Tom's Brumation Thread

FomTarro

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Hello! I was instructed to redirect my question here:

Hey all! We have an adult Horsfield's tortoise that we're trying to hibernate for the third year in a row. The prior attempts have been short-lived, as she has both times woken up and broke her way out of the box and fridge that we attempted to keep her in after only a few weeks, even at very low temperatures (~45F).

This year, however, signs seemed promising: as early as mid-October, she would willingly bury herself and stay put for days at a time, extending to weeks at a time come November. One night, we dug her up and re-buried her into a smaller box of substrate (with airholes and a thermometer inserted). She was content to sleep the night in the box at room temperature, totally buried.

However, shortly after we put her in the fridge, she immediately woke up and became restless, clawing at the sides of the box. We're not sure what to do.
The fridge is currently at 62F, was at one point as low as 55F. My original hypothesis was that it was too cold and she was trying and unable to burrow deeper, but raising the temperature back closer to room temperature hasn't placated her too much either. I've yet to try removing the box and just keeping it at room temperature again to see if she fully calms down, but if it comes to that, it wouldn't really be hibernation...

Anyway, I'm curious if anyone has any insight as to why she suddenly becomes riled up when exposed to colder-than-average temperatures, instead of calming down like one might expect.
 

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Hello! I was instructed to redirect my question here:
Hello! I was instructed to redirect my question here:
45 is too warm. 62 is warm enough for them to be active and eating if its sunny.

Russians need it consistently 39 degrees Fahrenheit for brumation. I wouldn't go lower than 36, but 41 is too warm in my experience. 45 is way too warm.

Did you read this thread? It lists the steps to properly get them ready to brumate. I've never had any problem with any of mine settling down and staying down when these guidelines and temperatures are followed.
 

FomTarro

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Yes, I have read the thread. The colder we make it, the more agitated she gets. We increment the temperature at a gradient, as you advise.

Unfortunately, she is most placid at room temperature, where she will actually sleep for long stretches of time (as mentioned, she was asleep at room temperature for almost a week prior to us boxing her up). When we finally reached 39F last year, she tore through her box overnight and forced the fridge door open. It seems like the cold upsets her, even when introduced gradually, and even when signs suggest that she is preparing for hibernation herself.
 
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Tom

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Yes, I have read the thread. The colder we make it, the more agitated she gets. We increment the temperature at a gradient, as you advise.

Unfortunately, she is most placid at room temperature, where she will actually sleep for long stretches of time (as mentioned, she was asleep at room temperature for almost a week prior to us boxing her up). When we finally reached 39F last year, she tore through her box overnight and forced the fridge door open. It seems like the cold upsets her, even when introduced gradually, and even when signs suggest that she is preparing for hibernation herself.
What sort of box and substrate are you using?
 

FomTarro

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What sort of box and substrate are you using?

Plastic storage shoebox with a mix of Coco coir a tiny amount of reptibark. The same as is in her paddock, and the same that she buried herself in for weeks unprompted leading up to this.

Last year, we tried a double-insulated cardboard shoebox, with the outer box being filled with newspaper and the inner one being full of substrate. But when we turned it down from 45F to 39F, she tore through both boxes overnight and forced her way out of the fridge (and promptly fell asleep on the corner of the room where we found her).

As part of the gradual temperature shift this time around, we have gone from 62F as mentioned to 54F over the course of the past 18 hours. Working on gradually reaching low 40s again over the next day. However, given that she is getting more restless the colder it gets, I am worried that we are causing her too much stress and we should just put her back in her room-temperature paddock.

But if we do that, she's just going to bury herself and sleep all day at room temperature, which is a problem, as you point out.
 

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So, I keep coming back to this sentence and thinking about it, and would like to better understand:

>>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.<<

I’m just trying to wrap my head around the biology/logic of all this. I get that brumation is what they do in the cold and estivation in the heat. But when they slow down in winter but stay at room temperature, how are they harmed by that? Is it they aren’t hydrating or getting nourishment, but not slowing down their bodily functions as they would in the cold? So they are sleep starving themselves, whereas during brumation the body slows down to not needing food/water, but at room temp in essence they are sleeping through their needed bodily functions?

I’m trying to get to the biological root of the problem of “slowing down at room temperature” and what harm comes..

I’m not doubting your suggestions just pondering how it works
 

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So, I keep coming back to this sentence and thinking about it, and would like to better understand:

>>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.<<

I’m just trying to wrap my head around the biology/logic of all this. I get that brumation is what they do in the cold and estivation in the heat. But when they slow down in winter but stay at room temperature, how are they harmed by that? Is it they aren’t hydrating or getting nourishment, but not slowing down their bodily functions as they would in the cold? So they are sleep starving themselves, whereas during brumation the body slows down to not needing food/water, but at room temp in essence they are sleeping through their needed bodily functions?

I’m trying to get to the biological root of the problem of “slowing down at room temperature” and what harm comes..

I’m not doubting your suggestions just pondering how it works
At room temperature none of their systems can function correctly. Digestive, immune, etc... At the same time the warmer temps will cause them to burn up their energy reserves too fast. This is the "limbo" that I mentioned before. Room temp is too cold to function, but too warm for brumation.
 

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At room temperature none of their systems can function correctly. Digestive, immune, etc... At the same time the warmer temps will cause them to burn up their energy reserves too fast. This is the "limbo" that I mentioned before. Room temp is too cold to function, but too warm for brumation.

Ok so swap “room temperature” with “typical tortoise room temperature” for whatever species it is. So keeping them at normal warm temps, but letting them sleep.
 

Tom

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Ok so swap “room temperature” with “typical tortoise room temperature” for whatever species it is. So keeping them at normal warm temps, but letting them sleep.
Same answer. If the tortoise isn't getting up and basking daily, which warms it up to operating temperatures, then its bodily systems can't function properly. Letting it sleep all day every day at temps well above brumation temps will result in starvation and dehydration.

They either need to brumate at the correct temperatures, or they need to be getting up and active daily. Letting them sleep all day every day at room temps is an eventual death sentence. Its too cool for their systems to function, but too warm for them to shut down their systems and brumate.
 

FomTarro

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Hello again! After a week of gentle temperature gradation in the fridge, we have finally reached a temperature of 38F. Unfortunately, our Russian tortoise still does not seem to be sleeping as soundly as she was at room temperature, and we frequently hear scratches from the fridge. (It feels like Poe's "Telltale Heart"). My best guess is that the inside of the dirt she's buried in is slightly warmer than the thermometer reading, but I'm still surprised she's being this active at this temperature...

I'm not sure how to make the call on whether or not to try to warm her back up slowly and abandon plans for brumation or not. As I've mentioned before, she gave us all the signs that she wanted to sleep for the winter, up until we actually started making it cold for her.

That aside, I do have another question: I have read and been advised that it is important to soak tortoises during brumation semi-regularly to avoid dehydration. What temperature of water is suggested to avoid temperature shock? Also, do you dry the tortoise off with a towel before burying them again? I would imagine if they're still damp at 38F, that would be a problem...
 

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Hello again! After a week of gentle temperature gradation in the fridge, we have finally reached a temperature of 38F. Unfortunately, our Russian tortoise still does not seem to be sleeping as soundly as she was at room temperature, and we frequently hear scratches from the fridge. (It feels like Poe's "Telltale Heart"). My best guess is that the inside of the dirt she's buried in is slightly warmer than the thermometer reading, but I'm still surprised she's being this active at this temperature...

I'm not sure how to make the call on whether or not to try to warm her back up slowly and abandon plans for brumation or not. As I've mentioned before, she gave us all the signs that she wanted to sleep for the winter, up until we actually started making it cold for her.

That aside, I do have another question: I have read and been advised that it is important to soak tortoises during brumation semi-regularly to avoid dehydration. What temperature of water is suggested to avoid temperature shock? Also, do you dry the tortoise off with a towel before burying them again? I would imagine if they're still damp at 38F, that would be a problem...
Try going cooler and also using another thermometer. Maybe yours is off. We just had a presentation at the TTPG last week, and he thinks Russians need it more like 34-35, and he doesn't think freezing is a big risk for them. The areas where they come from are very harsh. There is evidence to suggest that they are fine at below freezing temps, but I am NOT advocating for that. Just pointing out new info.

I would leave the tortoise be. If its cold and dark, it will settle down.

There is absolutely no reason and no sense in soaking a tortoise during brumation. They are likely to drown in their torpor, and having temps go up and down is not ideal in any way. They don't soak in the wild during brumation, and if their brumation location were to flood, they would likely die.
 

FomTarro

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Interesting. Multiple vets have advised me to do this to avoid dehydration, but perhaps they were thinking that I'd be keeping her closer to room temperature, where she'd still be engaging in regular bodily functions/burning energy at an almost-normal rate, and therefore using up water quickly. I will follow up with them and ask why they suggested this.

Thank you for your advice! It's a big help.
 

Tom

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Interesting. Multiple vets have advised me to do this to avoid dehydration, but perhaps they were thinking that I'd be keeping her closer to room temperature, where she'd still be engaging in regular bodily functions/burning energy at an almost-normal rate, and therefore using up water quickly. I will follow up with them and ask why they suggested this.

Thank you for your advice! It's a big help.
Be aware that most vets know very little about tortoise care. They get their care info from the same wrong sources as all other humans. There is no semester on tortoise care in vet school, and even if there was, it would likely still be all that old wrong info.

The things I've seen...
 

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Tom - could use some advice. Stopped all food on 11/3, and started lowering the temps about two weeks later (gets mid/low 60s at night now). Been soaking most days, other than when I was away over thanksgiving for about 5 days, and on a short trip the week before that for 4 days.

About 2 weeks ago my garage fridge compressor broke (thank god he wasn't in it) and the new fridge I ordered keeps getting delayed on delivery. MEANWHILE, although he started getting really lethargic and just wanting to hide and sleep in late October, the last few days he has become notably more perky and active, even though the lights are on less and its cooler overall. In essence he sort of self-slept a lot during my prep period but now he has become active again.

My preference was always to not hibernate him, but given that his system is definitely flushed out (no poops in soaks, other than occasional "ghost poops" for lack of a better description) and he's about 20+ grams lighter than the day of his last feeing, I wonder if changing course at this stage is either "better or worse" than waiting for my fridge to be delivered (who knows, MAYBE this week??) and then I'll want to have it running for a while to get the temps right...

what are your thoughts?
 
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Tom

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Tom - could use some advice. Stopped all food on 11/3, and started lowering the temps about two weeks later (gets mid/low 60s at night now). Been soaking most days, other than when I was away over thanksgiving for about 5 days, and on a short trip the week before that for 4 days.

About 2 weeks ago my garage fridge compressor broke (thank god he wasn't in it) and the new fridge I ordered keeps getting delayed on delivery. MEANWHILE, although he started getting really lethargic and just wanting to hide and sleep in late October, the last few days he has become notably more perky and active, even though the lights are on less and its cooler overall. In essence he sort of self-slept a lot during my prep period but now he has become active again.

My preference was always to not hibernate him, but given that his system is definitely flushed out (no poops in soaks, other than occasional "ghost poops" for lack of a better description) and he's about 20+ grams lighter than the day of his last feeing, I wonder if changing course at this stage is either "better or worse" than waiting for my fridge to be delivered (who knows, MAYBE this week??) and then I'll want to have it running for a while to get the temps right...

what are your thoughts?
Years ago, @Yvonne G explained a technique where by people with those tortoises that just insist on brumating can be snapped out of it by performing a brief "mini-hibernation". Some people just don't want to brumate, but their tortoises have other ideas and refuse to remain up and active no matter what the temps and lighting are set at. Sometimes even a week or two in the dark with "cold" temps followed by a return to warm temps and lit day will be enough to make them think they've done their brumation, and get them back to being active and eating.

Its up to you, but maybe your tortoise has been cool enough for long enough to "break the spell". Or you could just carry on with "fall" until your fridge gets here and then the "winter" cold can set in. This is a judgement call. Lots of variables here. We are having a cold spell right now and days are almost at their shortest for the whole year, so you could wait a bit and then brumate. But I don't think there would be any harm to the tortoise if you decided to light and heat everything back up and pretend is springtime in your enclosure.
 

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Ok @Tom more questions. Fridge arrived, i'm working on calibrating it, but can you give your schedule for "cool down" in terms of temps right before going in. Like start at 65 ambient, drop into 50s ambient over the course of a week, THEN put them in the fridge. OR put them in a fridge at higher temps and slowly lower the temp of the fridge, etc.

My fridge is currently mid-40s I don't know if that is to low to "start" him in, if my ambient temp has been in the 60s... I know the goal is to get him in there in high 30s but not sure the best route to get there
 

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Ok @Tom more questions. Fridge arrived, i'm working on calibrating it, but can you give your schedule for "cool down" in terms of temps right before going in. Like start at 65 ambient, drop into 50s ambient over the course of a week, THEN put them in the fridge. OR put them in a fridge at higher temps and slowly lower the temp of the fridge, etc.

My fridge is currently mid-40s I don't know if that is to low to "start" him in, if my ambient temp has been in the 60s... I know the goal is to get him in there in high 30s but not sure the best route to get there
If he's done with the two weeks of fasting and the two weeks of gradual cool down, I'd just pop him into the fridge after nightfall. I do spend a few days dropping the temp into the 30's but this really isn't critical. There is a wide margin of error for the temps and how quickly you adjust them down. When they come from the temperatures can change drastically from one day to the next. If its too warm in there, he will be antsy. Not a big deal.
 

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Years ago, @Yvonne G explained a technique where by people with those tortoises that just insist on brumating can be snapped out of it by performing a brief "mini-hibernation". Some people just don't want to brumate, but their tortoises have other ideas and refuse to remain up and active no matter what the temps and lighting are set at. Sometimes even a week or two in the dark with "cold" temps followed by a return to warm temps and lit day will be enough to make them think they've done their brumation, and get them back to being active and eating.

Its up to you, but maybe your tortoise has been cool enough for long enough to "break the spell". Or you could just carry on with "fall" until your fridge gets here and then the "winter" cold can set in. This is a judgement call. Lots of variables here. We are having a cold spell right now and days are almost at their shortest for the whole year, so you could wait a bit and then brumate. But I don't think there would be any harm to the tortoise if you decided to light and heat everything back up and pretend is springtime in your enclosure.
This is really interesting. Our marginated four year old has been in brumation in the shed for 23 days but the UK weather has been terrible with temperature dropping to -8C on one night and generally -2C to -6C for over a week. We thought he'd perished despite our best efforts to insulate the boxes. But he's okay and started to stir yesterday after two days back inside. We've found a cool area on stone flag flooring to put his box in a dark corner until the cold snap subsides and the forecast is it's going back to between 2-7C next fortnight. So should we resume putting him back in the shed at a colder consistent temperature or just gradually wake him up as possibly a week indoors at a temperature of about 10-12C even if he's still preferring to sleep is potentially dangerous to his health? We were thinking because of his age to wake him up after eight weeks or 54 days so we're only half way through.
 

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This is really interesting. Our marginated four year old has been in brumation in the shed for 23 days but the UK weather has been terrible with temperature dropping to -8C on one night and generally -2C to -6C for over a week. We thought he'd perished despite our best efforts to insulate the boxes. But he's okay and started to stir yesterday after two days back inside. We've found a cool area on stone flag flooring to put his box in a dark corner until the cold snap subsides and the forecast is it's going back to between 2-7C next fortnight. So should we resume putting him back in the shed at a colder consistent temperature or just gradually wake him up as possibly a week indoors at a temperature of about 10-12C even if he's still preferring to sleep is potentially dangerous to his health? We were thinking because of his age to wake him up after eight weeks or 54 days so we're only half way through.
Some marginated keepers questions whether they need to brumate at all, so I think you'd be fine to gradually warm him up, soak, and resume normal warm temps, basking and feeding. I'm not a fan of waking them, and then putting them back into the cold again, but it can work in some circumstances.
 
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