Running your tortoise down in the autumn:-
At the end of the summer, the basking lamp should be turned off gradually and for a period of between 3-4 weeks, the tortoise should be kept in an air temperature cold enough to stop the appetite but warm enough so that it continues to pass urine and faeces (about 15C) It is important during this period that the tortoise should not become dehydrated, so soak the tortoise two or three times a week in a bowl of lukewarm water.
During this period, also cut down the hours that the tortoise has under the light. For the last 3-4 days before hibernation, keep it in a temperature of 10-12C. The tortoise should then settle and be going/gone to sleep.
In the tortoises natural habitat the winter temperatures are appreciably colder than the English winter temperatures. The soil surface temperature goes down to 0C or below, but at depth remains at about 5C. The tortoises dig down to where the temperature is 5-6C. They then change the way they operate their bodies. We call this hibernation. There are several ways to arrange hibernation in the UK but the key is that you must enable the tortoise to gets its body temperature down to 5-6C.
If the temperature is accurate the tortoise will usually remain still and all will be well. If the temperature is either too high or too low the tortoise will dig, using up body fats for energy. If this goes on too long or happens too often, the tortoise may die or anorexia will result in the spring.
Body temperatures below freezing will cause death.
Temperatures around freezing will cause blindness.
Temperatures 1-3C and 8-12C may cause anorexia.
There are other ways of hibernating, but we at BATK recommend the fridge hibernation where you have a better chance of controlling the temperatures.
This is the method that most long term tortoise owners use and the one that BATK recommends. You are able to control the temperatures and hopefully everything goes okay for you and the tortoise gets a good controlled hibernation.
While you are running down your tortoise, switch on the fridge so that you can ensure the temperatures are correct. Also put the box that you are going to hibernate your tortoise in, in the fridge so that this becomes the correct temperature. Decide on what substrate you are going to use. You can use a 50/50 sand/dry topsoil or shredded newspaper. DO NOT use hay or straw.
When your tortoise is totally shut down and ready for hibernation and your fridge is ready at 5C, place the tortoise into the box of substrate. Put a probe into the box with the tortoise, preferably taped to the carapace, cover with the lid and weight the tortoise in the box and write the weight onto the box. You can then place it into the fridge. Ensure that the reader for the probe is outside of the fridge positioned where you can see it.
Ensure that you have the fridge/probe positioned so that you can check the temperatures several times a day. Open the fridge door each day to allow oxygen to go into the fridge, but as the tortoise shuts down so much for hibernation which means their metabolic rate is so slow, they do not require too much, so don't worry.
Check your tortoise after a couple of days to ensure that it is asleep and that it hasn't weed. If it isn't asleep check the temperatures and leave for another couple of days. When checking please ensure that you place the tortoise and the box exactly in the same place that you had it in when it settled into hibernation. Once asleep you only need to check weekly to ensure that the tortoise is still asleep and check the weight, which can be done with the box as you recorded this weight when it went into hibernation.
If the tortoise wees at any time during hibernation, this tortoise MUST be woken up and over wintered. It must not be put back into hibernation until next year if fit and healthy.
Hibernation time varies with every tortoise. A tortoise on it's first hibernation should be for 6 weeks and then increasing each year up to 5 months at the most.
Getting your Tortoise up in the Spring
Around the beginning to the middle of March when you are ready to get your tortoise up, or sooner if it is a young tortoise, take the tortoise in the box out of the fridge and put it somewhere where it isn't too cold but also not too hot either eg. a hall. You can leave the lid open and remove the top substrate.
Once the tortoise is awake you can then bring the tortoise to room temperature by moving to a warmer area. As soon as the tortoise is well awake you can give it a good soak in lukewarm water.
Then put the tortoise into its area with the basking lamps on. DO NOT put the tortoise under the lamp, let it get up and walk to the lamp itself.
Whilst your tortoise is basking, get some fresh weeds together, rinse, put some calcium on them and offer to your tortoise by putting them into it's area, away from the lamp. Usually they will be up, basking and eating within 24hrs. Some tortoises may take a couple of days to get going. If this is the case for your tortoise then give it a good soak morning and night, as this will help.
Remember:- DO NOT take your tortoise out of the fridge and put it straight under the lamp - this can be fatal.
If you have any questions then please contact any of the trustees through the contact page.