|Timmy, Mila, Roz and Jill get to hibernate this year|
|These are the 4 Russian torts last Spring after NOT hibernating.|
-The tortoise must be healthy. No worm infestation, no protozoan infection, etc. - it may be a good idea to have the vet check a fecal sample to be sure. If your tortoises live outside, it may be a good idea to treat them with panacur (fenbendazole) just to be on the safe side.
-The tortoise must have a healthy weight. There are calculators online for different tortoise species that will tell you whether your tortoise is within a healthy weight range. As a general rule, a tortoise should always feel heavier than expected when you pick it up.
-You should have had your tortoise for more than a year. If you have had it for a shorter duration, wait a year - it's too risky, especially if you don't know much about its' history.
-Location. Where will you hibernate your tortoise? Whether you attempt a fridge hibernation (read how first!) or hibernate in your garage (not a detached shed unless you can control the temperature!), it is important that the temperature is right around 40 degrees F (4.5 degrees C). If it is warmer, your tortoise will burn too many calories. If it is colder, your tortoise may freeze to death.
-Hibernation container: be sure that air can come in, but that rodents cannot. The tortoise will not be able to move away to protect itself during hibernation. Avoid tragedy - better safe than sorry!
|Lady, our large female, is at a healthy weight, |
but we have only had her since last April, so I won't hibernate her yet this year.
|Allegra the rescued redfoot tortoise DOES NOT hibernate!|
The first step in hibernation preparation is to provide a fasting period that still includes regular soaking. You don't want any food to be left in your tortoise's gut, because it could rot or ferment in there and cause your tortoise to die. Timmy and Mila naturally stopped eating, and spent most of the days and nights in their hide already. I stopped offering food 3 weeks before hibernation start. For the first 2 weeks, I soaked them every 3-4 days, and left the basking lights on. For the last week, I turned off all basking lights, and soaked them every 3-4 days. At this point, their guts were empty.
|When 3 tortoises soak in warm water for 30 minutes, and the water stays clean...|
you KNOW their guts are empty!
Some people let their tortoises brumate naturally outside - however, for me this is not an option, as it rains torrentially here for much of the Fall and Spring, and I would be worried that the sleeping tortoises would flood and drown inside their burrows. A more controlled environment is more suitable.
|Jill, having her pre-hibernation weigh-in|
Next, I placed each of the tortoises into a box filled with coconut coir. I figured that they would like the familiar substrate, and that the coir would provide a little insulation.
|Roz is not entirely thrilled about being stuck in a small box|
|My little helper, posing with the packed-up tortoises|
Thankfully, I had been monitoring our refrigerator temperatures, and so I knew that the crisper drawer held a steady 39 - 41 degrees F (3.8 - 5 degrees C). I lined one of the crisper drawers with newspaper, then placed some old towels inside. Then I placed the tortoises into the drawer.
|I'd like those sleeping tortoises with a side of carrots, please.|
|Night-night, little tortoises!|
Counter to what is commonly believed, it IS safe to carefully handle your tortoise during brumation, as long as they are not warmed up. In fact, checking their weight and making sure they are healthy is very important. The plan is to let them hibernate for 10-12 weeks, so I will be waking them up in mid-late February.
1.) Even during brumation, tortoises continue to breathe, although very slowly. The refrigerator needs to be opened at least once daily to allow fresh oxygen to come in!
2.) If you are doing a refrigerator hibernation, make sure that the temperatures don't ever drop below freezing. Measure the temperatures in the actual location you plan to place your tortoise - some refrigerators have cold spots (you know, like when the milk suddenly freezes). Use a good digital thermometer with a max/min record.
Not as important, but possibly a useful hint: If you frequently have guests, or someone will be house-sitting for you, you may want to put a little sign on the crisper drawer to avoid shocked reactions at accidentally coming across a sleeping tortoise while searching for an apple!
This blog post narrates my procedure, but PLEASE do lots of research on your own before attempting this yourself! Here are a few useful articles about safe hibernation that I read and found useful: