Hibernation for Testudo

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Tom

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GB laid down some great info in this thread:
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/Thread-Russian-Tortoise-Breeding-Problems?page=2#axzz1ZOjo8sSQ

I wanted to ask him some more questions, but did not want to derail the OPs thread. This could have been done in a PM, but might as well let everyone benefit from his experience.

So GB, here are my questions: In the wild russians "hibernate" for up to 9 months a year and then its pretty hot and dry for the other 3, right? So if I'm keeping them in a relatively mild area like Southern CA, what is the best way to give them some somewhat natural conditions? You talked about how the start of hibernation needs to be cold enough to get them into a deep enough sleep. It could be highs in the 50's here in January or it could be highs in the 90's too. This time of year, we are still having days in the 90's and that will likely continue into November. Night temps will be dipping into the 40's in the next month or so. So what is someone with an outdoor russian group in SoCal to do? I can provide one of my handy-dandy underground boxes that will level out these extremes, but right now my 3' deep tegu box with no heat is staying 75-76 even with night temps in the 50's and day temps in the 80s-90s. I fear that its just to warm for a russian to properly hibernate and that the "warm" spells will mess with their metabolism. This is what happened to my Argentine tegus a few years ago. They dug in and hibernated in Sept. Then during a warm spell in January they came up and were walking around. When it got cold again they went back in there "cave" but did not dig in. They just laid on top as if it were summer. I lost two out of three when night temps went below freezing again. I'm afraid something similar would happen with any Testudo species here, but I know that lots of people just keep them outside year round with no heat. Would I be better off sticking them in a fridge in the fall, after a two week gut purging. And what temp is ideal if I did. 45? How long should they stay in? Usually by March we are pretty warm again, but still with cold nights.

Maybe I'm over thinking this, but is that really all that unusual for me?:D All are welcome to chime in on this. I'd love to hear from anyone in Southern CA that is keeping Testudo here outside. I'd love to hear how you do it and what you have learned from it along the way. And I'd love to hear about anyone with reproductive success at it. How do you house them in the winter?
 

GBtortoises

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Tom-I only have experience keeping tortoises in my climate which is less than ideal for most tortoise species. Many people assume that Russians must do great here in the Northeast because there is some mis-informed believe that they like it cold or at least temperate like the rest of the Northern Mediterran Testudo. But even though they get grouped with the NM Testudo, their climate is nothing like that of Hermann's, Marginateds or Ibera. Even those Testudo "tolerate" my climate at best. While it's true that the Russians can and do withstand a variety of environmental conditions that they are in here in the U.S. they don't "thrive" to the point of reproduction in most of those conditions. If you think about it, given the number of Russian tortoises now in captivity here in the U.S., if they were thriving wouldn't we by now have nearly as many captive born babies available as we do Sulcata? Yet, captive born Russians are more rare than any of the other Northern Testudo species.
Again, only from experience in my environment, I used to hibernate Russian tortoises indoors in refrigerators striving to maintain a temperature range at 40-42 degrees. Each animal was in an individual wooden box with a sliding top and shredded newspaper substrate. Once weekly I would open each box to inspect the tortoise within. The Ibera, Hermann's and Marginateds were all immobile, eyes closed. I'd open the boxes of each of the Russians and more often than not they'd be heads raised, staring up at me! It used to worry the heck out of me! I started hibernating them outdoors "naturally" and not see them from November to late early May. At that time all my other tortoises would wake up, begin eating and within the first couple of weeks of June, begin breeding. The Russians would come out and bask, eat and do nothing all summer. They were moochers! That was my process for years with no results. Then a few years ago I got a trio of Russians locally from someone who was keeping them in a dark empty box in the basement attempting to "hibernate" them. Because it was already mid winter I brought them into my tortoise room where some of mine were being overwintered. The lights were on 14 hours a day and the room was consistently warm because of all the lights. In the 80's during the daytime and warm 65-68 at night. Within about two weeks the male went crazy mounting the females and more importantly, the females were sitting still, raising their rear ends and letting it happen. I thought "holy crap, I'm a genius"! Then I remembered that I stumbled upon the whole process due to circumstances and really didn't figure it out on my own, the tortoises figured it out for me!
So to try to get to the point of my very long story-I have found sucess in breeding Russian tortoises by doing just the opposite of what one would expect. I actually hibernate mine outdoors, bring them indoors in the spring when they awake and keep them very hot, very intense light and near dry conditions. Usually, but still not always, they will mate and produce eggs within a month of doing so. Around mid to late July I put them back outdoors to spend the summer in their outdoor enclosure until hibernation again.
I have not heard of many people having good breeding sucess with Russians when kept in climates where the temperatures are mild throughout the winter or there is not an abrupt seasonal change after hibernation. I'm sure there are exceptions, but as a whole I don't breeding success has been obtained often in those conditions.

I, like Tom, would absolutely like to hear other peoples experiences with breeding Russians in great detail!

I think this a very good discussion thread that Tom started. I'm looking forward to hearing some methods and better ideas because the Russians have frustrated me for years!
 

Tom

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GBtortoises said:
I thought "holy crap, I'm a genius"! Then I remembered that I stumbled upon the whole process due to circumstances and really didn't figure it out on my own, the tortoises figured it out for me!

Hey, this is how I've learned most of what I know too! This is how break throughs are made.

I know we have a lot of russian keepers here on the forum. Any breeding success?

So it sounds like if we hibernated a group of russians with you for the winter, and then ship them to me for the summer, it would be perfect. You've got consistent cold for the winter and I've got super hot and dry from about June through October.
 

jeffbens0n

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So where in the US do we think it the best place to keep Russians, assuming you are hibernating them and trying to breed?
 

dmmj

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I hibernate my russians every year. I am currently trying to set up a breeding group, I have a female but she is still to small, the loans of my male tortoise seems to be good reports of his breeding attempts.
 

Tom

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dmmj said:
I hibernate my russians every year. I am currently trying to set up a breeding group, I have a female but she is still to small, the loans of my male tortoise seems to be good reports of his breeding attempts.

How do you hibernate them Captain? Indoors? Outdoors? What is their outdoor set up like? Have we seen pics?
 

GBtortoises

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Well, I haven't been to the Southwest, but I'm guessing with some artificial hibernation they would breed well outdoors there. I have been to Colorado several times at different times of the year visiting relatives and I don't see Russians being successfully bred there on a regular basis. Where in the U.S., if at all, is there bitter cold dry conditions for most of the year that turns to extreme heat almost instantly and only for 3-4 months before ending in a brief rainy fall then back to winter? None that I know of and if so I don't want to live there anyway! I did live in North Dakota for 2.5 years about 30 years ago and as I recall, it was pretty darn close to the climate description above!

All the other Testudo species breed pretty well almost everywhere in the U.S.
 

Edna

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GBtortoises said:
Where in the U.S., if at all, is there bitter cold dry conditions for most of the year that turns to extreme heat almost instantly and only for 3-4 months before ending in a brief rainy fall then back to winter? None that I know of and if so I don't want to live there anyway! I did live in North Dakota for 2.5 years about 30 years ago and as I recall, it was pretty darn close to the climate description above!

/quote]

That's what we had in NE Montana! It was very cold for a loonnngg winter, with winter weather always starting in October, and usually lasting until late April. By late May we'd start hitting 100 degrees and continue with that heat until mid-September. It was an aweful place to live with that 145 degree temperature range. You'd still have to fake the "rainy fall" part.
 

dmmj

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Well in case anyone is interested I hibernate mine inside my shed inside a large box. I put down about 6 inches of dirt and then lay down a large layer of leaves. Here in california it does stay warmish (is that a word?) So I keep an eye on them through the winter (HA HA ) I am interested to find out if a proper hibernation is essential to a good breeding season,if so I may artificially hibernate them in the coming years. I have never done this but I know a couple of people who have done so.
 

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My Russian tortoises (1.3) hibernate in shredded newspaper, in a cardboard box, in a dry, cool cinderblock box-like container. The temp is pretty steady at around 43 degrees. I put them in there after they have dug down into the dirt of their outdoor habitat (which is right around this time of year [note to self: find and box up the Russians]). They usually start to scrabble around, waking up towards the end of February. There is a lot of breeding, but no nest digging. The only time I EVER had a Russian egg was from a rescued female about a week after I received her (and never since).
 

dmmj

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emysemys said:
My Russian tortoises (1.3) hibernate in shredded newspaper, in a cardboard box, in a dry, cool cinderblock box-like container. The temp is pretty steady at around 43 degrees. I put them in there after they have dug down into the dirt of their outdoor habitat (which is right around this time of year [note to self: find and box up the Russians]). They usually start to scrabble around, waking up towards the end of February. There is a lot of breeding, but no nest digging. The only time I EVER had a Russian egg was from a rescued female about a week after I received her (and never since).
Is it possible that the nests are never found?
 

Yvonne G

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Yes, quite possible. And we have a red ant problem. So if there were eggs laid, the ants would get to them before they hatched.
 

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GBtortoises said:
Well, I haven't been to the Southwest, but I'm guessing with some artificial hibernation they would breed well outdoors there. I have been to Colorado several times at different times of the year visiting relatives and I don't see Russians being successfully bred there on a regular basis. Where in the U.S., if at all, is there bitter cold dry conditions for most of the year that turns to extreme heat almost instantly and only for 3-4 months before ending in a brief rainy fall then back to winter? None that I know of and if so I don't want to live there anyway! I did live in North Dakota for 2.5 years about 30 years ago and as I recall, it was pretty darn close to the climate description above!

All the other Testudo species breed pretty well almost everywhere in the U.S.

Wow, I am surprised to hear that. I would have thought that Colorado would be a bit milder, perhaps, but close enough. Perhaps not. I guess I will see once my guys get older.

GB, are there any other Testudos you would recommend for keeping and/or breeding here in Colorado? Or do you think that, despite the breeding challenges, Russians are still the best suited to the climate here?
 

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Tom said:
GB laid down some great info in this thread:
http://www.tortoiseforum.org/Thread-Russian-Tortoise-Breeding-Problems?page=2#axzz1ZOjo8sSQ


Maybe I'm over thinking this, but is that really all that unusual for me?:D All are welcome to chime in on this. I'd love to hear from anyone in Southern CA that is keeping Testudo here outside. I'd love to hear how you do it and what you have learned from it along the way. And I'd love to hear about anyone with reproductive success at it. How do you house them in the winter?

I keep Russians not in Southern Cal, but in Northern Cal. November through April, the nighttime lows in the Sacramento area range from the high 30's to the mid 40's on the average. Dec and Jan have average highs in the 50's. Feb, Mar, Nov in the 60's. Apr 70's.

My Russians start digging themselves in sometime in early October, when the days really start getting short. Because we still have a lot of days in the high 70's to low 90's, they seem to be 'prepping' for hibernation instead of really digging in and staying down. They still come out during the day and eating. I experience similar problems that because of the slightly warmer weather, they would go into hibernation and not be dug in deep enough.

I actually bring mine into an enclosure in the garage from November to the first week of April, where they get 12 hours of mvb lighting and artificial heating (CHE and heating tape). I consistently keep night time temps around 60 and day time temps 80-85 with a higher basking area.

I don't put mine through a true hibernation. In Feb, I gradually cool them down and decrease the amount of light they get over a two week period. During this period, I also stop feeding. They dig themselves in around 5-6 inches during this time. Then I keep average temps around 60 consistently with no light for two weeks. I've noticed that they shift positions and move around during this two week period, so they're not in hibernation.

In March, I spend another two weeks gradually warming the enclosure back up again. During this time period, I start giving them small amounts of food and gradually increase the amount. After about two weeks, they are back at night time temps around 60 and day time temps 80-85 with a higher basking area, still indoors for another three to four weeks through early April. During this time period, I observe breeding. Mid-April they're back outdoors. That's when I keep an eye out for nesting areas.

One thing that was interesting to me, when I kept a single trio, the male did not attempt to breed. After two years without success, I talked to a guy at the local tortoise club. He advised me that I wasn't doing anything wrong, but suggested adding to the herd (particularly males) would help spur breeding through competition. He suggested getting another trio, introducing the two males together briefly than putting them back with their females. I wasn't really interested in a second separate enclosure. So I took a huge chance in getting two more trios, and seeing if a larger group would co-exist with dispersed aggression. Its worked pretty well, one male has established himself as the 'alpha', but splits his time chasing after the two other males and six females. The two other males chase the females, but seem to leave each other alone. But aside from the possible aggression issues, the males attempted breeding with the females the first season the group was introduced together. I've been getting eggs ever since.
 

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how is your hatch rate with your eggs?
 

Tom

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Great contribution Neltharion. I enjoyed reading that. Thank you.

I wanna know the same thing as the Captain. You are getting eggs. Are you getting babies?

How big is your outdoor for the 3.6 group? Can we get a pic?

Do you split them up indoors? I'm wondering if the re-introduction of the groups in the spring is much of a factor in your success. I have heard of some male/male competition helping with breeding success in some other species of reptiles too.
 

GBtortoises

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Geo-Yes, I would recommend just about any Testudo species in Colorado! Russians along with North African and Southern Middle Eastern Greeks are probably the least likely canidates to breed sucessfully in Colorado if kept under all or semi natural conditions. Any tortoise species can be bred sucessfully anywhere with a certain amount of or completely artificial conditions. All natural conditions conditions would be putting the tortoise outdoors in an enclosure and letting mother nature do the rest. Semi natural would be keeping them outdoors but most or all of the year but supplementing shelter, additional heat or bringing them indoors as needed. Totally artificial would be maintaining them indoors and controlling everything-their heat, light, enclosure contents, etc...

My weather here could be considered mild too. I've had a group of Russian tortoises since the early 90's and a few before that. When kept exclusively outdoors here they've done nothing more than just exist. They've been healthy and somewhat active, but nothing more. They never bred here until a few years ago when I begin bringing them indoors in the spring and subjecting them to sudden, very hot conditions. Even still they do not produce fertile eggs on a regular basis. But I think that's a matter of me figuring out exactly what it's going to take for them to do so in terms of temperatures at what stage, light intensity and so on. So far they've been very patient with me!

Under semi natural conditions with some extra winter protection Eastern & Dalmatian Hermann's, Marginateds and Ibera Greeks should do well in Colorado. Under semi natural conditions by bringing them indoors in the winter the previous along with Western Hermann's and most Middle Eastern Greeks (especially those of Northern origin) should do well. I can't speak much for species other than Testudo because I either don't keep any others or haven't in several years. Except of a single Burmese Brown tortoise, non of my other non-Testudo species go outdoors here. It's too damp at night.
 

Neltharion

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dmmj said:
how is your hatch rate with your eggs?

The first couple years, my hatch rates were 75%. Some of it may have been due to young, inexperienced breeders. Part of that though, I attribute to my inexperience. I had some problems with stable temps and maintaining humidity. I incubate for female, and I think the temps may have spiked a little to high at times, and I lost some eggs from heat. My last few years, the hatch rate is up to 95%.

Tom said:
Great contribution Neltharion. I enjoyed reading that. Thank you.

I wanna know the same thing as the Captain. You are getting eggs. Are you getting babies?

How big is your outdoor for the 3.6 group? Can we get a pic?

Do you split them up indoors? I'm wondering if the re-introduction of the groups in the spring is much of a factor in your success. I have heard of some male/male competition helping with breeding success in some other species of reptiles too.

Mine are not split up indoors. The indoor enclosure is only 4x8. For some reason, the close quarters effect seems to actually reduce aggression. I've always wondered if anyone else observes that. My outdoor enclosure, I estimate is roughly 80 square feet. I'll have to get some pics up later.
 
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