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What To Do When Your Tortoise Wakes Up from Hibernation Early

Last Updated on September 21, 2023 by Samantha Harris

Most tortoises hibernate between November and February to conserve energy when temperatures get too cold. So, environmental disturbances can awaken them prematurely.

An owner can wake their tortoise by accident by checking on its welfare. Let a tortoise wake up if it has finished most of its 3-month brumation. Provide food, heat, and a soaking tub.

If the tortoise wakes up far too early and appears healthy, you can put it back to sleep. Lower the temperature to less than 45 degrees Fahrenheit and let the tortoise rest again.

Never let the temperature fall below freezing, as this can be deadly.

Is It Dangerous to Wake a Hibernating Tortoise?

If the hibernation period is already up, waking a hibernating tortoise isn’t dangerous. As long as you don’t shock it awake, the gentler methods of helping it rise should suffice.

However, you shouldn’t attempt to wake up a hibernating tortoise as this can disrupt its metabolic processes and kick-start the energy reserves needed to get through just one hibernation period.

Should the tortoise fall asleep again without taking the proper precautions, it might not have the energy stores left to awaken a second time.

If it does wake up and stay awake, the tortoise will be much weaker. So, you’ll need to prepare several things for when its hibernation period is nearing an end.

Food

The tortoise will have a much lower white blood cell count as it’s not eaten in a long time.

So, you need to set up a warm, safe enclosure with fresh greens and water to help the tortoise regain strength. It’ll be able to regain its bearings sufficiently to move like normal within 10-14 days.

Bath

It’s a good idea to give it a warm bath. Assist it if its face and eyes remain coated in debris and gunk after the tortoise has washed.

Heat

Let the tortoise bask under a heat lamp at least 85 degrees Fahrenheit. This warms it up, dries it off after the bath, and allows it to eat more.

The tortoise should return to its habits after it has recovered from its hibernated state, but check for any signs of illness in the following days.

When Do Tortoises Wake Up from Hibernation?

A tortoise can wake up from hibernation anytime for normal or illness-related reasons. The timeframe that works safely for tortoises depends on the following:

  • Age.
  • Species.
  • Enclosure temperature.
  • How deeply it has burrowed.

According to the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, different species in different sites and years were tested, and all showed varying results of what would cause each tortoise to go into hibernation and recover from that state.

Wild tortoises often brumate on a different cycle than pet tortoises.

Pet tortoises are more affected by their environment, heat exposure, food, and enrichment. This means you’ll need to find out what’s normal for the tortoise.

can tortoises go back into hibernation?

What Month Do Tortoises Wake Up From Hibernation?

No tortoise hibernation period will last the same amount of time. However, numerous studies have been conducted on desert tortoise hibernation periods, revealing a generalized pattern.

According to The Journal of Wildlife Management, around 98% of tortoises commenced brumation on or around November 15th.

Researchers observed around 98% or more of their tortoises rising from hibernation around February 15th. Researchers purposefully disturbed half the subjects in an attempt to wake them earlier.

However, these tortoises were less provoked by environmental disturbances than pet tortoises.

The Stanhope Veterinary Hospital found that most tortoises shouldn’t hibernate for more than 3 months. If the tortoise hasn’t woken up from its hibernation by the end of winter, wake it up.

Can Tortoises Go Back into Hibernation?

Tortoises can return to hibernation when the conditions are right.

You shouldn’t attempt to wake the tortoise during this period. If you accidentally cause the tortoise to rise, you can help it back to sleep by reducing the enclosure’s temperatures.

Tortoises are greatly affected by their surrounding temperatures during hibernation. Lower ranges put them to sleep, while higher ranges wake them up.

TemperatureTortoise Condition
35 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit (for aquatic tortoises)Lowered metabolic processes and activity levels.
40 to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (for land-based tortoises)Fewer metabolic processes and reduced activity.
50 to 55 degrees FahrenheitIt may be too warm for a tortoise, so it’ll start to awaken.
60 degrees FahrenheitWarm enough for a tortoise to rise from hibernation completely.

Should I Put My Tortoise Back Into Hibernation?

This doesn’t mean it’s safe to force a tortoise back into hibernation each time it wakes up early.

However, if the current temperature in your home has reached 50 degrees Fahrenheit, let the tortoise awaken from its hibernation. Forcing it back to sleep can have adverse health consequences.

Also, don’t keep the tortoise below freezing, as this could cause sickness or death.

Some owners place their tortoise tanks outside or in their garages during winter hibernation. Tortoises with an outdoor enclosure may even burrow themselves in a safe spot in your backyard.

Check your local winter temperatures first. If they’re sub 32 degrees Fahrenheit, this will be dangerous.

Should I Wake My Tortoise from Hibernation?

You should usually allow the tortoise to sleep through its entire hibernation period.

However, there are times when you can wake it up:

Oversleeping

If the winter has passed and the tortoise hasn’t woken up, coax it awake.

This can be done by slowly warming the enclosure up. Higher temperatures let a tortoise know it’s near spring and it’s safe to wake up. Its metabolism will increase, making the tortoise hungry enough to rise.

You can set the tortoise’s enclosure by a heater or radiator (though not so close as to cause burns upon waking). You can also place the tortoise underneath a heat lamp to assist its metabolic processes.

Typically, tortoises will take around 2 hours to arise from hibernation.

Illnesses

Coax the tortoise awake if you notice anything strange around its burrow, as tortoises are still susceptible to illnesses. Look for these signs to check if your tortoise is healthy:

  • Weight loss greater than 1% of its pre-hibernation body weight a month.
  • Significant activity in its burrow signifies that your tortoise has failed to enter hibernation.
  • Any signs of illness, such as nasal discharge, difficulty breathing, and negative respiratory symptoms.
  • Lumps, swelling, scrapes, or cuts on the exposed skin
  • Pinkness around its shell
  • A strange odor, especially around its tail
  • Signs that the tortoise has urinated or defecated when it should still be asleep

Should any of these occur, you must wake up the tortoise before taking it to the vet. Often, these are indicators of serious illness.

If the tortoise wakes from hibernation, put it back to sleep, helping it to recover as it wakes up. You can allow it to rise if there are no signs of illness and the tortoise has completed most of its hibernation.