Brumation is a type of hibernation that’s specific to reptiles, including some species of tortoises. Brumating animals can awaken several times during their long sleep to drink water.
Tortoises stop eating before brumation because a reptile’s metabolism can’t digest food when it’s too cold. Its fat stores must be elevated, but its stomach must be empty as undigested food will ferment.
Tortoises enter brumation once temperatures drop, which occurs at around 41 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ll stay asleep as temperatures drop lower and awaken once warmer temperatures arrive.
Do Tortoises Hibernate in The Fridge?
Temperature control is vital to the brumation process, so many veterinarians recommend using a fridge to brumate a tortoise for the following reasons:
- Reaching and maintaining a stable temperature is easier.
- Monitoring and adjusting the internal temperature can be done with the existing dials.
- The low temperatures are maintained hours after a power cut.
- Protects from disturbances, such as jostling and loud noises.
You can’t just put a tortoise in your fridge without adequate preparation.
How To Hibernate A Tortoise In The Fridge
Using a fridge to brumate your tortoise is recommended. However, it requires precautions and regular check-ins. This guide will ensure your tortoise rests safely in the artificial winter you create:
Preparation for Hibernation
Prepare your tortoise for brumation during late August.
Tortoises won’t brumate until November, but they’ll still need time to build up their fat reserves and digest food in their stomach.
The fasting time for your tortoise depends on its size, age, and species. However, the benchmark timeframe is 2 weeks of fasting before the tortoise’s brumation.
Consult your vet beforehand, as your tortoise may need to delay its brumation to gain more weight. Allowing it to enter a long sleep without the appropriate reserves could lead to starvation.
After its last meal, a tortoise should be kept at lowered temperatures.
Its habitat should be kept at 55.4 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure that the food in its stomach can be fully digested. It’ll also mimic the drop in temperature of the wild.
This period will depend on how long your tortoise takes to digest its food. Depending on their size and species, some tortoises take less time than others.
Other than temperature, you’ll also need to change the amount of daylight. This doesn’t need to be exact, but tortoises enter brumation when the days get shorter.
So, you should gradually lower the amount of light until it’s time to sleep.
While digesting, give your tortoise daily baths. A tortoise going into brumation should have a full bladder, but its bowels should be empty.
Also, bathing will ensure that your tortoise is well-hydrated before going into its long sleep. To do this, bathe your tortoise in a shallow dish of lukewarm water.
Choosing The Fridge
Avoid placing your brumating tortoise in the same fridge where you keep your food. Doing so puts you at risk of food contamination from Salmonella.
Also, fridges that are used often will fluctuate in temperature as you open and close the door. This puts your tortoise in danger of waking up and returning to sleep multiple times.
A new fridge will maintain a stricter temperature, and its internal thermometer will be more reliable. Alternatively, you can always opt for a mini-fridge.
If that’s not possible, place your tortoise in a container that’s away from other food.
Fill And Test The Fridge
A full fridge will maintain a more stable temperature, so fill it with 2-liter bottles of water.
Test the stability of the temperature inside the fridge with a reliable thermometer to monitor the fridge when it’s empty and again when it’s full.
Don’t use a fridge that’s more than 2 degrees Celsius off the actual temperature. Otherwise, adjust the fridge thermostat accordingly.
Your tortoise will need a box, whether it’s in an existing or new fridge. Good options include cardboard or wooden boxes, but choose plastic for species that require more moisture.
Ensure it’s big enough for a tortoise to turn around if needed. The lid should also be tight and secure, and the sides should be tall enough to prevent escape.
Punch as many holes as possible in the lid. Then, fill the box with a substrate, ideally sterilized soil.
Brumation doesn’t just involve putting your tortoise in the fridge. You’ll need to monitor your tortoise to ensure it remains safe and healthy.
Fridge Temperature for Tortoises
A tortoise should be kept in temperatures of 41 degrees Fahrenheit or 5 degrees Celsius. This temperature can fluctuate to anywhere between 37.4 – 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Never allow the temperature to dip below 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit, as this will be too cold.
Allow Oxygen Inside The Fridge
A brumating tortoise still needs to breathe, although it requires less air than normal. Wild tortoises bury themselves deep in the ground, where oxygen levels are extremely low.
There are two ways you can give oxygen to your tortoise. You can open the fridge’s door, which should be done at least 3 times a week, for about 1-2 minutes.
Alternatively, you can install an aquarium air pump. For an average-sized fridge, use a pump that can move 200 liters of air per hour.
Even with an air pump, you should never leave a brumating tortoise unattended for long periods. A power outage can lead to a lack of oxygen inside your tortoise’s fridge.
Check The Tortoise’s Health
It’s safe to handle a brumating tortoise. In fact, it’s recommended that you do so to check its weight during brumation. Perform this check-in at least once a month.
Tortoises will lose about 1% of their mass per month of brumation.
For this reason, tortoises rarely brumate for more than 12 weeks. If your tortoise loses more than 1% of its body weight, bring it out of the long sleep.
You should also check if your tortoise has urinated. If it has, this means that it’s dehydrated. In this situation, wake it up but don’t put it back into brumation.
How Long Do I Brumate A Tortoise?
The length of the brumation depends on your tortoise’s species.
For example, the Jackson Ratio is used for spur-thighed and Hermann’s tortoises, while the McIntyre Ratio is used for horsefield tortoises.
Small tortoises will brumate for 8-10 weeks, while large tortoises never brumate for more than 16 weeks.
Waking The Tortoise
When your tortoise has finished brumating, remove it from the fridge and place it near a heat source. A basking lamp or UV lamp is ideal.
This area should be isolated and free from loud noises and foot traffic. At this time, allow your tortoise to slowly wake itself up, which will take 2-3 hours.
Once your tortoise begins stirring, provide it with water. If it seems awake enough, bathe it in a shallow pool of lukewarm water (less than neck height).
Afterward, you can place it back in its enclosure, gradually increasing the temperature to its normal range.
Your tortoise should start eating food over the next 10-14 days.
Do I Need To Hibernate My Tortoise?
Not all species of tortoise brumate, such as leopard tortoises.
So, it’s important to determine what species your tortoise is and do your research on whether it requires brumation during the winter.
Brumating species of tortoises include the following:
- Hermann’s tortoise
- Horsefield tortoise
- Russian Tortoise
- Marginated Tortoise
- Gopher Tortoises
- Mediterranean tortoises
Sometimes you shouldn’t brumate your tortoise, even if it’s a brumating species. If your tortoise is ill or underweight, it is best to forgo brumation. Also, juvenile tortoises don’t need to brumate.