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The Ultimate Guide To Brumation And Your Pet Reptiles.

Our cold-blooded friends otherwise known as reptiles rely on their environment to regulate their temperature. During the winter, they need to find a way to regulate their internal temperature as their external environment reaches extreme lows. It can be quite startling for pet owners when their beloved reptiles are suddenly not moving or moving very slowly.

Simply put, brumation is similar to hibernation. During the winter months, reptiles will find a cozy spot to brumate in, in order to regulate their temperature and survive the colder months. Some do this by burrowing into insulated and safe environments, in order to enter true brumation. Other reptiles slow down and may be eating less, but not enter a fully brumated state.

Brumation is a low-energy state that is an essential survival tactic for our cold-blooded friends to make it through winter.

It is not necessary for your pet reptile to brumate as their temperatures should be regulated within their enclosure, as well as their light cycles do not really change. However, in some cases, they enter into brumation anyway as their body clocks take over. Don’t be too concerned if your pet is acting a little bit differently and moving slower than usual. You can avoid brumation by ensuring that feedings and the temperature in your pet’s enclosure remain constant.

Pet snakes will brumate if their owners fail to maintain a warm enough temperature in their enclosure, or purposefully encourage them to enter hibernation. Wild snakes, however, will enter into brumation in order to survive the winter months – they will consume less food and will move far less. Often they will only move to drink water.

Bearded dragons are another pet who can enter into brumation. They may lose a little bit of weight as they won’t be eating as frequently, but ultimately it is best to disturb them as little as possible when they enter brumation. Again, you can try to avoid brumation by keeping the conditions in their enclosure constant.

Chameleons, however, should not brumate, as they are from more tropical areas. It is important to keep their temperature and environment constant.

What is brumartion in reptiles?

Brumation is ultimately the process where reptiles slow down for the winter months when the temperature is colder. This is essential for their survival as they are dependent on their environment to regulate their bodily temperature as they are cold-blooded. They may become completely dormant, or just slow down. It is similar to mammals who hibernate – although the process is different.

Wild reptiles will find a safe and insulated enclosure in order to enter this dormant period. Reptiles who live in captivity may find a safe place within their enclosure. The colder temperatures will encourage reptiles to burrow underground or find rock crevices to stay in.

They will begin to slow down and eat less as they prepare to become dormant for this next period. It is vital that they have enough fat stored to keep them going until spring. It is a natural process that reptiles enter into. It has been programmed into their biological systems in order to survive over millions of years.

It is not necessary for pet reptiles to enter into brumation however their natural biology may take over. The slightest drop in temperatures or change in an enclosure environment can encourage your pet to brumate. Brumation does not seem to have any effect on having a healthy and reproductively active reptile.

During this period, their heart rates will slow down. They will stop eating and defecating as well. They could enter true brumation – where they will become completely dormant or they could just slow down and move extremely slowly. On warmer winter days they will move and find water but will remain in a ‘rested’ position for the majority of the time. They will conserve as much energy as possible.

There is a theory which discusses whether brumation may lengthen the lives of wild reptiles, however, there is not much evidence to prove this.

Brumation can be triggered in captivity by gradually reducing temperatures in your cold-blooded friend’s enclosure over a few weeks, and is not harmful if done properly. It is best to seek advice from your vet before attempting to do this.

Why do pet reptiles brumate?

If your pet appears to be preparing for brumation or you would like to encourage to enter into brumation your first step should be to consult your vet. It is vital that you ensure that they do not have any parasites within their bodies and are in good health. As they enter into a dormant state during brumation you may not realise they are ill.

It is important that you try to disturb as little as possible during the time, however, it is suggested that you try and offer them water during this time. You could also soak them in lukewarm water ever 1-2 weeks in order to prevent dehydration.

You should provide a cozy shelter for them to rest in if they do not already have one within their enclosure. Reptiles like to burrow, find crevices in rocks, find hollow logs or perhaps even providing an artificial cave for them to brumate in. they will look for an insulated and safe environment during this period.

By slowly decreasing the temperature in their enclosure to mimic the natural temperatures around them you will be encouraging them to enter brumation. It is vital that this is done slowly over a period of weeks. Further, you should be reducing the frequency of which they eat as well.

Brumation in captivity:

In some cases, your cold-blooded friends might enter into brumation even if you have tried to avoid it by keeping a constant temperature within their enclosure. They are still receptive to the outside world and may have picked up subtle cues from the outside environment. You will notice that they may become less interested in food, and will find a safe and insulated place to rest over the colder months. They may become less interested in you, and won’t respond to stimuli.

It is best to not disturb them during this time and let nature take its course. You can try and avoid brumation altogether, by ensuring that their enclosure and environment is kept constant. For example; maintain a constant temperature, do not change your feeding regime, provide a constant light cycle and keep interacting with them.

How to help your pet in brumation:

If your pet appears to be preparing for brumation or you would like to encourage to enter into brumation your first step should be to consult your vet. It is vital that you ensure that they do not have any parasites within their bodies and are in good health. As they enter into a dormant state during brumation you may not realise they are ill.

It is important that you try to disturb as little as possible during the time, however, it is suggested that you try and offer them water during this time. You could also soak them in lukewarm water ever 1-2 weeks in order to prevent dehydration.

You should provide a cozy shelter for them to rest in if they do not already have one within their enclosure. Reptiles like to burrow, find crevices in rocks, a hollow in a log or perhaps even providing them with an artificial cave to brumate in. They will look for an insulated and safe environment during this period and it is worthwhile to invest in one for them.

Which pet reptiles brumate:

Reptiles make incredible pets, and while it is completely natural for them to brumate in the wild, pet owners mayfeel overwhelmed with the idea that their cold-blooded friend may be less active and responsive for a few weeks.

The processes for each reptile remain similar, and as mention, it is always best to consult your vet first. There are various reptiles who are kept as pets, below we go through the most popular that ones that are kept as little friends.

Crested and Leopard Geckos:

As these pets fall into a similar category, they are discussed together. Geckos are a reptile who naturally goes into brumation. Is mention previously, reptiles held in captivity do not need to brumate but they do have a higher chance of survival if they do enter into brumation than wild reptiles.

Gecko owners often encourage brumation as a means to encourage breeding – however other reptile owners have found that there is very little difference when their reptiles brumate and when they do not brumate in the breeding season.

If the enclosure is not cooled enough during brumation, then your gecko may struggle to enter brumation as their metabolism will not be slowed down enough. Their enclosure should range between 20-25 degree’s celsius during the warmer months. Most room temperatures will suffice for your gecko. The temperature should be gradually lowered in order to allow your gecko to adequately prepare for brumation.

They will become more lethargic and begin eating less as they enter into brumation. When spring comes around, slowly begin raising the temperatures again in their enclosure and begin feeding them in their normal routine again. If you would like to read feeding guides for both of these amazing lizards check out this link.

Chameleons:

Chameleons are generally found in tropical area’s and therefore don’t often naturally brumate in nature. However, they still have the ability to brumate and will enter into a dormant state if you encourage them into it. The perfect temperature for Chameleons is around 21-27 degree’s celsius in the cooler area of the enclosure, and 27-29 degree’s celsius in the warmer area of the enclosure. For Veiled Chameleons, though the perfect temperature is higher at 32-38 degree’s celsius. The bottom of their enclosures should be kept cooler and the top of their enclosures should be kept warmer. You should regulate it by making use of a thermometer.

They also require a 12 hour light and dark cycle – which can be mimicked with a UVA/UVB fluorescent lamp. Your chameleon should also have access to natural light as well.

If you live in an area which experiences colder winters, it is natural for your chameleon to enter into brumation. Again, you can try to avoid this by keeping their conditions constant. It is also best to seek advice from a vet if your pet is entering into brumation or you are trying to trigger brumation.

Corn Snakes

A snake is a popular reptile pet one may have at home. Often times during brumation snake owners may worry that their pet is dead, not just dormant. A snake in brumation will respond to stimuli. For example, if you pick them up they may constrict your hand. Careful not to shock it or you may receive a sudden bite!

If they are not responding at all, first take them to your vet. They may still be alive even if they are not responding.

As with other reptiles, snakes will begin to slow down during the colder months and begin moving slower or not at all. It will go and find a safe and insulated place to brumate.

The perfect temperature for a corn snakes enclosure is between 23-29 degree’s Celcius. They absorb heat through the ground, so it would be best to have a heat pad in their enclosure as opposed to a heat lamp. In order to assist your corn snake into entering brumation, you should slowly lower the temperature in their heating pad over a period of 4-6 weeks.

You can avoid brumation by keeping your snake’s enclosure’s conditions constant. It is vital that they are kept hydrated during this process, so ensure they have water available or as mentioned soak them for 20 minutes in lukewarm water every 1-2 weeks.

Turtles

Turtles are aquatic animals and it is best to ensure their enclosure is kept to temperatures between 26-28 degree’s celsius. Turtles can safely enter into a brumated state in the winter months if their enclosures temperatures are slowly reduced over a period of a few weeks. Before attempting this, you must consult a vet and do as much research as possible about your specific pet.

In the colder temperatures, turtles struggle to move and to digest their food and therefore brumation is a necessary survival tactic in order for them to survive.

As the temperature decreases, they will become more lethargic and will be less interested in food. It is best to ensure they are healthy enough by consulting a vet and otherwise do not interfere with the process and allow them to follow their natural instincts.

​Tortoises

During winter, tortoises cannot reach the best temperatures in order to digest their food and therefore enter into brumation in order to avoid losing excessive weight during the colder months. You can assist your little friend by providing a good, insulated and cozy habitat for them to slow down in. They will not enter into a hibernated state, but will rather become dormant and won’t move a lot. As with other reptiles, they will begin to sleep more and will be less interested in food. They will also look for a safe and cozy place to spend this time in – therefore you should provide them with a nice habitat if you have not already.

Not all tortoises can safely brumate so it is best to do as much research about your pet as possible and to also consult a vet first.

Bearded Dragons

Bearded dragons, as with other reptiles, will enter into a dormant state during the winter months if the temperature around them decreases. The signs that they are preparing for brumation include:

  • they may be less interested in food. Check out our bearded dragon feeding guide for more information on diet.
  • they may be resting for longer periods.
  • they may be moving more sluggishly or slower.
  • they may be ‘nesting’ by finding or building a dark, insulated and safe place to stay for the coming months.

Bearded dragons are a popular pet to have. If cared for properly, brumation is a natural process for them to enter into and nothing to worry about. As we have mentioned above, always consult a vet first to ensure they are healthy enough.

Overall, the majority of your pet reptiles can brumate with ease and it is not something to be concerned about. Do not interfere with them too much and they will be okay. Consult a vet first, and ensure that they are hydrated and healthy. Beyond that, they know exactly what to do.

You can also attempt to avoid brumation entirely by ensuring that their enclosure and environment is kept constant.

The difference between brumation and hibernation:

Both hibernation and brumation occurs naturally and follows a similar process. The main differences are that brumation occurs in reptiles while hibernation occurs in mammals. Hibernation is a permanent sleep-like state where mammals do not eat, drink water, move or defecate at all. While in brumation, reptile’s are in a dormant state and not a fully sleep-like state – they will, therefore, move on warmer winter days to get water. Reptiles movements will just be a lot slower and sluggish.

Both processes are vital for the survival of these animals as the weather changes and food becomes more scarce. These processes are to ensure that reptiles and mammals conserve as much energy as possible until spring when food will become more available. It is also theorised that brumation and hibernation encourage reproductive behaviours in the spring – however, reptile pet owners have found very little difference in their pets whether they enter into a brumated state or not.

Brumation in the wild:

In the wild, the process of brumation is vital for the survival of reptiles. During the colder months as food becomes scarcer, reptiles will enter into brumation in order to conserve as much energy as possible.

Brumation differs from hibernation as reptiles enter into a dormant state and still wake up and move slower. When the temperature naturally begins to lower, reptiles will make preparations by beginning to eat less food and move less. They will often burrow down into the ground to find a safe, insulated area that is also humid in order to remain hydrated.

Reptiles who brumate in the wild are at a far higher risk than reptiles who brumate in captivity. While in the wild, reptiles will not receive any medical care if they are ill or have parasites in their bodies. If they go into brumation with a parasite in their body they are unlikely to wake up in spring. Further, they are at risk for attacks as they are more vulnerable in a brumated state.

On warmer days, reptiles in the wild will find some water and will move at a slower rate. They won’t defecate and they will eat very little or not at all during this period. The most important thing is that they do not dehydrate.

This is a very trying time on the reptile’s body, however, it is a vital part of their survival and is a technique they developed over millions of years in order to survive harsher weather. Within brumation, the reptiles heart rate and metabolic rate will slow down.

Reptiles can also enter into a similar state in temperatures reach extreme highs – they will also eat less and will find a cool and shady environment to become dormant. This process is called estivation.

Whether in brumation, or estivation – reptiles have a fascinatng ability to survive extreme weather conditions.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, your pet reptiles at home do not need to brumate but it is a natural biological process that won’t harm them if it is handled properly. It is a risky period, and many reptiles do die during this time so it is absolutely vital that the correct procedures are followed and that a vet is always consulted.

 Brumation is a completely natural process and will not harm your pet if it is done properly. Consult your vet prior to attempting to encourage your pet to enter into brumation, or if you suspect that they are entering into brumation. In order to avoid brumation, maintain a constant temperature and routine.

 The most vital aspects of brumation are ensuring that they are hydrated, have enough fat storage and have no parasites or illnesses within their bodies.

 It is not necessary for pet reptiles to brumate. Pet owners have found little or no difference in their pets reproductive cycles when they have brumated or when they have brumated. However, if you would like to let your little friend go into brumation you can assist him by following safe procedures. You should also always consult your vet first in order to ensure they are healthy enough to do so.

 You can also avoid brumation entirely by ensuring that the conditions within your pet’s enclosure are kept constant. However, this is not always successful as our clever little friends may pick up on the changes within their outside environment.

 It is an incredible process to witness. Our little friends have an amazing survival technique if properly handled. Always consult a vet first and ensure your little friend reptiles are healthy.

Happy brumating over the winter season!

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