Exotis ISSN 2398-2985

Reptiles

Hibernation / brumation

Contributor(s): Sonya Miles, Sarah Brown

Introduction

  • Hibernation is a state of dormancy and slowing of metabolism often brought on by adverse weather conditions (a reduction in temperature, a reduction in light intensity and decrease in day length). This conserves energy and enables the individual to cope through periods of natural food shortage.
  • 'Hibernation' strictly refers only to dormancy in vertebrates.
  • In reptiles, 'brumation' or torpor is often used interchangeably with the word 'hibernation'. 'Hibernation' tends to refer to chelonian winter dormancy whilst 'brumation' is used for snakes and lizards.
  • As a general, but not exclusive rule, reptiles from temperate areas may have the capacity to hibernate whereas tropical species generally do not. It is important to be aware of which species can and cannot hibernate.
  • It is important to distinguish between reptiles entering hibernation/brumation and those that are ill; if the animal is ‘going into hibernation’ without appropriate triggers, eg wrong time of year, a full clinical investigation should be carried out.
If a tropical species that characteristically does not hibernate shows signs of apparent hibernation, a disease process should be suspected, and the cause should be investigated by a suitably qualified veterinary surgeon.
  • Hibernation, for the species that undertake it, is a normal physiological process, and as such should be allowed where safe. Individuals who are underweight or have medical disorders within the preceding few months should be 'overwintered' with appropriate heat, light and food provision, rather than hibernated.
  • In the wild a reptile my chose to hibernate in burrows, rocky crevices or underwater, however in captivity, a controlled approach to hibernation or brumation is recommended:
    • There has been a tradition in the UK for keepers to let their tortoises hibernate according to the ambient climate; this leads to an excessively long hibernation period, with a much shorter ‘summer’ to recover before the next prolonged hibernation.
    • With time, this physiologically weakens individuals, leading to post-hibernation health issues.
    • Artificial manipulation of temperature and photoperiod is required before and after the hibernation period in countries where the climate differs from the ‘wild’, eg UK compared to the Mediterranean.
  • A decision must be made as to whether to properly hibernate the reptile in appropriate conditions or ‘overwinter‘ with supplementary heat and light provision. Hibernation at an insufficiently low ambient temperature is unacceptable as the reptile will become catabolic.
  • Hibernation affects reptile reproduction Chelonia reproduction Lizard reproduction Snake reproduction, with cooler temperatures and reduction in photo-period, increasing the production of sperm in males and helping to prepare the females for ovulation in the spring.
  • It is anecdotally noted, that lack of hibernation may increase the risk of reproductive diseases such as pre-ovulatory follicular stasis may be associated with growth issues and the development of hepatic disease.
Print off the Owner Factsheet on The hibernating tortoise to give to your clients.

Terrestrial chelonia

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Aquatic chelonia

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Lizards

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Snakes

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed papers

Other sources of information

  • Chitty J & Raftery A (2013) Hibernation. In: Essentials of Tortoise Medicine and Surgery. Wiley-Blackwell, UK. pp 50-53.
  • Highfield A C & Highfield N (2011) Safer Hibernation and Your Tortoise. Website: www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/newhibernation.html. Last accessed 29th March 2018.
  • Muryn R (2011) Health, Hibernation and Habitat. Website: www.terrapin-info.co.uk/hibernation.php. Last accessed 29th March 2018.
  • Divers S J & Mader D R (2006) Turtles, Tortoises and Terrapins. In: Reptile Medicine and Surgery. 2nd edn. Saunders Elsevier, USA. pp 88-89.
  • Funk R S (2006) Snakes. In: Reptile Medicine and Surgery. 2nd edn. Saunders Elsevier, USA. pp 42-58.
  • McArthur S J & Barrows M (2004) General Care of Chelonians. In: Medicine and Surgery of Tortoises and Turtles. Eds: McArthur S J, Wilkinson R & Meyer J. Wiley-Blackwell, UK. pp 87-107.
  • Wright K M (2004) Breeding and Neonatal Care. In: BSAVA Manual of Reptiles. 2nd edn. Eds: Girling S J & Raiti P. BSAVA, UK. pp 40-50.
  • Highfield A C (1996) Practical Encyclopedia of Keeping and Breeding Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Carapace Press, UK.
  • Zug G R, Vitt L J & Caldwell J P (1993) Thermoregulation, Performance and Energetics. In: Herpetology. An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. 2nd edn. Academic Press, USA. pp 177-196.


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