When Should I Get My Sulcata Ready For Hibernation (Brumation)?

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Yvonne G

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Jan 23, 2008
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Clovis, CA


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5 Year Member
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(This post was in response to an Arizona member asking about her friend's sulcata, that the friend allows to brumate each year)

One of the biggest differences with tortoises that have evolved in climates that are warmer year-round is that they never have developed the ability to react to changing season and stop eating in preparation for a long period of no metabolic activity. As a result, a sulcata will eat whenever active enough. Food is constantly in their gut. Gut transit times for a sulcata range from 7-10 days from the time they eat to the time it is passed as feces. This allows for the high fiber and hard-to-digest food items to have the maximum time for nutrient digestion and absorption. When a sulcata is allowed to cool at night, some of the microbiome in the gut starts to die off. If they cannot heat up to proper metabolic temperatures that die-off of beneficial gut bacteria becomes dramatic. Food in the gut cannot be broken down and digested and can start to rot and even ferment. This will eventually lead to enteritis and kill the tortoise if allowed to continue over a long period of time.

Tortoises from temperate areas, like our desert tortoise, have evolved the pattern of sensing the changing season and lower levels of sunshine intensity and stop having interest in eating. So when weather continues to cool and the go into brumation there is no food in their gut. With temperatures too cold for metabolism (under 75°) and a different profile of microbiome, there is no food in the gut to rot and ferment. Tortoise from the tropics never have evolved this activity profile and have different microbiome profiles

Sulcatas are one of the most disease resistant animals that exist. It takes a lot to kill one. They can survive very inhospitable conditions. But it is not good for them and takes it toll. Sooner or later those sulcatas will not make it through an Arizona winter. A warmer spell triggering a lot of eating, followed by a cold spell with microbiome die-off, and your fried will find a dead sulcata.

(Follow the whole thread here: https://tortoiseforum.org/threads/sulcata-brumation.194902/ )
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