Juvenile Hibernation



With adult tortoises the weather takes charge of their pre-hibernation slow down but with young tortoises you have to control the slowdown.

It does sound daunting but in fact it isn't that difficult.

By now (end September) you would have your young tortoise inside nearly all of the time, unless we are having an Indian Summer, and definitely every night.  Keep it warm and eating as usual.

We think the best time for young torts to be asleep is over Christmas so that you don't have to tend to them during the busy period.

So carry on as usual up until mid November, say 14th.  Then over the next 4 weeks imitate autumn coming by taking the following actions:-

Week 1

Reduce the basking lamp to 4 hours a day for the first part of the week and then to 2 hours a day for the rest of the week  Keep the background heating, usually your central heating, as normal through the week.  Keep offering food and bath twice during the week.

Week 2

No lmaps at all for this week.  Keep the central heating the same for the week.  You will notice a change already without the lamps - the smaller the tortoise the quicker he will slow down.  Offer food and bath twice a week.  During the last few days of this week, lower the heating in the room.

Week 3

Now it's time to turn off the central heating in the room or move your tortoise accommodation to an unheated room.  They may eat on day 1 of this week, but usually don't from then on as their core temperature drops, so stop offering food.  Still bath twice a week.  At this point we want to make sure the tortoise has emptied its bowel.

Week 4

Time to open the window during the day and get the temperature down as low as you can to the preferred 5c.  Be security conscience and don't leave the window open all night!  Final bath at the beginning of this week.  Hopefully during this bath, or just after, your tortoise should empty its bowel for the final time if it hasn't done so already.  Your tortoise should be very sleepy during this week and out for the count by the end of it.  If you are having difficulty getting the temperature down, give us a call.

When you tortoise hasn't moved for 3-4 days, then it's time to box them up.

A good thick cardboard box is called for.  Not too big but allowing room to shuffle a little back and forth.  It is more likely that it will try to move up and down to get warmer or colder, so they need a little room to do this.

Put a thick layer of bedding on the bottom.  By thick, I mean half the depth of the box.  You want the tortoise to be sitting in the middle of the box so that he can shuffle down deeper if he so wishes.

Use shredded newspaper/magazines, or dried leaves (make sure they are perfectly dry) or a mixture of both.  Straw and hay are not recommended because dust particles can enter the nose.

Before putting your tortoise in, have a final look around the body.  Check the eyes - he will probably have disturbed a little and may even open an eye to give you a filthy look for waking him up!  Check the nostrils are clear, they are called nares in a tortoise, by the way.  Look inside the mouth to make sure there are no food particles left - these will rot if left.  If there are, use a Qtip to fish out.

Finally, check the tail area making sure there are no dried faeces left.

Pop him in the box and pile on a little bedding.  Then lay the probe of your digital thermometer on top with the lead and reader handing out of the box.  Then pile on more bedding right to the top.  Close down the top and put just a couple of airholes in the lid.  Remember, your tortoise's heartbeat will only be once a minute by now and the amount of oxygen used is minimal.

Then place the box in the position you have chosen for him to spend the winter.  We now recommend the refrigeration method - ask us for advice.

Temperature is critical.  You must use a thermometer

Too high and the tortoise will wake.  You cannot put it back into hibernation, you must wake it fully and keep it awake.  Too low and frost can damage the eyes and internal organs.  If a heavy frost is forecast wrap a blanket around the box for extra insulation.

Check the temperature at least daily.  Weekly give it a physical check over - bring him out of his box and look around his body to check everything is in order.  Then check the box for any signs of going to the toilet.  If your tortoise has done either you will have to wake him up.  Something is not quite right and it is not worth the risk.  Go through the waking up procedure and call the Society for advice.

On a first hibernation go for 6 weeks and add a week every year, to a maximum of 12.

ANY DOUBTS, GIVE US A CALL.  We are here to help.

Produced by:  Hampshire Tortoise Society