Do Pet Turtles Hibernate? – The Actual Facts About Turtle Hibernation

Do Pet Turtles Hibernate

Once you have your own pet turtle, the most obvious question that you will have is, do pet turtles hibernate?

Yes, pet turtles do hibernate. Water turtles and land turtles are known to hibernate during winter. However, turtles do not truly hibernate. This period of deep sleep is called brumation. Turtles remain slightly active during brumation, unlike other hibernating animals that go to sleep completely.

There are many interesting facts about turtle hibernation or brumation that we will discuss in this article. So keep reading…

How Turtles Actually Hibernate?

Hibernation and brumation are both periods of dormancy that various mammals and reptiles go through when it is cold outside. Warm-blooded mammals may hibernate while cold-blooded reptiles such as turtles use brumation to go months without food.

People still tend to use the term “hibernation” when talking about this period of dormancy. The main difference is that turtles may still become active during brumation. For example, on a warmer day, a turtle may crawl out of its spot and bask in the sun.

Turtles typically start brumation at the start of fall. The cooler air causes their metabolisms to slow, limiting the amount of food and oxygen they require.

In warm weather, the turtle’s heart beats about 40 times per minute. In the winter, it only beats once every ten minutes.

To hibernate, the turtles find substrate that they can burrow into. During the winter, the ground is cooler, helping to slow the turtle’s metabolic rate. It also provides insulation, keeping the turtle from freezing.

Turtles can survive for long periods at near-freezing temperatures. However, they need to prevent the buildup of lactic acid in their lungs. The reduced metabolic rate helps in lowering the production of lactic acid.

How Do Land Turtles Hibernate?

Box turtles and other land turtles may settle for piles of leaves or soft ground under a pile of yard clippings.

If you are keeping a turtle as a pet, it may hibernate indoors or outdoors. In nature, box turtles and other land turtles tend to search for soft ground cover such as piles of yard clippings, leaves, or overgrown weeds.

The brumation period typically starts in October, depending on where you live. When temperatures drop to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, you can expect outdoor turtles to begin slowing down.

While the turtles need cold temperatures to reduce their metabolic process, they also need insulation and shelter to keep from freezing and prevent attacks from rodents or cats.

Whether the turtle burrows into the soil or a pile of leaves, it often keeps the back of its shell exposed. The limbs and shell openings are covered in the substrate.

If you want to protect your turtle during outdoor hibernation, you can build a leaf pile. Avoid using green yard clippings as they increase the risk of mold growth. Just use regular dead leaves and remove any branches or twigs.

You may need to keep adding leaves throughout the fall as some of the leaves will blow away or decompose. Some turtles may also avoid the leaves and search for a soft spot in the dirt.

Make sure that you pay attention to the temperature. You do not want to leave your turtles outdoors if it drops below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring them in and allow them to hibernate in a hibernation box.

How Do Water Turtles Hibernate?

Water turtles can hibernate underwater, buried in the mud at the bottom of ponds or streams. In fact, the painted turtle can bury itself up to three feet under several feet of water.

A garden pond provides the ideal spot for your sea turtle to survive part of the winter. Trying to place it in a leaf pile as with the land turtles does not always work. Mice or cats may attack the inactive turtles.

If the sea turtles are kept indoors, they may prefer a choice between water and moist leaves. Creating a box lined with a rubber pond liner and divided into two parts allows you to set up these separate environments.

Recommended Further Reading: Can Pet Turtles Drown? – Here’s Everything That You Should Know


How You Can Help Turtles to Hibernate?

When turtles are kept indoors for brumation, a hibernaculum is often constructed. Hibernaculum is just a fancy word for a hibernation box.

These boxes are often constructed of durable materials such as plywood. To help keep the turtle from freezing, two boxes are used. A smaller box is set inside a larger box, creating several inches of space between the two. The gap is filled with insulation such as foam.

The inner box is filled with a substrate for your turtle to cover itself in. This may include straw, shredded newspaper, leaves, moss, peat, or coir. You can even add a thermometer to monitor the temperature.

The boxes are often placed in fridges where they can be kept at just above freezing. You can also set a box outdoors if the temperature inside the box does not drop below freezing.

There are also steps that you can take throughout the year to prepare your turtle for hibernation. During the summer, you can give your pet vitamin A. Leafy green vegetables and carrots are great sources of the vitamin, which gets depleted during hibernation.

Toward the end of summer, begin increasing your turtle’s fiber intake. Alfalfa can help improve the digestive process as you want your turtle to hibernate without undigested food left in the digestive tract.

About one month before hibernation, fast your turtle. The undigested food can decay and lead to bacterial infections or pneumonia. Large tortoises may need to fast for up to six weeks to get rid of the undigested food.

During fasting, you should also hydrate your pet. Soak your turtle for 20 to 30 minutes each day. This also helps get rid of the last remaining waste in the digestive tract.

The last step is to start decreasing the temperature. Gradually reduce the temperature to 50 degrees Fahrenheit leading up to hibernation.

How to Take Care of a Hibernating Turtle?

If your turtle is going to hibernate inside a hibernaculum indoors, clean out your fridge. If kept outdoors, prepare a spot for the box.

Aquatic turtles can hibernate in a pond, but they also need substrate to dig into. The bottom of the pond should have at least 18 inches of muck or dirt.

You should physically inspect your turtle every week or two for signs of illness or infection. Difficulty breathing, an unusual discharge, and changes in the skin color may indicate infection. If you notice these signs, take your turtle to a vet.

If the turtle’s skin is dry, soak the pet in lukewarm water for two hours and place it back in the hibernaculum or its outdoor hibernating spot.

Turtles kept outdoors may not always find a spot to hibernate. If the turtle does not hibernate, bring it inside, especially if there is a risk of freezing outdoors.

How to Make Sure That Your Pet Turtle Is Hibernating And Not Dead?

When a turtle remains completely still, it can be difficult to tell if it is hibernating or dead.

During brumation, turtles become very inactive and may not always respond to your touch. In captivity, it is also a good idea to allow turtles to remain in brumation unless you start to detect a foul odor.

In the wild, turtles may hibernate throughout the entire winter. In your house, they may hibernate when temperatures regularly fall below a comfortable level, such as 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you need to wake your turtle from this state, move it to a warmer area and allow it to gradually increase its body temperature over the next 24 hours. As it warms up from the warmer air, it should start to stir to life.

If you are worried about whether your turtle is dead, then given below are several ways in which you can ascertain if your pet turtle is dead or arrive:

1. Stimulate The Turtle

Turtles do not fall into a complete deep sleep during brumation. They can still feel disturbances such as getting picked up or prodded.

Try picking up your turtle. If it is alive, it may wiggle its legs. You can also try touching its feet. The stimulation may cause your turtle to close its shell or make a hissing sound.

Keep in mind that turtles are less responsive during brumation. Your turtle may not respond quickly.

2. Apply Pressure To The Cloaca

If your turtle remains unresponsive to the stimulation, apply pressure to the area between the cloaca and tail.

The pressure is a little more intense for your turtle compared to touching its legs or tail. So it should try to escape or extend its head.

You can also try turning the turtle over to see if it rights itself.

3. Smell The Turtle

If the turtle is dead, it may produce a foul odor. When the turtle starts to decompose, microorganisms feed on the decaying animal’s tissues. This process produces nauseating gases.

The odor is often noticeable within a day or two, depending on the temperature inside the habitat. In warmer conditions, it decomposes more quickly while the process is a little slower in cooler conditions.

4. See If The Turtle Floats

If the turtle is dead, then gases build up inside the turtle, increasing its buoyancy.

You can check if your turtle is dead by placing it in a shallow dish or in the shallow end of the water tank. However, this does not always work.

In some cases, the turtle may not have enough gas to float. If it is alive, it may also choose to float.

5. Look For Visual Signs

The final way to tell if your turtle is hibernating or dead is to inspect it.

Look to see if the turtle is breathing.

You should notice some movement between the tail and rear legs or the neck and front legs.

Related Questions

Do Snapping Turtles Hibernate?

Yes, snapping turtles do hibernate. They hibernate deep underwater in lakes or ponds during winter as ice forms on the top layer. Snapping turtles survive the hibernation phase by absorbing oxygen from the water as it flows over their body parts with blood vessels, like the cloaca, skin, hinds, etc.

How Long Do Turtles Hibernate?

Turtles hibernate for 2 to 4 months, depending on the conditions. The further the turtles are from the equator, the longer they hibernate. The majority of the turtles hibernate from October to February. However, they remain alert to changes in temperature and light that indicate the spring arrival.

Where Do Turtles Hibernate?

Turtles hibernate in wetland locations. They find a safe and suitable place to hibernate in winter. Aquatic turtles hibernate at the bottom of ponds or lakes. They either burrow themselves under the debris, rest on the pond floor, or dig into the mud to partially cover themselves for hibernating.

Do Painted Turtles Hibernate?

Yes, painted turtles do hibernate. They hibernate by submerging themselves at the bottom of the frozen lakes and ponds. Painted turtles hibernate for months in hypoxic (low oxygen) and anoxic (no oxygen) environments. They survive during hibernation by switching their metabolism to need no oxygen.

Do Terrapins Hibernate?

Yes, terrapins do hibernate. Terrapins are cold-blooded reptiles that hibernate when the water temperature decreases in the winter. They lose their appetite and become sluggish in cold conditions. Terrapins stop their movement and food intake during hibernation and hide under the mud for survival.

Do Red-Eared Slider Turtles Hibernate?

Red-eared slider turtles do not hibernate. They go into a state called brumation during winter. Brumation is a smaller version of hibernation. That is why red-eared sliders remain slightly active throughout brumation, unlike other hibernating animals that go to sleep entirely during hibernation.

Do Indoor Turtles Hibernate?

Yes, indoor turtles do hibernate just like any other turtle if the indoor temperature drops. However, if you keep your turtle warm by using aquarium heaters to warm its water, then it might not hibernate.