southern CA, nor the Southern tip of Texas reaching down so low. I was in Ft. Meyers FL two years ago in March and when I came outside one morning during an unusual cold spell, the overnight temperature had dropped to 49 degrees. That is not tropical! The temperature there hardly ever gets that low, but it happens and the tortoise keepers there know how to work around it. Phoenix Arizona feels like you are living inside an oven in summer time, but even there it occasionally drops down to freezing overnight during the odd winter cold spell.

How does this relate to our tortoises? Many of the tortoise species we keep are not native to areas within the tropics. These are the "temperate" species, and the subject of this thread. Russians, all the hermanni, most of the greeks (arguably all of them...), Chersina, Chaco tortoises, and all of the North American Gopherus species. These species all experience four seasons in their native ranges. The temperature extremes certainly vary between say Russian tortoises from Kazakhstan at one extreme and Tunisian Greeks from Northern Africa at the other. Most of these species brumate in the wild in winter time. It is my opinion, based on my years of keeping all sorts of tortoises and other reptiles from all over the world, that species that brumate in the wild should also be brumated in our captive environments. I find this yields the best results, maintains good health, and is most "natural" for these species.

But what if I don't want to brumate my tortoise, for any reason? You don't have to. As far as we can tell, it does no harm to them, and it doesn't stop reproduction or shorten their lifespans. As far as we know... There have been forum members who kept their temperate species up, eating and awake all winter for many years in a row with no apparent ill effect. If there is some detriment to not brumating these species, it remains hidden to me. Having said that... Your tortoise may have other ideas, and even with your best efforts, they somehow "know" it is winter and that they should be "asleep". We don't know how they know this, but they know. Some of them are in windowless basements with full spectrum bright lighting, including strong summer-like UVB levels, and temperatures are maintained unchanged, but they still somehow know what time of year it is outside.

Here are steps to take if you don't want to brumate your temperate species:
1. Add bright LED lighting in the 5000-6500K color range. Lots of it. Make it look like daytime outside looks.
2. Set light timers to be on for 13-14 hours.
3. Bump all ambient temperatures up a bit.
4. Keep night temps warmer. Shoot for no lower than the 70s over night.
5. Pull the tortoise out of hiding and soak it often. Don't let it stay hidden in a cool hide box all day.
6. I usually run HO UV tubes for 2-3 hours mid day. To keep a tortoise up, I might bump them up to 6-8 hours a day.

Sometimes these efforts fail, and the tortoise is just determined to remain dormant, not eat, and sleep away the winter months. In that case, you may decide to switch tactics and brumate the tortoise.

Many people are afraid of brumation. There are lots of horror stories and many tortoises die during the process when it is not done correctly. It is my observation that in almost all of these cases, people did one thing or another wrong to cause the problem. I myself have brumated dozens of reptiles over dozens of years and had only one problem. The one time I had a problem it was because I broke my own rules and followed the advice of someone who didn't understand my climate, and I let my Argentine tegus hibernate on their own outside. This was a mistake because my winters are not cold enough, and not consistently cold at all. We have spells in January with warm sunny temps the 80s regularly. These warm spells wreak havoc with animals that are supposed to be brumating. When done correctly, I have a 100% success rate. That is not coincidence or luck. That is the result of understanding the basics of the process and following a few simple steps. The reason so many tortoises die and we hear so many sad stories is because most people leave them outside to fend for themselves during the wind down time, regardless of current weather and temperatures, OR the other big one is people letting them brumate outside subject to the cruel whims of Mother Nature through a harsh frozen winter. There are some climates that get cold and stay cold outside, but not anywhere in the Southern United States. Here are some issues with brumating them outdoors in their enclosures:
1. Temperature fluctuation, temps too cold, and temps too warm, are all major problems. Wild weather swings can kill them. In my area we can have night temps in the 20s, and two days later hit a high of 90 degrees in January.
2. Rats. A dormant tortoise can literally be chewed to the bone.
3. Ants in some areas. Ants go underground to escape the cold too. They still need food when they are down there. A cold sleeping tortoise is ant food.
4. Flooding from rain or melting snow. Many a tortoise has drowned in cold water in ts shelter or burrow.
5. Burrow collapse. In cold weather, the tortoise will not have the energy to dig out and they can suffocate.
6. Predators. Food is scarce in winter. Raccoons, coyotes and others can sniff out tortoises as food sources.
7. Pet dogs. Many people let the dog out into the back yard for potty breaks and due to the cold weather, they stay inside. Next to dehydration, dogs are the number one killers and maimers of tortoises. A dog can find, dig up, and demolish a tortoise in seconds.

None of these things can happen to them indoors in controlled conditions, or outdoors in some sort of structure with the correct set up. For my way of doing it, the temperatures and conditions are completely controlled. The weather isn't much of a factor. With all the things that can go wrong, and all the uncertainty, I don't know why anyone would leave the tortoise to its own devices outside. Many people do though. Some people who are skilled and experienced at it, and know their own area and climate well, have the ability to make it work year after year. Until it doesn't work one year. Most of the people who do it this way will have lots of stories about the ones they lost. I don't lose any of them. I only have one sad story and its because I did it 'their way" that one time.

I'm frequently asked: How do they survive in the wild? 1. Many don't. 2. Your back yard is not the wild. In the wild tortoises have hundreds of square miles of territory to scout out and look for just the right conditions to dig in and survive the winter. They need the right soil type, the right slope, a slope facing the right direction, the right vegetation, etc... Many tortoise species, like our CA desert tortoises make long deep burrows and stay way down underground where temperatures are cool and stable, unlike the surface.

Another big point of contention is the age or size at which a tortoise should first brumate. Many sources say don't do it for the first year, or the first three years, or the first five years. Why not? They all do it in the wild. Winter happens in the wild every single year, even the year they hatch. Again, if left outside in some sort of above ground shelter or burrow, they are not likely to survive. If prepared for brumation correctly, kept at the correct temperature, and brought out of brumation correctly, they all survive and thrive. I do this with all temperate baby lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises their first year and every year. Bert Langerwurf, "The Lizard King", told me, "if you don't hibernate Argentine tegus their first year and every year, they will never reproduce." I never tested this theory, but he did and firmly believed it. Failure to brumate doesn't seem to stop our beloved tortoise species from reproducing, but I have to believe it does have endocrinological effects. I don't skip brumation for any temperate reptile unless I have some reason to suspect they are unhealthy or unfit for it in some way. I don't see bruamtion as some big monumental scary thing. Its just a normal easy annual process that all temperate reptiles engage in to survive a cold winter.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: MAKE A DECISION!
Either you are going to brumate your tortoise, or you are not. This is a deliberate process, not something that just sort of happens. Either way is fine, but some limbo area in between is NOT fine. Many times the tortoise slows down, gets less active, stops eating, and people just leave them sitting there in an indoor enclosure at room temperature. This is not okay. This is not brumation. Likewise, leaving them outside to fend for themselves as winter approaches is not okay either. The weather can and does change drastically day by day in Fall. It could be too warm or too cold, If they are just sitting outside subjected to these extremes while trapped in our small enclosures. It can be disastrous in many ways. We have brought these animals into our captive environments and we must help them to survive and thrive in these foreign environments. Either wake that tortoise up using the steps listed a few paragraphs earlier in this thread, or follow these next steps and begin the process of preparing the tortoise for brumation. YOU decide if your tortoise is going to brumate, or not, and plan accordingly. Make this decision by late summer and start taking the right steps for which ever way you want to go.

How to prepare a tortoise for brumation:
1. Bring them down gradually. I find about one month to be just right to get them ready for a winter slumber. It could be condensed into two or three weeks, or extended to six weeks, but somewhere around four weeks works best in my experience.
2. Make sure their gut is empty BEFORE dropping temps or shortening days. Two weeks of no food with the normal warm temps should do it. This should illustrate why letting them do this on their own outside isn't safe. They need to be fasted for two weeks while the temperatures and light duration stays "normal". What happens if the weather turns cold three days into the fast? What happens if there is a warm spell and they keep eating outside while we want them to be fasting? We have to have control of the lighting and temperatures to some degree. Indoors is the obvious solution, but a temperature controlled night box with a heat lamp outside can make it work too. If we control the temperatures, it does't matter what the weather does. I set my night boxes to stay around 65F overnight for these first two weeks of fasting. If the weather is warm and sunny, they control their own basking temperature. If the weather is cold and overcast, I set the basking light inside the night box on its timer, so they can warm up to operating temperature, digest the food in their gut, and get it moving out. After two weeks of fasting at warm temps, I start dropping the thermostat setting every other day and running the basking lamps less and less each day. After two weeks of cooling which comes after two weeks of fasting at warmed temps, they are ready to be placed into their brumation container and dropped to the correct temperature for the species.
3. Make sure they are well hydrated by soaking them frequently in the days and weeks before and after brumation. Soak early and often. This goes for all species.
4. Make sure the temperature is consistent and cold enough for the entire brumation time. 38-39F for Russians, 49-50F for DTs. 45ish for Greeks, hermanni and Chersina. How do you do this outside? Everywhere in North America and Europe has highly variable temperatures all winter long.
5. Don't let them brumate outside in a self dug burrow in your backyard. NOT safe! Don't do it in your basement, unless the temps are stable and correct for your species. What about in the closet? Does your closet in your house stay a consistent 38-45 degrees all winter long? Mine sure doesn't. Use a thermometer.

More notes to consider:
1. How long to brumate? In most cases, 8 weeks is enough and 16 weeks is not too long. I tend to go shorter for babies, and longer for larger adults, but this varies. On average, I do 12-14 weeks for adult animals. There is a wide margin of error available here. There is no "set" time for this.
2. When do I start this process? This may vary with your climate, but I usually feed them up good and soak frequently in October, and begin the fast in November. Keep soaking during the fast. I finish the cooling process and start the actual brumation around the beginning of December. It is okay to deviate from this general timeline. You should be controlling the temperature through al of this.
3. When do I bring them out of brumaton? Mine sleep all December, January, and February. I start watching for a long warm sunny spell in the 10 day forecast in March. If it stays cold longer than usual, I might leave them until we get closer to April. If we have a warm February and March is warm and sunny early on, I wake them earlier. I let the weather influence this decision, but I still control the temperatures throughout.
4. What sort of container do I brumate them in? I like plastic shoe boxes. I use some of whatever substrate they are already used to, and I keep if very lightly damp. Not wet, but not dry and dusty either. I make the substrate 3-4 inches deep. You can drill holes around the top, but this isn't necessary as they are not air tight.
5. How do I keep the temperature constant and consistent? Use a fridge. Full size fridges are the best way and most reliable. Mini fridges tend to not hold a consistent temp very well. Your thermometer will be your guide. A few years ago, I had an observation with my Chersina's outdoor insulated night box. Much like my swimming pool in winter, the well insulated night box remained at a stable temperature that was an average of the day time high and night time low. 65 degree days and 35 degree nights held a box temp of 48-50 with little change day to day. I let my Chersina brumate outside the last few years this way and it worked very well. During winter warm spells I had to put some ice bottles in the box a few times, far from the tortoise and where they couldn't be reached, but the temp stayed very consistent even when we had these hot spells or cold spells too. There are many variables involved and ultimately your thermometers are the only way to get a reliable answer on whether or not something like this will work for you and your tortoise, but it CAN work for some people. For someone who lives where it is much colder than here, a heat source could be set to 40-45 degrees, depending on the needs of your species, so that the insulated night box never gets too cold. A well built insulated box protects them from temperature extremes, predators, inclement weather, and you don't have to buy or run a fridge. If you can get the right temperatures, this method can work for you. If not, the fridge method always works.
6. Fridges are not air tight, and neither are plastic shoe boxes. Your tortoise will not suffocate.
7. I don't weigh them or mess with them much during brumation. You can if you want to. I prefer to leave them alone.
8. How do I bring the tortoise out of brumation? When I see that March warm spell coming, I begin adjusting the thermostat up a couple of degrees each day. Usually the tortoise will start to move around within a few days. When I see tortoise activity as the temperature is slowly coming up, I'll move them into their night box at a similar temp to where they were in the fridge, and the next day I'll look for activity. If they are awake, I'll turn the heat lamp on and give them the opportunity to bask for a bit, and give them a lukewarm soak. I don't want to shock them with "hot" water, so this first soak is on the cool side, but they have to be active and moving first. I don't want a torpid sleepy tortoise to drown! They tend to come out of brumation quickly. After a day or two, mine are usually rearing to go. If all looks good, I will set the basking lamp to come on the next morning, and then on next morning, I go in and set the ambient temp back to 60-65 to keep it warmer over night. This is not scientific. I do it by "feel" and by observing the tortoise's behavior. If they are moving slow and not with it, I do things gradually and take several days to warm them back up. If they are wide awake and ready to resume living, I let them. I usually offer food within two or three days of coming out of the brumation chamber, and they almost always eat it right away, as long as temps have been warm enough and they've had time to "wake".
9. What if I decided not to brumate, but my tortoise had other ideas and is insistent? That is okay. Do the two week fast and soaks with the warm temps and basking lamps still on, followed by the two week cooling period, and then brumate them for as long as you can. Even 4 weeks of brumation will often "re-boot" their brain and get them going again after a suitable gradual warm up. You may also decide to wait to wake them until well into April to give them more time since you started late. All of the above is fine and works.
10. What if I decided to brumate, but this darn tortoise just refuses and keeps scratching at the sides of the brumation container? This is okay too. Wake him up and keep him up all winter. Have an indoor enclosure set up with the correct heating and lighting, or if you live in a mild climate like mine, gradually bump the night box temp back up and kick on the heat lamp if the weather is not cooperating.

While I have kept brumating species awake through winter and I know others have successfully done it too, it is my opinion that species that brumate in the wild should also brumate in captivity. It just needs to be done correctly. Leaving them outside to figure it out and deal with the rigors of winter in the small spaces (like backyards) that we stick them in, is not my idea of doing it "correctly". I know far too many that have died this way. Don't let these horror stories from people who did not properly prepare, or brumate their animals in a safe, controlled way, scare you. Brumation is totally natural and totally safe when a few simple guidelines are observed.

For review, here is the correct care info for the temperate species we are discussing. You can see pics of the type of "night box" I mentioned here:

As always, questions and conversation are welcome.
Tom, thank you so much for this. You are proud saving me and Rock & Roll lots of disasters and heartbreak. I will read this again and again and the time is now perfect and so is the weather to get them started. This is a bit more involved than I had anticipated, but not un- doable. I have soaked them, but not nearly enough. I will immediately stop feeding them. They had their last food today. I erroneously thought they needed to eat and store up food. They will now be fasting and emptying out their digestive systems. The weather is still pretty warm during the day, so I have time for them to digest today’s food and empty before brumation starts. Thank you so much for all of this wonderful advice and information. If I have any issues or questions I will definitely contact you. Happy holidays.
 

SinLA

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Joined
Apr 19, 2022
Messages
479
Location (City and/or State)
Los Angeles
@Tom you write:

>>How do I bring the tortoise out of brumation? When I see that March warm spell coming, I begin adjusting the thermostat up a couple of degrees each day. Usually the tortoise will start to move around within a few days. When I see tortoise activity as the temperature is slowly coming up, I'll move them into their night box at a similar temp to where they were in the fridge, and the next day I'll look for activity. If they are awake, I'll turn the heat lamp on and give them the opportunity to bask for a bit, and give them a lukewarm soak.<<

It sounds like you're deciding when to bring them out of brumation based on external factors, but for newbies, how do you know if something is going wrong and/or waiting too long would harm them? Like if someone left them for six months, they would probably die. Where do we know tipping point for danger? like at some point is 12 weeks ever a danger? Maybe they weren't as healthy as they could have been, so should only do 6 weeks...

ALSO - how do you know if they are still alive in the fridge without poking them?
 

Maro2Bear

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Joined
May 29, 2014
Messages
14,426
Location (City and/or State)
Glenn Dale, Maryland, USA
Every fall we get bombarded here on the forum with all sorts of questions and problems regarding hibernation and tortoises "slowing down" for winter. The purpose of this thread is to talk about all aspects of this subject, to dispel some of the myths and mysteries, and give a "how to" list of instructions for people who want to do it. Hopefully, this thread will answer the vast majority of questions that we commonly encounter, but further questions are welcome, and more detailed explanation is always available for the asking.

Hibernation? Mammals hibernate. Its a process that involves burning fat stores to survive cold weather. I've been misusing the term for decades and didn't really care because everyone knew I meant. @Markw84 was kind enough to explain it in more detail and correct my ignorant mistake after all these years. Reptiles, including our temperate species of tortoises, do NOT hibernate. They brumate. Brumation involves different bodily processes than hibernation. Its a fascinating subject and I encourage anyone interested to dive deeper into it, but "brumation" is the correct term for what our tortoises do.

Tropical species like sulcatas, red foots, and star tortoises for example, do NOT brumate. Leaving one of these outside without a temperature controlled shelter during a North American winter is cruel and often fatal if temps drop low enough for long enough. You can get away with it in some cases in south Florida and parts of Arizona, but it is not "good" for these animals to drop below certain temperatures, even if they can "survive" these un-naturally low temperatures. I have seen countless tortoises die this way because ignorant people tell other ignorant people that "Its fine... I've been doing it for years..", and then they have no explanation for why the tortoise died. I'll end this paragraph with this: Keep tropical tortoise species at tropical temperatures. Enough said.

On to temperate species... What does temperate mean? Stolen from "Wikipedia":
In geography, the temperate climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes (23.5° to 66.5° N/S of Equator), which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth. These zones generally have wider temperature ranges throughout the year and more distinct seasonal changes compared to tropical climates, where such variations are often small and usually only have precipitation changes.

I learned about the difference between tropical animals and temperate animals back in grade school, high school, college, and in my pet store jobs too. If no one previously introduced you to these terms and concepts, well... you're welcome! :) No part of the USA is in the tropics. Not even the southern most of the Florida keys, and certainly not Chula Vista here in Southern CA, nor the Southern tip of Texas reaching down so low. I was in Ft. Meyers FL two years ago in March and when I came outside one morning during an unusual cold spell, the overnight temperature had dropped to 49 degrees. That is not tropical! The temperature there hardly ever gets that low, but it happens and the tortoise keepers there know how to work around it. Phoenix Arizona feels like you are living inside an oven in summer time, but even there it occasionally drops down to freezing overnight during the odd winter cold spell.

How does this relate to our tortoises? Many of the tortoise species we keep are not native to areas within the tropics. These are the "temperate" species, and the subject of this thread. Russians, all the hermanni, most of the greeks (arguably all of them...), Chersina, Chaco tortoises, and all of the North American Gopherus species. These species all experience four seasons in their native ranges. The temperature extremes certainly vary between say Russian tortoises from Kazakhstan at one extreme and Tunisian Greeks from Northern Africa at the other. Most of these species brumate in the wild in winter time. It is my opinion, based on my years of keeping all sorts of tortoises and other reptiles from all over the world, that species that brumate in the wild should also be brumated in our captive environments. I find this yields the best results, maintains good health, and is most "natural" for these species.

But what if I don't want to brumate my tortoise, for any reason? You don't have to. As far as we can tell, it does no harm to them, and it doesn't stop reproduction or shorten their lifespans. As far as we know... There have been forum members who kept their temperate species up, eating and awake all winter for many years in a row with no apparent ill effect. If there is some detriment to not brumating these species, it remains hidden to me. Having said that... Your tortoise may have other ideas, and even with your best efforts, they somehow "know" it is winter and that they should be "asleep". We don't know how they know this, but they know. Some of them are in windowless basements with full spectrum bright lighting, including strong summer-like UVB levels, and temperatures are maintained unchanged, but they still somehow know what time of year it is outside.

Here are steps to take if you don't want to brumate your temperate species:
1. Add bright LED lighting in the 5000-6500K color range. Lots of it. Make it look like daytime outside looks.
2. Set light timers to be on for 13-14 hours.
3. Bump all ambient temperatures up a bit.
4. Keep night temps warmer. Shoot for no lower than the 70s over night.
5. Pull the tortoise out of hiding and soak it often. Don't let it stay hidden in a cool hide box all day.
6. I usually run HO UV tubes for 2-3 hours mid day. To keep a tortoise up, I might bump them up to 6-8 hours a day.

Sometimes these efforts fail, and the tortoise is just determined to remain dormant, not eat, and sleep away the winter months. In that case, you may decide to switch tactics and brumate the tortoise.

Many people are afraid of brumation. There are lots of horror stories and many tortoises die during the process when it is not done correctly. It is my observation that in almost all of these cases, people did one thing or another wrong to cause the problem. I myself have brumated dozens of reptiles over dozens of years and had only one problem. The one time I had a problem it was because I broke my own rules and followed the advice of someone who didn't understand my climate, and I let my Argentine tegus hibernate on their own outside. This was a mistake because my winters are not cold enough, and not consistently cold at all. We have spells in January with warm sunny temps the 80s regularly. These warm spells wreak havoc with animals that are supposed to be brumating. When done correctly, I have a 100% success rate. That is not coincidence or luck. That is the result of understanding the basics of the process and following a few simple steps. The reason so many tortoises die and we hear so many sad stories is because most people leave them outside to fend for themselves during the wind down time, regardless of current weather and temperatures, OR the other big one is people letting them brumate outside subject to the cruel whims of Mother Nature through a harsh frozen winter. There are some climates that get cold and stay cold outside, but not anywhere in the Southern United States. Here are some issues with brumating them outdoors in their enclosures:
1. Temperature fluctuation, temps too cold, and temps too warm, are all major problems. Wild weather swings can kill them. In my area we can have night temps in the 20s, and two days later hit a high of 90 degrees in January.
2. Rats. A dormant tortoise can literally be chewed to the bone.
3. Ants in some areas. Ants go underground to escape the cold too. They still need food when they are down there. A cold sleeping tortoise is ant food.
4. Flooding from rain or melting snow. Many a tortoise has drowned in cold water in ts shelter or burrow.
5. Burrow collapse. In cold weather, the tortoise will not have the energy to dig out and they can suffocate.
6. Predators. Food is scarce in winter. Raccoons, coyotes and others can sniff out tortoises as food sources.
7. Pet dogs. Many people let the dog out into the back yard for potty breaks and due to the cold weather, they stay inside. Next to dehydration, dogs are the number one killers and maimers of tortoises. A dog can find, dig up, and demolish a tortoise in seconds.

None of these things can happen to them indoors in controlled conditions, or outdoors in some sort of structure with the correct set up. For my way of doing it, the temperatures and conditions are completely controlled. The weather isn't much of a factor. With all the things that can go wrong, and all the uncertainty, I don't know why anyone would leave the tortoise to its own devices outside. Many people do though. Some people who are skilled and experienced at it, and know their own area and climate well, have the ability to make it work year after year. Until it doesn't work one year. Most of the people who do it this way will have lots of stories about the ones they lost. I don't lose any of them. I only have one sad story and its because I did it 'their way" that one time.

I'm frequently asked: How do they survive in the wild? 1. Many don't. 2. Your back yard is not the wild. In the wild tortoises have hundreds of square miles of territory to scout out and look for just the right conditions to dig in and survive the winter. They need the right soil type, the right slope, a slope facing the right direction, the right vegetation, etc... Many tortoise species, like our CA desert tortoises make long deep burrows and stay way down underground where temperatures are cool and stable, unlike the surface.

Another big point of contention is the age or size at which a tortoise should first brumate. Many sources say don't do it for the first year, or the first three years, or the first five years. Why not? They all do it in the wild. Winter happens in the wild every single year, even the year they hatch. Again, if left outside in some sort of above ground shelter or burrow, they are not likely to survive. If prepared for brumation correctly, kept at the correct temperature, and brought out of brumation correctly, they all survive and thrive. I do this with all temperate baby lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises their first year and every year. Bert Langerwurf, "The Lizard King", told me, "if you don't hibernate Argentine tegus their first year and every year, they will never reproduce." I never tested this theory, but he did and firmly believed it. Failure to brumate doesn't seem to stop our beloved tortoise species from reproducing, but I have to believe it does have endocrinological effects. I don't skip brumation for any temperate reptile unless I have some reason to suspect they are unhealthy or unfit for it in some way. I don't see bruamtion as some big monumental scary thing. Its just a normal easy annual process that all temperate reptiles engage in to survive a cold winter.

FIRST AND FOREMOST: MAKE A DECISION!
Either you are going to brumate your tortoise, or you are not. This is a deliberate process, not something that just sort of happens. Either way is fine, but some limbo area in between is NOT fine. Many times the tortoise slows down, gets less active, stops eating, and people just leave them sitting there in an indoor enclosure at room temperature. This is not okay. This is not brumation. Likewise, leaving them outside to fend for themselves as winter approaches is not okay either. The weather can and does change drastically day by day in Fall. It could be too warm or too cold, If they are just sitting outside subjected to these extremes while trapped in our small enclosures. It can be disastrous in many ways. We have brought these animals into our captive environments and we must help them to survive and thrive in these foreign environments. Either wake that tortoise up using the steps listed a few paragraphs earlier in this thread, or follow these next steps and begin the process of preparing the tortoise for brumation. YOU decide if your tortoise is going to brumate, or not, and plan accordingly. Make this decision by late summer and start taking the right steps for which ever way you want to go.

How to prepare a tortoise for brumation:
1. Bring them down gradually. I find about one month to be just right to get them ready for a winter slumber. It could be condensed into two or three weeks, or extended to six weeks, but somewhere around four weeks works best in my experience.
2. Make sure their gut is empty BEFORE dropping temps or shortening days. Two weeks of no food with the normal warm temps should do it. This should illustrate why letting them do this on their own outside isn't safe. They need to be fasted for two weeks while the temperatures and light duration stays "normal". What happens if the weather turns cold three days into the fast? What happens if there is a warm spell and they keep eating outside while we want them to be fasting? We have to have control of the lighting and temperatures to some degree. Indoors is the obvious solution, but a temperature controlled night box with a heat lamp outside can make it work too. If we control the temperatures, it does't matter what the weather does. I set my night boxes to stay around 65F overnight for these first two weeks of fasting. If the weather is warm and sunny, they control their own basking temperature. If the weather is cold and overcast, I set the basking light inside the night box on its timer, so they can warm up to operating temperature, digest the food in their gut, and get it moving out. After two weeks of fasting at warm temps, I start dropping the thermostat setting every other day and running the basking lamps less and less each day. After two weeks of cooling which comes after two weeks of fasting at warmed temps, they are ready to be placed into their brumation container and dropped to the correct temperature for the species.
3. Make sure they are well hydrated by soaking them frequently in the days and weeks before and after brumation. Soak early and often. This goes for all species.
4. Make sure the temperature is consistent and cold enough for the entire brumation time. 38-39F for Russians, 49-50F for DTs. 45ish for Greeks, hermanni and Chersina. How do you do this outside? Everywhere in North America and Europe has highly variable temperatures all winter long.
5. Don't let them brumate outside in a self dug burrow in your backyard. NOT safe! Don't do it in your basement, unless the temps are stable and correct for your species. What about in the closet? Does your closet in your house stay a consistent 38-45 degrees all winter long? Mine sure doesn't. Use a thermometer.

More notes to consider:
1. How long to brumate? In most cases, 8 weeks is enough and 16 weeks is not too long. I tend to go shorter for babies, and longer for larger adults, but this varies. On average, I do 12-14 weeks for adult animals. There is a wide margin of error available here. There is no "set" time for this.
2. When do I start this process? This may vary with your climate, but I usually feed them up good and soak frequently in October, and begin the fast in November. Keep soaking during the fast. I finish the cooling process and start the actual brumation around the beginning of December. It is okay to deviate from this general timeline. You should be controlling the temperature through al of this.
3. When do I bring them out of brumaton? Mine sleep all December, January, and February. I start watching for a long warm sunny spell in the 10 day forecast in March. If it stays cold longer than usual, I might leave them until we get closer to April. If we have a warm February and March is warm and sunny early on, I wake them earlier. I let the weather influence this decision, but I still control the temperatures throughout.
4. What sort of container do I brumate them in? I like plastic shoe boxes. I use some of whatever substrate they are already used to, and I keep if very lightly damp. Not wet, but not dry and dusty either. I make the substrate 3-4 inches deep. You can drill holes around the top, but this isn't necessary as they are not air tight.
5. How do I keep the temperature constant and consistent? Use a fridge. Full size fridges are the best way and most reliable. Mini fridges tend to not hold a consistent temp very well. Your thermometer will be your guide. A few years ago, I had an observation with my Chersina's outdoor insulated night box. Much like my swimming pool in winter, the well insulated night box remained at a stable temperature that was an average of the day time high and night time low. 65 degree days and 35 degree nights held a box temp of 48-50 with little change day to day. I let my Chersina brumate outside the last few years this way and it worked very well. During winter warm spells I had to put some ice bottles in the box a few times, far from the tortoise and where they couldn't be reached, but the temp stayed very consistent even when we had these hot spells or cold spells too. There are many variables involved and ultimately your thermometers are the only way to get a reliable answer on whether or not something like this will work for you and your tortoise, but it CAN work for some people. For someone who lives where it is much colder than here, a heat source could be set to 40-45 degrees, depending on the needs of your species, so that the insulated night box never gets too cold. A well built insulated box protects them from temperature extremes, predators, inclement weather, and you don't have to buy or run a fridge. If you can get the right temperatures, this method can work for you. If not, the fridge method always works.
6. Fridges are not air tight, and neither are plastic shoe boxes. Your tortoise will not suffocate.
7. I don't weigh them or mess with them much during brumation. You can if you want to. I prefer to leave them alone.
8. How do I bring the tortoise out of brumation? When I see that March warm spell coming, I begin adjusting the thermostat up a couple of degrees each day. Usually the tortoise will start to move around within a few days. When I see tortoise activity as the temperature is slowly coming up, I'll move them into their night box at a similar temp to where they were in the fridge, and the next day I'll look for activity. If they are awake, I'll turn the heat lamp on and give them the opportunity to bask for a bit, and give them a lukewarm soak. I don't want to shock them with "hot" water, so this first soak is on the cool side, but they have to be active and moving first. I don't want a torpid sleepy tortoise to drown! They tend to come out of brumation quickly. After a day or two, mine are usually rearing to go. If all looks good, I will set the basking lamp to come on the next morning, and then on next morning, I go in and set the ambient temp back to 60-65 to keep it warmer over night. This is not scientific. I do it by "feel" and by observing the tortoise's behavior. If they are moving slow and not with it, I do things gradually and take several days to warm them back up. If they are wide awake and ready to resume living, I let them. I usually offer food within two or three days of coming out of the brumation chamber, and they almost always eat it right away, as long as temps have been warm enough and they've had time to "wake".
9. What if I decided not to brumate, but my tortoise had other ideas and is insistent? That is okay. Do the two week fast and soaks with the warm temps and basking lamps still on, followed by the two week cooling period, and then brumate them for as long as you can. Even 4 weeks of brumation will often "re-boot" their brain and get them going again after a suitable gradual warm up. You may also decide to wait to wake them until well into April to give them more time since you started late. All of the above is fine and works.
10. What if I decided to brumate, but this darn tortoise just refuses and keeps scratching at the sides of the brumation container? This is okay too. Wake him up and keep him up all winter. Have an indoor enclosure set up with the correct heating and lighting, or if you live in a mild climate like mine, gradually bump the night box temp back up and kick on the heat lamp if the weather is not cooperating.

While I have kept brumating species awake through winter and I know others have successfully done it too, it is my opinion that species that brumate in the wild should also brumate in captivity. It just needs to be done correctly. Leaving them outside to figure it out and deal with the rigors of winter in the small spaces (like backyards) that we stick them in, is not my idea of doing it "correctly". I know far too many that have died this way. Don't let these horror stories from people who did not properly prepare, or brumate their animals in a safe, controlled way, scare you. Brumation is totally natural and totally safe when a few simple guidelines are observed.

For review, here is the correct care info for the temperate species we are discussing. You can see pics of the type of "night box" I mentioned here:

As always, questions and conversation are welcome.


Great primer on this subject Tom, thanks for putting all of the info in one coherent thread. 👏🏻👍
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
It sounds like you're deciding when to bring them out of brumation based on external factors...
That is correct, but its also happening in the right time frame and in the right weather.

...but for newbies, how do you know if something is going wrong and/or waiting too long would harm them? Like if someone left them for six months, they would probably die. Where do we know tipping point for danger? like at some point is 12 weeks ever a danger?
I have never tested the limits in my captive situation, but here is something that we know from the wild: In some parts of their range, Russian tortoises are only active for six weeks in the spring and six more weeks in the fall. The rest of the time is too hot or too cold. Do the math on that one... That's 20 weeks of brumation followed by 6 weeks of activity in spring, followed by 20 weeks of aestivation over summer, followed by 6 more weeks of activity in fall, then back to brumation over winter again. And that is wld ones that are very likely not in the best of health.

I have done 4 week brumations for tortoises that I didn't intend to brumate, but they just insisted. 4 weeks of cold will snap them out of it, at least in the cases I worked with. I normally do around 12-14 weeks, and I will sometimes stretch it to 16 weeks if weather isn't cooperating, but I can't recall going farther than that.

When I made proper housing for my Argentine tegus and let them live outside, then went underground on September 15th every year. Doesn't matter what the weather is doing. It was reliable year after year. They would stay underground and not come up until mid March. They did this on their own every year, year after year. Temperatures down there in their deep burrows were a very consistent 50 degrees in winter and 80 degrees in summer.

Given all of these considerations, I don't think 12 weeks at the correct stable temps is any danger at all. I don't think 16-20 weeks is any danger IF done correctly.

Maybe they weren't as healthy as they could have been, so should only do 6 weeks...
I don't brumate them if they are unhealthy, but many people have over many years, and in my observations they usually wake in the same condition that they went down in.

ALSO - how do you know if they are still alive in the fridge without poking them?
I don't. But I have no reason to think they are dead, and if they are dead, well, what difference does it make when you check them? If you poke at them and they are alive, you have just disturbed them. If you poke at them and they are dead, well they are already dead. Its not like you are going to poke at them and discover some problem that you could save them from. I have never had a tortoise, or any other animal, die or get sick during brumation done correctly. Not one.

The one and only time I had a problem, it was because I left my tegus above ground to figure it out and fend for themselves, on the advice of Bert Langerwurf. They initially dug in and were doing fine. Then we had a winter warm spell for about two weeks, something that doesn't happen where Bert lived in Alabama, and the tegus dug up and were out lounging in the sun and walking around. When the normal colder winter weather returned, they had already moved their little brains into "spring time" mode, and they did not dig back in the way they initially had. Two of three died. In later years I dug them a deep hole, put a box down there for them with an entry tunnel and rain cover, plus an access hatch for me to be able to get to them, and they did fine. The box was about 24 inches tall inside, and there was about 24 inches of dirt on top of it. The access hatch was insulated and double doored, and temps were very stable 4 feet down at the bottom where the tegus were slumbering.

I've been doing this since the 80s, so the idea of poking at them to see if they are alive simply doesn't occur to me. I've done it so many times with so many different species over so many years, that I'm just not concerned. I know what is going to happen and not happen. There are no surprises for me with this any more.
 

SinLA

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Joined
Apr 19, 2022
Messages
479
Location (City and/or State)
Los Angeles
Ok, another question for the "undecideds" reading this. If you are getting mixed signals as to if your tort wants to brumate - like sleeping all day, not wanting to be in the light very long (suggests wants to have the big sleep) but also is eating like a little piggy and looking for food when none provided (suggests no to nap time) what direction would you lean in?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Ok, another question for the "undecideds" reading this. If you are getting mixed signals as to if your tort wants to brumate - like sleeping all day, not wanting to be in the light very long (suggests wants to have the big sleep) but also is eating like a little piggy and looking for food when none provided (suggests no to nap time) what direction would you lean in?
I don't care what the tortoise does or doesn't do. I decide on a course of action and go that direction. Either I am going to brumate a tortoise, and I take steps to prepare, or I am not going to brumate it, and I take steps to be ready for that.

Because of how we house them, mixed signals are to be expected. The weather and season tell them one thing. Our lights and heated enclosures tell them another. Because of this, I don't take a passive "wait and see" sort of attitude. These are animals that operate primarily on instinct, not logic and reason. As the logical reasonable one in this equation, I make a decision about what is best for the animals in my care, and then pursue it.
 

OliveW

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jul 4, 2022
Messages
286
Location (City and/or State)
Branford, FL
"Tropical species like sulcatas, red foots, and star tortoises for example, do NOT brumate. Leaving one of these outside without a temperature controlled shelter during a North American winter is cruel and often fatal if temps drop low enough for long enough. You can get away with it in some cases in south Florida and parts of Arizona, but it is not "good" for these animals to drop below certain temperatures, even if they can "survive" these un-naturally low temperatures. I have seen countless tortoises die this way because ignorant people tell other ignorant people that "Its fine... I've been doing it for years..", and then they have no explanation for why the tortoise died. I'll end this paragraph with this: Keep tropical tortoise species at tropical temperatures. Enough said." - Tom


Oh my goodness ..... THIS! I just had this discussion with a local person today. He was getting advice from a kid on youtube who has TWO (yeah, I pointed out that issue as well) Sulcatas together, lives with his parents, and has had them for two years so considers himself an expert, and started a channel. Claims they can "handle" temps in the 40's.

I did my best to explain to him, that as a warm blooded human, he can strip naked and sleep outside when it's in the 40's, and be much more comfortable and safe than a cold blooded tortoise. I also told him to stay off youtube and pay this forum a visit for CORRECT information.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
"Tropical species like sulcatas, red foots, and star tortoises for example, do NOT brumate. Leaving one of these outside without a temperature controlled shelter during a North American winter is cruel and often fatal if temps drop low enough for long enough. You can get away with it in some cases in south Florida and parts of Arizona, but it is not "good" for these animals to drop below certain temperatures, even if they can "survive" these un-naturally low temperatures. I have seen countless tortoises die this way because ignorant people tell other ignorant people that "Its fine... I've been doing it for years..", and then they have no explanation for why the tortoise died. I'll end this paragraph with this: Keep tropical tortoise species at tropical temperatures. Enough said." - Tom


Oh my goodness ..... THIS! I just had this discussion with a local person today. He was getting advice from a kid on youtube who has TWO (yeah, I pointed out that issue as well) Sulcatas together, lives with his parents, and has had them for two years so considers himself an expert, and started a channel. Claims they can "handle" temps in the 40's.

I did my best to explain to him, that as a warm blooded human, he can strip naked and sleep outside when it's in the 40's, and be much more comfortable and safe than a cold blooded tortoise. I also told him to stay off youtube and pay this forum a visit for CORRECT information.
They can "handle" temps in the 40s and survive sometimes. Other times they get an RI and die. Its fascinating to me that people look at an outlying situation, see that the animal somehow survived the totally unnatural conditions that will usually make that species sick, and somehow conclude that they should keep their animal that way and tell others to do so too.

I've seen so many videos like this from kids on YT. Its so bad.
 

Tim Carlisle

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Nov 13, 2017
Messages
1,816
Location (City and/or State)
Cincinnati, OH
I'm curious @Tom , are there any species of tortoise that absolutely MUST brumate or can all species do fine without doing so given proper conditions?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
59,365
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I'm curious @Tom , are there any species of tortoise that absolutely MUST brumate or can all species do fine without doing so given proper conditions?
We had a member here named Terry Allan Hall who passed away a few years back. He had several species of Testudo and he never brumated any of them for 20 years. He got babies from them every year.

If there are any species that MUST brumate, I don't know about them. Since I always brumate the temperate species, I have not tried to not brumate anything. I have done DTs, all the Testudo, and Chersina.
 

SinLA

Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Joined
Apr 19, 2022
Messages
479
Location (City and/or State)
Los Angeles
@Tom - When you start dropping temps, do you keep the basking area as is and just drop ambient/night temps?
 
Top