Hibernation is nature’s method of protecting cold-blooded animals in cold weather (and even warm) or during times when water and food are inadequate. In simple words, it is a period of inactivity for turtles. In fact, it is one of the vital aspects in the life of turtles.
Also referred to as dormancy, turtles have different ways of hibernating. Moreover, turtles and tortoises can hibernate for a full eight months, depending on their location. Most tortoises and turtles hibernate for 10 to 20 weeks. The Desert Tortoises, Russian Tortoises, Box Turtles, Wood Turtles, Spotted Turtles, Snapping Turtles and Red Sliders are some of the commonly kept species that hibernate.
For water turtles, they go deep into the water, burrow themselves into the mud, and stay there for the whole hibernation turtle period. As they allow themselves to get cold, their bodies move more slowly and their heartbeats reduce in rate. They also stop breathing through their lungs. Because of this process, they only require a small amount of oxygen. On the other hand, box turtles hibernate in winter, and require a separate area with sources of moisture, such as dirt and leaves.
Turtle keepers should make sure that their turtles are in good health and heavy (well feed) before hibernation. But do not be mistaken about the word “heavy”. Certainly, being heavy means being well-fed—not overfed. If the turtles are sick and thin, do not allow them to hibernate. If in doubt, do not let your turtle hibernate. It may risk the life of your turtle.
Vitamin A is essential for turtles, and is especially important during hibernation, as it becomes depleted. Vitamin A must be stored in your pet’s body tissues, fat, and liver, so the turtle can draw upon it while asleep. Feed your turtle with foods that are rich in Vitamin A, like alfalfa, grated carrots, squash, peaches and apples (if omnivores). If herbivores, let them eat the drier, high-fiber weeds, such as timothy hay, grasses, and alfalfa (preferable because this contains more protein) towards summer’s end, plus some squash and carrots.
If your turtle hibernates outdoors, be absolutely sure it has drinking water available . Moreover, do not let it hibernate in a location where rain can either wet it, to the point the turtle gets chilled, or drown it. Observe the hibernation spot regularly.
More importantly, ensure that the proper temperature is achieved. It must be between 35°F to 50°F, where 40°F is most favorable. If the temperature rises above 50°F, turtles will not lie dormant. Moreover, they may use more of their energy and go hungry.
How long do turtles hibernate, you ask? Small turtles can hibernate from 2 to 2.5 months, while bigger turtles can lie dormant for as long as 12 to 14 weeks.
Remember, this is just a basic turtle hibernation guide. For more specific hibernation rules or strategies for your specific type of turtle, ask a qualified veterinarian or do some research. This will help ensure proper hibernation for your turtle.
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