Burmating 30 yr old Desert Tortoise for the 1st time


New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Chandler AZ
Good Evening Everyone,
Hi - I need advice on burmating a tortoise for the first time specifically in Phoenix. This weekend I went to visit my mother in Tucson, she has three-30 yr old tortoises. I went outside with her to feed them and she mentioned that they were beginning to eat a lot more as they will soon be ready to hibernate. This is the first time I've actually paid attention to all 3. I have a spoiled Sulcata that's 15 lbs, so her tortoises always appear much smaller, but this time I noticed that this one is significantly smaller (~ 5lbs). She says it's so much smaller because the other 2 have always eaten its food and this summer she found it on it's back twice. I also saw that when it tried to eat leaves or grass one of the other ones comes up to it, nods its head up and down and the little one backs away and tucks his head into it's shell. I couldn't ignore the bullying so without thinking it through, I brought it home to Chandler, Az.

Now I'm not sure what to do with him. I've put him in a side yard that has a gate to separate it from the rest of the yard...Sully's territory. Comparing him to my beast, he seems kind of timid, doesn't eat much and when it gets dark he just stops in his tracks for the night.

How will I know when he's ready to hibernate? And until he does hibernate should I keep him warm during the nights or should I bring him inside? When do tortoises usually burmate in Phoenix? Is it the temperature or the amount of daylight that determines when he's ready?

This evening he just stopped next to the block wall in the middle of the yard, no bushes, corners or anything. I picked him up and moved him to a covered tunnel-like area we made for him.

Thank you....I appreciate any advice. :)

P.S. I wrote about the tortoises last year and they were on a waiting list for adoption through the Desert Museum but with COVID, the program was put on hold.


Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Hello and welcome. I have one Texas desert and two Sonoran desert tortoises. The Texas was purchased at the old Thomas mall before it was torn down in Phoenix. The two Sonoran’s were hatched in my backyard and they’re the last of my tortoises. I have placed all of them in loving homes. The bobbing behavior is a mating behavior both males and females will do but is primarily a male trying to mate with a female. The male will Bob and start biting the females front legs and shell, the female will turn and spin to get away from the male and the male will continue to bite and ram the female until she’s submissive and then mount. Females will occasionally bob and occasionally ram but it’s mostly a male mating behavior. I am hoping you were not keeping your desert tortoise in the same area as your sully as the Sulcata could literally kill the desert tortoise. You should not mix species in the same area. You need to separate them. When the desert tortoise is ready to brumate feeding will slow down. They need to have a safe place. I would suggest you read the care sheet at the beginning of the thread carefully. I have a shed and I use the double cardboard box with newspaper method after they start to go into their burrows. One year I did leave my tortoises in the burrow and one of the burrows flooded and I ended up with a tortoise with a respiratory infection that did clear but was difficult for the tortoise and I don’t intend to have repeated. My three tortoises do live together but it is one male and two female and they were selected specifically because they are pretty non-aggressive and get along reasonably well with one another but I supplement feed them separately as the smaller female pushes off the larger female. My male which is the Texas tortoise is constantly harassing the females and mounting them but they are pretty good about just strolling away as he’s small and happily they don’t fight. At this time, all three are still quite active and feeding and the male is still mounting and I am not expecting for them to slow down for a few more weeks While high temperatures are up in the hundreds they are still basking and zipping along. There are many other members of the forum that are much more knowledgeable than I am and I am sure they will help as well. Again, welcome


Well-Known Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Low desert 50 mi SE of Palm Springs CA
Hi! Welcome to the forum!

I am so glad that you removed the tort from that terrible bullying! But now, your mom has 2 together which never works. One of them will bully the other. They will need to be separated ASAP.

Often, it is recommended to not brumate a tortoise the first winter it's with you. Especially since it's so late in the season. It is very stressful for a tort to move to a new place, and it will probably kind of mess up his internal schedule. To keep him up you would need to bring him inside, keep him warm, and keep bright lights on him for longer than usual each day.

If you want him to brumate, he'll fill up for a couple weeks, then will slow down and finally stop eating completely. He must not eat anything for at least 2 weeks before going to sleep. During this time his temps and hours of daylight must be slowly shortened until he is close to 50°F, when he'll be asleep and can be put wherever you want him to sleep. Some people use a box in a garage or shed. I put mine in an operating fridge set at 50°. You need a place that has steady temps of 45-50° for the whole winter. Left on his own, he judges the timing according to temps, length of day, and angle of the sun.