Hibernation of Tortoises

Tortoises that hibernate in the wild, may also do this in captivity. For tortoises, hibernation time is the most dangerous time of year. Most fatalities occur during or directly following the hibernation period.

Poor physical condition, weak health or simply the wrong feed are usually the cause of death.
Hibernation usually lasts from November till February. The duration differs per specie. Hibernation influences procreation. Tortoises that don’t hibernate lay their eggs earlier than those that do. The difference can be more than a month and continues until the third laying. This is because their biological clock keeps ticking. Tortoises that haven’t hibernated for several years eat more in October and November. Because their temperature is higher they stay awake and active.

Before the turtles go into hibernation, it’s wise to bathe them several times in lukewarm water. This should be done after the turtles have stopped eating, due to the decrease in body temperature. Bathing can be done half an hour at a time, from three weeks prior to hibernation. By bathing the turtles, they can take in fluid and empty the intestinal tract. This helps prevent the decay of remaining food in the intestines during hibernation.

Tortoises can spend the winter comfortably in an insulated box. It must be frost-proof and quiet. For filling, leafs, hay, artificial insulation chips or a combination of these can be used. It’s good to check the turtles weekly, so any problems can be discovered and helped in time. During mild winters, the temperature may rise so high that the turtle awakes. Check regularly the ensure the animals haven’t crawled on top of the insulation, or they might freeze when it gets too cold again.

After hibernation, it’s important that the turtles are brought back to warmth slowly. A transition from 5°C to about 30°C should take a minimum of 14 days. The ideal temperature during hibernation lies between 2°C and 7°C. With a higher temperature, the animal will wake up again. Below 15°C the animal won’t eat, because it will not be stimulated enough. Only at higher temperatures will the digestion reactivate. Obviously, tropical turtles don’t hibernate.