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"Hibernating" tortoises that don't hibernate

Discussion in 'Debatable Topics' started by chairman, Nov 27, 2010.

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  1. chairman

    chairman Member

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    A current thread in the sulcata section got me remembering about a forum member here that "hibernates" many of their healthy tortoises regardless of whether or not the species brumates naturally. I just looked up one of the threads and the species "hibernated" included sulcata, leopards, redfoots, and aldabras. It shouldn't be hard to imagine that this information was not well received; however...

    There's always a lot of discussion on here about trying to change husbandry practices to improve the quality of life for our tortoises. In some of the recent conversation it has been hinted at that maybe some tortoises are biologically wired to need some feast/famine cycles for proper and healthy growth. When we were listing the tortoises that are easy/hard to pyramid, the list of easy to pyramid were mostly tortoises that did not brumate, and the list of tortoises that were more difficult to pyramid did brumate. Is a brumation-like break the missing link? Do tortoises need a break from growing to stay smooth? In the wild, that break would probably come in the form of estivation during drier "famine" periods; however, estivating in controlled conditions is very likely to result in a dessicated tortoise, whereas brumating tortoises is a relatively "safe" process.

    Not that I'm advocating the idea that non-brumating species be brumated, but I am very interested in exploring the idea of whether or not a break in growth could be beneficial, and how that might be safely achieved in a controlled environment through either estivation or brumation.
  2. Laura

    Laura Well-Known Member

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    very interesting.. and i was wondering if it was safe to 'hibernate' a sulcata..

    I do think that in captivity, we feed them much more then they would eat in the wild.
    so growth is prob different.. does if affect them? i dont know..
  3. motero

    motero Active Member

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    Would a Sulcata survive hibernation?
  4. DeanS

    DeanS SULCATA OASIS

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    I carry Aladar out everyday for some sun...today was up to 55 so he stayed out for a few hours and did EVERYTHING a sulcata is supposed to do. But, if I didn't touch him, I'm sure he'd have been quite content sleeping this last week away...if he wakes up, he can go off on the Timothy...I don't put a little in there...I literally float him in the stuff. Last winter Mortimer and Diesel would crash 2 or 3 days at a time before I'd throw them out.
  5. kimber_lee_314

    kimber_lee_314 Well-Known Member

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    I'd be scared to death to hibernate my cherries!
  6. dmmj

    dmmj Thhe member formerly known as captain awesome Staff Member

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    I was thinking about this the other day, and I was wondering why don't certain species hibernate? I mean they are similar to other tortoises they don't vary much so why don't certain species hibernate physically they are the same aren't they?
  7. GBtortoises

    GBtortoises Active Member

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    Some species of tortoise don't hibernate (or have the instinct & ability) to do so because there is no need for them to based on their climate. Temperate climate species have the need to do so because they have to escape long periods of weather that is well below normal activity levels and lack of food. Incidently, no tortoises truly hibernate.
  8. Annieski

    Annieski Member

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    Estivation for Sulcata's,IMO,is what I think we don't provide for our captives. It is a time[naturally occuring cycle] that they have in the wild and their "bodies" are designed to accommodate what the "winter season" presents in their region---drier[no rain]---food scarsity[no rain-no plant growth]---hot[but the sun is less intense]. Their design is to conserve "water" internally--because of the lack there of--which is why their "pee" will be more "solid"[urates] than liquid. I would think this is why their metabolic rate is so much slower than other animals--it compensates for their cyclical enviornment. They may not go into the "deep sleep" of a hibernating animal--but I think everything slows down even more to conserve, internally, whatever can still be found.
    Perhaps it's just a "human-thing", that we can't get passed---that they are still awake--but not "fed" every day, as in our normal care giving. Even in "Human Babies"--there are cycles where growth rates are different---weight vs height. It doesn't mean than 1 cycle takes over totally--it just means "more of a focus" is on 1 more than the other.
  9. Terry Allan Hall

    Terry Allan Hall Active Member

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    Possibly...a friend lost his sulcata, Wilbur, about 3 years ago, about early September, when Wilbur got out of the backyard...a year and a half later (April), Wilbur turned up in the adjoining pasture and thus he'd made it through two north Texas winters...hadn't grown as much as would be expected, had he stayed in a warm environment, but seems plenty healthy enough even to this day.

    Keep in mind, even in winter, we have days in the upper 60s/lower 70s, from time to time, so Wilbur likely didn't stay down beneath the ground for months on end...and that further north,. he might not've survived at all.

    Many African hoofed beasts thrive on Texas ranches, because we share a similar enough climate w/ Africa.
  10. DeanS

    DeanS SULCATA OASIS

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    It's all about climate, Dave. Sulcatas, leopards and the like all live in HOT zones 365 days a year! As you well know, our little inhabitants up here in the Mojave have to endure freezing and sub-freezing weather...the only way to do that is HIBERNATE :p
  11. Kristina

    Kristina New Member

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    I think an issue here is terminology. "Hibernation" is very different than "aestivation."

    Tortoises that come from climates with a cold season "hibernate." I would guess that almost all tortoises that come from hot climates "aestivate." So while a Sulcata might not have the instinct to hibernate, he is probably hard wired enough to know that when conditions aren't ideal, it is time to go underground and aestivate. That is why these tortoises can survive under ground in the winter.

    You also have to think of geothermal heating. Once you get down so far, (and Sully burrows are deep! Ask Tom :p ) the ground maintains a constant temperature of about 55*F. Not warm enough to thrive indefinitely - but warm enough to SURVIVE for a short period.

    Some, like the Russian tortoise, do BOTH. In the winter they hibernate, in the hot dry summer, they aestivate. In some areas Russians are above ground for only 3 months out of the year. How much eating and growing do you think they do in that time?

    That is one reason that I think that the way we "power feed" our tortoises for fast growth is a bad idea. They are built to grow slow and have very, VERY long lives. So by speeding up the growth by feeding highly nutritious, large amounts of foods all year long, how much damage are we doing? How much are we shortening their life spans?

    I fast my tortoises for short periods from time to time, and I also have "rainy days" where I leave the lights off and the enclosures on the cool side. And I have some pretty healthy tortoises if I do say so myself! ;)

    One thing I have pointed out as well - tortoises from arid areas, like Russians, Sulcatas, Leopards, etc. don't have access to a lot of nutritious food. A lot of the stuff they eat is as dead and dry as hay. All these wonderful nutritious greens and fruits and veggies are like eating a paczki everyday. I think this is why there are bone density issues. (And yes, I know tortoises aren't mammals, but...) Look at what happens to dogs that grow to fast, like Danes and Shepherds. Bad hips. Horses that grow too fast have leg, joint and bone problems too.
  12. chairman

    chairman Member

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    Sorry if I wasn't clear. I am aware of the difference between brumation/hibernation (response to cold) and estivation (response to hot). What I am thinking is that it may be a good idea to encourage our tortoises to slow down for a couple months a year, but I think that it is far more dangerous to heat our tortoises up to 100* for a couple months than it is to cool them down to 55*. It is fairly easy to keep a cool tortoise dry enough to avoid RI, but still not dehydrate them too badly. I really can't see how we'd safely artificially estivate a tortoise short of placing them in an egg incubator and keeping the humidity darn near 100%. I suppose that I could just starve my tortoises for a couple weeks here and there based on what the weather in Cameroon is doing, but it is tough to not provide food when your tortoise is just sitting there at the food dish staring at you.

    I do agree with your statement about using periods of estivation to prolong the life of tortoises. I have read anecdotes suggesting that hibernating tortoises greatly expands their life spans. However, given the small percentage of tortoises that don't wake up each winter, I often wonder which option is better... would I rather live a 50 year life fully conscious 52 weeks a year, or would I give up 10-12 weeks a year with a 99% of making it to 70, 2% chance of not seeing next year? (Percentages fabricated to illustrate my point.)
  13. Kristina

    Kristina New Member

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    Mike - I wasn't necessarily targeting you with my "hibernation/aestivation" statements, but some of the responses seemed to confuse the issue a little.

    As I said - I think that while a warm climate tortoise's body doesn't exactly hibernate, they DO have the hard wire to slow down, stay underground, and eat less. They can probably survive for months at a time.

    And also, as far as hibernation and losses - if hibernation is done indoors, with controlled conditions and close monitoring, it seems very unlikely that there would be a lot of losses. Outside is the great unknown, however.... If I ever choose to hibernate, it will be indoors, probably in my crisper drawer :p
  14. Yvonne G

    Yvonne G Old Timer Staff Member

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    I think you're talking about a post that Ed Pirog made several months ago. Ed has been taking care of tortoises for many years, and is considered an expert on turtles and tortoises. I wouldn't encourage anyone to give their tortoises a cool down period unless they really know what they are doing.

    Actually, tortoises, even those that DO hibernate in nature, don't really enter what we call a true hibernation. They still wake up and sleep, wake up and sleep during the winter months, its just that they're too cold to move. They are NOT asleep the whole time like, for instance, a bear.
  15. chairman

    chairman Member

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    I was referring to Ed's post, but I was hoping to keep his name out of the debate so as not to derail the thread...

    So, Kristina, would you think that a decent way to slow down our non-hibernating tortoises might be to place them in small enclosure with an artificial burrow with about 6-8" of clay above them, and heat the entire surface area to about 130*? Monitoring the burrow temp to make sure it stays within a safe range, of course.
  16. Terry Allan Hall

    Terry Allan Hall Active Member

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    You make some interesting points, but there's also research that indicates that not hibernating tortoises doesn't seem to diminish lifespan at all...there's just not enough research done yet to draw any hard conclusions.
  17. Tom

    Tom The Dog Trainer

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    To a degree, any tortoise living outside in the continental U.S. DOES get these seasonal changes. Both the temps and the light cycles. My sulcatas have lived outside, since they were 5 years old. My night temps are typically in the 30's or 40's all winter long. They definitely slow down and eat less in the Winter. Their appetites and activity level definitely pick up when Spring hits. I give them heat, but they still get pretty darn cold. I think this is about as close to a "hibernation" as they ought to get. It doesn't seem to have helped their pyramiding or their health at all. I can't say that its been bad for them, but they have survived it, and it doesn't seem to have hurt them. To use another example, the outdoor lifestyle seems to have definitely agreed with RV in AZ.

    Not really trying to make a point here. Just adding my observations to the discussion.
  18. Annieski

    Annieski Member

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    Can a pet rat survive in the wild?

    Though possible, it's highly unlikely. Pet rats know what they know based on past experiences (like us!). If a rat doesn't know what it's like outside, doesn't know the difference between friend and foe, doesn't know how to protect himself from cold, from illness, from parasites, etc, he can't know how to solve the problems he encounters and therefore is at a greater risk of coming into harm's way. Remember: Rats are animals of prey. Not only are humans dangerous to them in the most obvious sense, but many animals hunt them as well!

    I don't know if my analogy is 100% precise--but I think it is related to hibernation vs aestivation--with an added twist of instinct vs domestication. There are many posts [especially from the larger-tortoise keepers] about the "fear" of burrows being made, whether it is for "destruction" of property or "loss" of an animal. To keep it simple, I would just like to refer to Sulcata. By removing them from a "natural" setting and not having "enough" research to totally support our care-giving, aren't we essentially altering their "instinct" for survival? If aestivation is an "instinctual" state of being for a wild Sulcata--because of enviornmental changes that cyclically occur---wouldn't the tortoise "know" when to "resurface" to meet it's needs---just as a "hibernating" tortoise would "know" when to come out of it's sleep? I think it is more that we have altered their instinct which in turn, alters their physiological design[they won't have a "period" of rest because they will eat 365 days--since they don't "know" when the famine will occur]. When Mortimer was going through his bout of a prolapsed cloaca, he was put on alot of med's[primarily for intestional inflammation]. After he became suspicious of the med's on his greens--I tried opuntia cactus fruit. It took 12 days to see the seeds in his poop. His pooping schedule was not every day[sometimes every 3rd] but my point is--it still took 12 days to see the seeds.He ate a lot less than usual--and I was only concerned about getting the med's in him. He survived and thrived during the medical problem even though the "stress" of the situation almost did me in. Wouldn't the "stress" of a seasonal enviornment just instinctually have cause for aestivation? And I don't think it is a "starvation" mode that is reached--but more of a "catch-as-catch-can" mode. If I can't get that T-Bone I've been craving---I guess I'll eat hamburger. I think what we think of as "absolute necessities"[feeding 365 days a year] are the extremes of captivity, the way we perceive life should be for our "charges" but not necessarily what they would encounter in the wild. So hibernation/aestivation/burmation shouldn't be an issue if we are "domesticating" tortoises as our "Pets". JMO
  19. Yvonne G

    Yvonne G Old Timer Staff Member

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    I'll say it again: A tortoise that stays in its burrow during the winter months is NOT hibernating. They have awake periods and are fully aware, they are just too cold to move.
  20. Annieski

    Annieski Member

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    Agreed--and with that--they are eating less and conserving whatever resources they have--until they "come-up" to replenish.
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