Tending To Your Tortoise: Do Tortoises Hibernate? When? For How Long? | Kidadl


Tending To Your Tortoise: Do Tortoises Hibernate? When? For How Long?

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Tortoises are land-dwelling reptiles belonging to the family Testudinidae.

Tortoises are one of the most fascinating reptiles on earth, known for their exceptionally long lifespan and hard, dome-like shell. The oldest living tortoise is reported to have lived for 189 years!

Depending on the species of tortoise, they can range in shell length from as small as 4-6 in (10.2-15.2 cm) to over 3.3 ft (100.5 cm). Among the smallest tortoises in the Speckled Cape Tortoise and some of the largest ones include the Aldabra Giant Tortoise and the Galapagos Giant Tortoise. Tortoises are pretty hardy reptiles, and in the wild, they are found in a wide variety of habitats from dry desert to wet tropical forest. The mighty reptile is also quite cosmopolitan in terms of geographical distribution and is found on almost every continent.

When it comes to food and diet, most tortoises are herbivores and consume foliage, flowers, and fruits. However, animal-based diets comprising insects, worms, birds, and even carrion have been observed in some species. They are pretty slow-moving animals and have a legendary reputation for their leisurely walking speed. Tortoises have stubby hind feet, columnar limbs and can retract their head into the dome-shaped shell for protection under threats. Tortoises are often mistaken for turtles that look quite similar and have the typical bony shell. However, tortoises differ from turtles in being exclusively land-dwelling. On the other hand, many turtle species are semi-aquatic.

In addition to their unique dome-like shell, long lifespan, and lethargic movement, tortoises also exhibit some pretty interesting behaviors that are vital for their normal health. Read on to know more!

If you enjoyed this article, why not also read about how do turtles breathe or how do turtles sleep here on Kidadl?

Do Russian tortoises hibernate in captivity?

If you have been wondering if a Russian tortoise hibernates, the answer is yes, they do hibernate for several months during the winter.

Hibernation is a natural process that cold-blooded animals or poikilotherms demonstrate during cold weather or when food and water are scarce. Cold-blooded animals do not have an internal control mechanism that will stabilize their body temperature with fluctuations in the external environment. In other words, their internal temperature keeps changing according to changes in the environment. As a result, such cold-blooded animals find it difficult to survive extreme weather conditions unless they have evolved some natural mechanism to deal with it. Hibernation or winter torpor is one such natural process that cold-blooded animals have developed to tide over freezing winters when temperatures drop several degrees. When hibernating, the animals' metabolism is significantly reduced. Since they are in a dormant stage, they do not require energy and can go for days without food or water. The hibernation period can last for weeks or even months.

When it comes to hibernating tortoises, well, not all of them go into winter sleep. Out of all tortoise species that are kept as pets or in captivity, the Russian tortoise is one of the hibernating ones. Also known as the Horsefield's tortoise, the wild ones can hibernate for as long as eight months a year. In captivity, Russian tortoises have a shorter hibernation period, usually eight weeks or so. Generally, Russian tortoises may begin hibernating around October and remain in hibernation up to March or even later, till April or May. However, if you have them as pet tortoises or in captivity, you may find them going into hibernation as soon as conditions become unfavorable.

An interesting fact about the hibernation of a Russian tortoise is that the reptile can hibernate both indoors and outdoors. When hibernating indoors, the Russian tortoise requires stable temperature and lighting. Outdoor hibernation, too, calls for stable temperatures and abundant light. However, the temperature has to be warm enough since the tortoises cannot withstand colder conditions. If the outdoor temperature is unsuitable, they will try to hibernate indoors or may even dig holes and hibernate underground.

What age do tortoises hibernate at?

A tortoise usually hibernates when the temperature is low because it cannot keep itself warm enough to survive low temperatures.

The tortoise is a poikilotherm with no mechanism to control its body's internal temperature. Unlike warm-blooded animals, tortoises cannot warm up when the temperature falls several degrees, and neither can they cool off when it is too hot. In general, when the temperature falls, a wild tortoise will bask outside in the sun or burrow into the soil to get warmth, and if it is hot, the tortoise will preferably burrow in the soil to find cool earth. However, when the temperatures drop way too low, and the tortoise finds it difficult to keep warm, it will hibernate to survive the winter. As the tortoise hibernate, their breathing rate and heartbeat slow down, and the body temperature is lowered. In addition, there is a reduction in growth rate, and as a result, there may be a slight decrease in body weight during this period. As the temperature begins to rise again, the tortoise emerges from hibernation. There is a surge in the tortoise's hormones, and the normal reproductive and digestive cycles are restored.

Therefore, hibernation is a vital aspect of a tortoise's lifecycle, particularly those that hibernate naturally. In the case of pet tortoises that are of the hibernating type, one of the primary reasons behind health problems is that they are not adequately hibernated. Insufficient or lack of hibernation could even result in death. Hence, it is best that you research well about whether you should hibernate your tortoise.

Lack of hibernation could even result in death

Why do tortoises hibernate?

If you have a pet tortoise and are wondering if it is hibernating, look for signs such as reduced intake of food, a drop in temperature, slowed breathing, and a drop in heartbeat rate.

Before you hibernate a tortoise, it should be examined by a qualified vet to ensure it is fit and healthy. The vet will usually check for any signs of infection such as respiratory difficulty, runny nose, and eyes. In addition, the vet may run some tests to check for hidden infections and to be sure that the tortoise is healthy overall. The best time to visit the vet and get the health check-up done is during the pre-hibernation period in mid-August. It is also necessary that you weigh your tortoise before hibernation. If your pet is healthy when you weigh your tortoise, it will have put on enough body weight to survive the winter hibernation. Abundant fat reserves are essential for the tortoise's health and to help it tide through hibernation. If your tortoise does not have sufficient weight, it could die of starvation and dehydration. Once the vet has done the general weight and health check-up, your tortoise is ready for hibernation.

Before hibernation, your tortoise will undergo a fasting period when you have to keep a check on its feeding. Depending on the size of the tortoise, the no-feeding period can range between two and six weeks. During this time, your pet tortoise should not be eating any food. However, you should encourage your tortoise to drink by placing it in a shallow bath of lukewarm water every day. Not feeding the tortoise is crucial during this period. If your tortoise is eating and has a full stomach before it goes into hibernation, the undigested food will not digest during the hibernation weeks and will instead decay, resulting in infections.

There are two popular hibernation methods to hibernate a tortoise - the box method and the fridge method.

Box method: You will need two boxes; one box should be small enough that it fits in the other box with few inches of space around it. Next, half fill the smaller box with dry compost or soil and make air holes in the lid. Place your tortoise in the smaller box along with a thermometer and cover it with a lid. Now, place the smaller box into the larger one and fill the gap with shredded paper. Keep the box in a cool room. Monitor the temperature inside the box regularly; it should be between 37.4°-44.6° F (3°-7°C).

Fridge method: Choose a fridge that is in working condition and preferably has a digital thermometer. Place your tortoise in a cardboard box, make several air holes, fill it with shredded paper, and keep it in the fridge. Open the fridge several times a day to allow air circulation. The temperature should be between 37.4°-44.6° F (3°-7°C) in the fridge method as well. Regardless of whether you choose the box or fridge method, make sure to monitor the weight and temperature regularly. Ideally, tortoises in hibernation should not lose more than 1% of their weight per month.

If you need to wake your tortoise up from hibernation, do so gradually by warming it to room temperature. Ensure it drinks within the first few hours of waking up. Once it is drinking, feed it gradually since it is important for hibernated tortoises to eat within the first week of waking from torpor.

How do I know if my tortoise is hibernating?

Hibernation is a natural phenomenon in the life cycle of several tortoise species. So, if you have one of these as pets and do not hibernate your tortoise, they could become ill or even die.

If you want to know whether you should hibernate your tortoise, your first job is to find out if it is a type that hibernates. Here is a list of tortoises that hibernate and those that do not.

Tortoises that hibernate: Russian Tortoise, Desert Tortoise, Hermann's Tortoise, Marginated Tortoise.

Tortoises that do not hibernate: Egyptian Tortoise, Leopard Tortoise, African Spurred Tortoise, Hinge-back Tortoise, Radiated Tortoise, Yellow-footed Tortoise, Red-footed Tortoise.

Moreover, the length of tortoise hibernation depends on its size. Another factor that it depends upon is the age of your tortoise; the suggested length of hibernation according to age is as follows:

More than five years old: 22 weeks

Four years old: 16 weeks

Three years old: 10 weeks

Two years old: six weeks

A year-old: three weeks

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for do tortoises hibernate then why not take a look at how to take care of a box turtle, or tortoise facts.

Rajnandini is an art lover and enthusiastically likes to spread her knowledge. With a Master of Arts in English, she has worked as a private tutor and, in the past few years, has moved into content writing for companies such as Writer's Zone. Trilingual Rajnandini has also published work in a supplement for 'The Telegraph', and had her poetry shortlisted in Poems4Peace, an international project. Outside work, her interests include music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading. She is fond of classic British literature.

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