Preparing the hibernation of your Hermann's tortoise

Preparing the hibernation of your Hermann’s tortoise

The hibernation of tortoises plays an important role in the maintenance of good health, especially for the reproductive system. It is therefore essential that your turtles hibernate in good conditions.

From September, the Hermann tortoise gradually stops feeding and becomes less and less active as the days shrink and temperatures drop. If your land turtle is sick or seems weak to you, it is best not to hibernate it by artificially prolonging the summer, and placing it in a terrarium heated and lit with a UVB lamp.


When does a turtle hibernate

As with breeding and incubating eggs, it is important to prepare your turtle for hibernation several weeks beforehand. Especially if you are new to breeding and your turtle has never hibernated before.

Many species of land turtles hibernate each year from October to March. His body then goes completely to rest while the winter passes. This behavior is explained by the fact that the turtle totally depends on the sun to warm its blood and its whole body. With heat and food being significantly less present in winter, reptiles have no choice but to hibernate to survive. The breathing and heartbeat of turtles becomes slower.

The end of hibernation occurs with the onset of spring, generally from the end of March to the beginning of April.


Preparing for hibernation of a land turtle

At the end of the summer, it is interesting to do a health check by analyzing the stool to check that it does not contain parasites or worms.

If necessary, your turtle should be given an anti-parasitic treatment. The most well-known are Profender and Panacur dewormers for pets such as cats and dogs, and can be given to most species of turtles.

You can also give a natural herbal dewormer, such as prickly lettuce. There is relatively little hindsight on this technique, but in the wild turtles are likely to purge themselves by consuming specific wild plants that they need.

A visit to the vet may be necessary if you see any signs of concern. This veterinarian observes the general appearance of the animal, and takes samples or treatments if he notices a disease. The veterinarian can also give advice on the choice of dewormer to give to your reptile and its dosage.

A turtle in poor health is unlikely to survive during hibernation. It is therefore important to ensure that your animal is in good shape before hibernating.

In September, it is advisable to bathe your turtle in lukewarm water several times a week (around 25 ° C). These baths help your turtle to empty its digestive tract. Indeed, food remains can be the source of bacteria that poison your turtle during its sleep. At the same time, you should gradually stop feeding your turtle as its appetite also decreases, except for the water that it can continue to drink.

After a few weeks, as soon as you no longer see stools in her bath, you can place her in her hibernation box. If she begins to eat again, it is necessary to postpone the date of entry into hibernation, because these foods would not be digested and would break down inside her digestive system.

To ensure that your turtle does not lose more than 10% of its starting weight, it is advisable to check its weight once or twice during hibernation.

If your turtle constantly stays in a terrarium or aquarium, it is necessary to simulate autumn so that its metabolism starts the natural process of hibernation. It suffices to gradually reduce the duration of lighting and heating at the same rate as the seasons. Its diet should also be gradually reduced.


How does a turtle hibernate

For your land turtle, you have the choice between hibernating outdoors directly in its enclosure, or hibernating indoors in a cool room in your home. 

The first option is to let your turtle hibernate directly in the garden enclosure. This method is however reserved for regions where it is not very cold.

Indeed if you live in a region of France where the climate is very cold and rainy in winter, it is preferable to hibernate your turtle in your house. Conversely if you live in the south of France, or an area similar to its natural environment, you can hibernate it outdoors.

It should be ensured that its shelter can be closed completely, in order to prevent any rodents or predators from entering it. In fact, it sometimes happens that turtles are injured by rodents during their sleep.

This shelter must be raised in order to insulate it from the cold coming from the ground. Some hedgehog hiding places or dog kennels sold on the internet may be quite suitable. You can insulate the shelter with polystyrene sheets located underneath and inside.

Straw, hay and dead leaves protect your land turtle from drafts.

The place in your garden where the shelter is placed should not be facing due north or cold winds. 

The second option is to place your turtle in a hibernation box with thick edges, and place it in a cool, humid room. Usually, a cellar is very suitable.

The size of the crate depends on the number of turtles and the thickness of the insulation layer.

The depth of this hibernation tank must be important (40 cm) to accommodate enough insulating material all around the turtle. Make sure there are small openings to allow oxygen to pass through.

A cellar is a place better protected from the cold and bad weather than outside, but sometimes lodges a few rodents, such as mice. We must therefore ensure that the body is impenetrable.

An aquarium can also serve as a turtle hibernation box. But the major drawback of the aquarium is that it is airtight and retains moisture. As the water cannot escape, it ends up stagnating in the bottom of the aquarium and causing mold. The aquarium is rather reserved for the hibernation of aquatic turtles.

A wireless thermometer placed in the center of this box allows you to remotely control the temperature in this box.

The contents of the wooden crate should always be slightly damp, so water should be sprayed from time to time if the cellar is not humid enough. Because although your turtle no longer eats during this period, it should not become dehydrated.

The turtle should be calm throughout its hibernation. It is therefore necessary to avoid placing the box in a room where there is, for example, a washing machine. It is also necessary to limit the comings and goings of pets such as dogs or cats.

The hibernation temperature of a land turtle should always be between 5 and 10 ° C, and never be below 2 ° C.

Below 5 ° C, the temperatures being too low, there is a significant risk of hypothermia and that your turtle will die.

Conversely, temperatures above 10 ° C are too high. As the metabolism is not sufficiently slowed down, the turtle risks absorbing its fat reserves too quickly and becoming extinct. If you see your turtle moving in its crate, you should immediately find another cooler place, or stop hibernation.


Hibernating a turtle in a fridge

A third option is to place your turtle directly in a refrigerator. In fact, the temperature of the refrigerator corresponds exactly to the temperature desired for hibernation. The refrigerator’s vegetable drawer is usually the ideal location for this as the temperature is around 5 ° C. Whatever your geographical position, this temperature is always constant.

To avoid transmitting bacteria to your food, it is advisable to use a refrigerator specially dedicated to the hibernation of your turtle. The crisper should be filled with straw and hay so that the underside of the shell does not come into direct contact with the cold plastic.

As with the aquarium, the downside of the plastic container is that it is airtight, and does not allow water to drain. The solution is therefore to drill a few holes to ensure that water does not accumulate in the tank.


Hermann’s tortoise hibernation in terrarium

The hibernation of a land turtle which constantly lives in a terrarium is possible. The room where your tortoise lives must have a temperature between 5 and 10 ° C. You have to turn off the heating and lighting, then fill your terrarium with hay and dead leaves. For the rest it is necessary to use the same indications as for a hibernation inside in a crate.


Hibernating a juvenile Hermann tortoise

From their first year of life, juvenile baby turtles are quite capable of hibernating. In any case, this is how it happens in nature. There is no age to hibernate!

However, due to their small size, it is generally recommended to shorten the wintering period to 6 to 8 weeks. If your breeding experience is still recent, and this is your turtle’s first hibernation, you can leave it in its lighted and heated terrarium throughout the winter. It will hibernate the following winter.

Hibernation of a young turtle of one or two years lasts as long as for adults, from October to March.

To make sure your turtle is okay, very occasionally you can take it out to weigh and examine it. Each month she should lose only about 1% of her weight before hibernation. If you don’t want to disturb her while she sleeps, you can otherwise just touch one of her paws and see if she reacts.


Hermann tortoise hibernation

With the arrival of spring and the increase in heat caused by the sun, hibernation comes to an end and the turtle starts to wake up, then gradually activates. In France, the exit from hibernation takes place between March and April.

If the hibernation is done outdoors, all you have to do is open the door to its hibernation shelter and let it gradually warm up. You won’t wake up from 6 months of sleep in just a few minutes!

For land turtles that hibernate indoors, simply move the wooden crate outside so that the turtles feel the warmth of spring again. The awakening is then carried out gently without rushing them.

A few hours later, you just need to dislodge your reptile from the crate and place it in its usual environment (terrarium or enclosure).

In order to check the general state of health, you can check the weight of your turtle and indicate it on a chart.

Offer a bath of lukewarm water to your turtle so that it rehydrates itself, and fresh food so that it begins to eat again and to activate itself little by little.

Unfortunately it happens that a land turtle never wakes up from its hibernation. Rest assured, these are things that also happen in nature, and do not necessarily call into question its hibernation conditions. His condition may not have been quite good before he went into hibernation. A veterinarian can analyze the animal and tell you the likely causes of its death.


Why doesn’t my Hermann turtle want to hibernate

If your turtle does not want to hibernate it is probably because the temperature inside the hibernation tank is too high. Above 10 ° C your turtles are less asleep and risk consuming their fat reserves too quickly. You must therefore move the cash register to a cooler room in your house.

The ideal hibernation temperature for a species of turtle like testudo hermanni should always be between 5 and 10 ° C.


My turtle has already come out of hibernation, what should I do

If in the middle of winter you observe that your tortoise is very agitated in its hibernation box, you must react quickly. Because they are likely to run out quickly. The temperature in the cellar may be too high and cause premature awakening. Either find another cooler place to hibernate her, or place her in a lighted and heated terrarium.


Can I prevent my turtle from hibernating

If for technical reasons, or personal choice you do not wish to hibernate your turtle, you must place it in a terrarium throughout the winter season. This terrarium must be heated with a lamp and be equipped with a UVB tube that emits daylight. This UVB lamp is essential to allow your turtle to synthesize vitamin D.

Even if the weather is not favorable, your turtle’s diet should be as rich and varied as possible. Hay can be a great staple food for the winter. Turtle pellets can also be used as a basis for their diet during this six month period.

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