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Some Turtles need to

Hibernate when cold

weather sets in.

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Hibernation is the way that many animals are protected
through the cold months when food is scarce, and for cold
blooded creatures such as the Box Turtle. They must manage
their body temperatures by moving about in their
environment, it is the only way they can survive winter.

Turtles burrow down into soft soil or sand, some digging as far
as five feet down, and their body processes slow
dramatically, so they can live for months on their own body
fat without eating or drinking if necessary. Some other
amphibians and reptiles also hibernate to escape the hot or
dry seasons, but for Box Turtles it is usually the cold they
must escape.

In the wild, finding a suitable hibernation spot is usually
fairly easy for the turtle as it has its entire range to
search out, but in captivity you will have to be responsible
for deciding whether your turtle needs to hibernate or not,
whether it is healthy enough to survive hibernation, and how
to provide for its needs. If your pet turtle is not native
to the climate where you live, as it likely is not, you will
have a challenge and will need to do some research on the

And if your turtle doesn't need hibernation, you will still
need to make sure its needs for humidity and temperature are
met in the cold seasons, as winter indoor air is usually too
dry for a turtle's health. You should be able to find good
help and information online at the many websites dedicated
to turtles, as well as from the fellow turtle keepers in
your area.

Once you know whether your turtle is a species that
hibernates, you'll need to decide whether to allow it to do
so or not. Experts differ on the necessity of hibernation
for Box Turtles. Some say it is needed to maintain optimum
health, others believe it is only important if you are
breeding your turtles.

If you decide that you should hibernate your turtle, the
first consideration is its health. It should not have any
wounds or discharge from the nose, eyes, mouth or cloaca, or
sunken eyes. If it does, you will need to take it to the
veterinarian for antibiotic treatment, or it may die in
hibernation, as the immune system doesn't work well at that
time. Your turtle should have bright eyes and plump legs and
tail if it is in optimum health.

Your Box Turtle should also be mature and eating well, with
a good weight, before you hibernate it, since it will be
depending on its body stores for survival while it is
sleeping. A turtle that has begun the hibernation cycle will
not eat well, so if you discover that your turtle is
lethargic and eating poorly, and you don't believe that it
is ready for hibernation, you will need to increase the
warmth of its habitat to wake it up, and feed it foods that
are suitable to its species and which have a lot of vitamin
A and carbohydrates.

Once you believe that your Box Turtle is healthy enough for
hibernation, greatly reduce its food for two or three weeks
to clean out it's digestive tract and prevent food spoiling
in its intestines while it sleeps, creating gasses that can
poison the turtle. If it is kept indoors or in a semi-
tropical climate, you will need to gradually reduce the
temperature as well. Most turtles preparing for hibernation
will reduce their eating naturally, but you should help it
by feeding less and less. Soak it regularly also, to help it
empty its digestive system, and give it plenty of drinking
water, so it will be well hydrated.

A turtle should lose only one percent of its body weight per
month when hibernating. Weigh your terrapin before it goes
into hibernation and at times during hibernation so that you
will know if it is losing too much weight. If it is losing
too much, you will need to wake it up by soaking it in
shallow, room temperature water for a few hours to hydrate
it, and then drying it and putting it back into its
hibernation chamber without warming it further. If you are
hibernating younger turtles, you might do this once a month
if needed.

As for the place of hibernation, it depends on your Box
Turtle species and your climate. Hibernating captive turtles
can be kept at temperatures between 39 and 50 degrees F. If
the temperature is above 50 F. they may not go into true
hibernation, and may use up their body stores too quickly.
Also, the hibernation chamber needs to be slightly humid, so
a damp substrate indoors or a pile of clippings or dry
leaves over the chamber outdoors will help keep the humidity

If you need to hibernate your Box Turtle indoors, and have a
garage or other place that will not freeze during the
winter, you might do as some turtle keepers and use either a
simple plastic box with a damp sphagnum moss substrate, or a
dedicated refrigerator. If you use a refrigerator, be sure
it keeps working correctly, and tape a stick or something to
the rubber door gasket so that the door doesn't close
tightly and some air can enter.

Be sure not to make too large a gap, though, in case there
is a warm spell, and make sure the room temperature doesn't
fall too low. Use a thermometer with an alarm to keep the
temperature above 39 degrees F. and below 45 F. Put a bowl
of clean water in the fridge also to keep the humidity up.
Put your turtle into a cardboard box on shredded newspaper,
and when you check on it regularly to weigh it, check the
paper to make sure it is not urinating. If the paper is wet,
you will know you need to hydrate your turtle.

If it is hibernating outdoors, you should also leave
drinking water nearby because turtles sometimes come out on
warmer days and drink, then go back into hibernation. Make
sure, also, that its hibernation spot is safe from flooding
or predators, a hibernating reptile can't defend itself at
all, its life is in your hands.

Once the hibernation period is over for your species of Box
Turtle, warm it up slowly (A warm room and an overhead light
that is not too hot work well.) and get it drinking. Water
is more important than food at this point. You might try
soaking it again in shallow warm water. If it doesn't drink
quickly, or doesn't begin to eat within a week, call your vet.

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