As the seasons change and the colder weather starts to set in, box turtles will begin to slow their daily routines. Winter brings the coldest months and for some reptiles, this coldness is just too much to bare. Reptile species can’t self regulate their body temperatures, so they rely on the surrounding environment and warmer weather to heat their entire bodies through basking. Seeing your box turtle slow down its daily routine, you may be thinking to yourself, do box turtles hibernate?
Whilst box turtles become inactive during the winter months and sleep through most of it, they don’t actually hibernate. In fact, they brumate, which simplistically is a reptiles version of hibernation with a slight difference.
Bears for example will spend the Autumn months packing on the pounds, eating as much as they can before the winter comes. Bears sleep throughout the entire winter and rely on their fat reserves to see them through until spring. They need to have enough fat stored to make it through the winter, otherwise they may come out of hibernation early and snuggle to find food. Throughout the hibernation period, bears won’t need to eat or drink until the winter months have passed.
Reptiles on the other hand, they don’t put on weight before the brumation process. And although they will sleep for very long periods of time, days, weeks, months, they will still wake up occasionally to eat and drink. After a quick meal, they will then resume their deep sleep. During brumation a box turtles heart rate will slow down considerably by over 50%, bring their heart rate down to an average of 10 beats per minute. All their bodily function will stop apart from the functions needed to carry on breathing.
But for the sake of this article we shall call the process hibernation. (Even though correctly it’s called Brumation)
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Do box turtles hibernate in captivity?
Yes, box turtles will hibernate even in captivity. It’s a completely natural process for a box turtle to hibernate throughout the winter periods, and this will be a continuous cycle throughout its lifespan. Just because a box turtle isn’t in the wild, doesn’t mean all its natural instincts are lost. It’s actually very healthy for a box turtle to hibernate in captivity, and should be impelled to do so.
Do box turtles burrow?
Box turtle will indeed burrow into substrate soil and make a nest prior to the hibernation process. The deeper they can burrow, the warmer they will be throughout the winter. Commonly you will see a box turtle digging to depths in stages. For example, a box turtle may only dig 12 inches into soil for the first month of winter, then in the second month (as the temperature drops further) it will then dig another 12 inches deeper to warmer depths in the soil.
Soil is light and easily submergible. It can be easily moved by a box turtle, which makes easy work for burrowing. Once burrowed to the preferred depth, the box turtle will then refill the hole with the excess soil, creating a bunker almost, where it will stay for the rest of the winter months.
Do box turtles hibernate in the summer?
No, box turtles do not hibernate throughout the summer months. The summer months are the months a box turtle looks forward to most as it the warmest time of year and they can bask for long hours. Primarily living on land, box turtles love to bask, and when they get too hot, they can go for a swim to cool off. Throughout the colder months box turtles may not swim at all.
Box turtles hibernating in the summer is very uncommon. If your box turtle seems to be hibernating in the summer months then it’s safe to assume something is wrong. Perhaps your box turtle isn’t hibernating at all and it’s actually unwell. When a box turtle has any health issues, it will commonly act different to usual. Their characteristics change in co-ordinance to their wellbeing, so if your box turtle seems to be hibernating in summer, then I would suggest going to see your veterinarian.
Other reasons why box turtles hibernate in the summer?
However it could be that some of its living conditions aren’t quite right. For example if your box turtle isn’t eating as regularly as it usually would, then it will have an adverse effect on its energy levels. Meaning it will naturally become lethargic due to the lack of energy being consumed through food.
Or maybe your box turtle is being bullied by one of your other turtles or pets. When a box turtle feels threatened, it will commonly seek safety, burrowing deep into any available substrate. Finding somewhere to hide reduces the risk of bullying, so make sure all your pets are being monitored for aggressive or threatening behaviour. This is very common when new pets are introduced to the family, so keep this in mind also.
When do box turtles come out of hibernation?
In the wild, box turtle will usually hibernate for roughly 4-5 months of the year. Box turtles come out of hibernation in March, and enter this process from late October to early November. However this all depend of the temperature at this time of year. If we are having an elongated winter period, box turtles will naturally stay in hibernation until the temperature warms up.
Pet box turtles can be bought out of hibernation early if you have the correct set up. Hibernation periods don’t have a specific time scale, so once the new year is in you may start to wake up your box turtle.
You should only do this if you can provide the correct environmental temperatures. If you are bringing your box turtle out of hibernation early, you will need to provide an extra heat source. If you have kept your box turtle inside throughout hibernation then you can provide heat through heat lamps or standalone heaters.
You’ll want to slowly increased the ambient temperature from its hibernation temperature, only 2 degrees Celsius, every couple of days. Continue to do this until the room is back up to a natural room temperature. This should take about 3 weeks to a month to slowly increase the temperature. Your box turtle will start to slowly show some signs of life and will need to be keep indoors until the outside temperature increases throughout March. From them your box turtle should be fine to start living its day to day life again as summer approaches.
Do box turtles need a heat lamp?
If you live in a climate which stays cold for longer periods you can invest in a heat lamp. Box turtles don’t usually need heat lamps as they get all the heat they need from the sun. However some people do like you use heat lamps for the early periods of time once their box turtles come out of hibernation. Commonly it is still quite cold around that time of year, but if your box turtles are housed inside, then you can include a heat lamp to begin to warm them slowly over the next couple of months.
Heat lamps will not be needed through the summer months, nor will they need a heat lamp throughout the hibernation process. So this should really only need to be available once they come out of hibernation.
Being kept inside through the hibernation period usually means a box turtle doesn’t get to see much sunlight once it emerges from its sleep. Apart from possibly a bit direct light through a window. Because of this, it makes it also impossible to regulate their body temperatures, so a heat lamp will give them a means to bask.
Preparing for Hibernation/Brumation?
Here are a few steps which you should follow when preparing for hibernation. There are many factors you should consider before your box turtle decides to hibernate for the winter. You’ll want to make sure you have everything prepared well before they start to slow their daily activities. Safety of your box turtle should be first of your list, so creating a safe hibernation environment is key to keeping them healthy throughout.
Take the time to properly prepare a suitable place for your box turtle to hibernate. Making sure you have the best possible location for your box turtle to hibernate is very important. For a stress free hibernation period, you need to do some preparation before the winter months approach.
Choose a location which is sheltered from all environmental factors. Your box turtle should be completely sheltered from the cold, have no possibility of flooding, and be secure and safe from any predatory threats. Most people decide to create a hibernation nest in an inclosed space, for example a garage or a shed.
Only ever hibernate fully grown, adult box turtles. Young or juvenile box turtles may not be able to survive the long winder without any food. Young box turtles should be kept inside with a constant ambient temperature which replicates the summer months. This is because they are still growing and need to continue to eat throughout the winter. Offering them a warm location for the first few winters will ensure they do not hibernate at a young age.
Protected From Predators
Make sure your hibernating box turtle is protected from foraging animals and predatory threats. Keeping your box turtle in a secure location will put your mind at ease throughout the hibernation period. Hibernating box turtles are easy pickings for predators if they are left in insecure locations.
Keep Checking In
Check up on your turtle from time to time to make sure they are still safe. Even if you have created a safe and secure location for them to hibernate, they may still need to looking after. Sometimes they may wake up for some food and drink before heading back to sleep. So checking them regularly is important for their overall health.
Food and Drink
Always have food and water available throughout the hibernation process. Sometimes, but not all the time a box turtle may wake up for some food and drink. If they’re awake but not eating then this is a clear sign the hibernation environment is incorrect.
Make sure the surrounding substrate is dry and never allow a box turtle to hibernate in a wet substrate. Wet substrates will extract all the warm from your box turtle and they may stay in hibernation for longer periods that is healthy for them.
Never force your box turtle into hibernation as they will do so naturally. Box turtles know exactly when the time is right to hibernate, so never force them. Only when it is cold enough will they begin to slow down, so keep an eye on their daily antics.
Only bring them out of hibernation early if you have a suitable source of heat for them. It is safe to bring a box turtle out of hibernation early only if you have a suitable heat source available in which they can bask close to. A box turtle will need a heat source through the early months of the year, up until late February, early March.
Now we have covered everything in relation to “Do box turtle hibernate”, it’s time to recap.
Yes box turtles do hibernate, however they actually brumate which is basically just a reptile version of hibernation. They will commonly hibernate from November to February, but may wake for some food and drink occasionally.
You should always check up on them throughout the hibernation period, monitoring their health and safety from predatory threats. Please follow the hibernation preparation list for the best possible hibernation process.