Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

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Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby tracietortoise » Fri Sep 07, 2018 5:37 pm

Hi. Apologies if this has been answered recently (searched but couldnt find it). Its obviously that time of year and i’m shortly to make the decision as to whether to hibernate my hermanns tortoise. For me it will be the first time ever - i have 5 non hibernating species and also now the new addition of my hermanns who came to live with me 18 months ago. I didnt hibernate him last winter as i’d only had him 6 months and wanted to ensure all was well. I’ve read up, researched and taken on board all advice and if i do it i will be using the fridge method, aiming to begin hibernation proper during november after the appropriate carefully structured wind down period and health and weight checks. My question is - does hibernation benefit the tortoise , or alternatively, is keeping him warm, light and awake through winter harmful to him? Or is it better to keep him awake? It matters not practically which one we do here as i’m set up for either, but am interested to know whether the tortoise actually needs the hibernation or is it something thats forced in the wild out of necessity? Obviously with heating and lights it becomes uneccessary in that sense- but does his body actually NEED the rest? My thoughts mainly are whether their bodies physically need that period of inactivity and are their bodily systems are stressed through not having that time out if kept awake? And considering the risks of hibernation, does the stress of keeping him awake outweigh the risks of hibernating him? I absolutely want whats best for him. He has as natural a life as it is possible to give a captive animal and i’m struggling with the dilemma of what to do for the best, not least as its the first time. Its keeping me awake at night - i think i would benefit from hibernation! :? Would welcome thoughts and pointers to research / readings, thankyou.
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby ejs » Fri Sep 07, 2018 6:36 pm

I can't give you chapter and verse as to the reasons why, but provided the little one is fit and healthy it is far better to hibernate as this replicates what they would do in the wild. I have been told hibernating prevents your tort from growing too quickly so that is one benefit. The max hibernation time is 12 weeks, but you may want to shorten this if this is the first time and build it up over the next few years.

Emily
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby tracietortoise » Fri Sep 07, 2018 11:56 pm

Thanks Emily, much appreciated :)
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby Stuart » Mon Sep 10, 2018 10:40 am

It's a big question, and one that has been asked many a time by many keepers, I'm sure.
(As well as reading all the relevant articles on the TT website, have you conducted a search here on the forum - plenty of previous discussion!)

The usual advice is to hibernate a tortoise that would naturally hibernate in the wild. This would definitely apply to a known Wild Caught tortoise, but could reasonably apply, by extension, to CB tortoises of the same breed.
It gets more complicated though, as in the wild hibernation for any given breed may not universally apply - it could depend on the geographical range, and then on prevailing conditions.
Furthermore, Andy's field work in the last few years has revealed some "hibernation" behaviours that vary considerably from the usual advice for captive hibernation - although admittedly he does not recommend that we attempt to replicate those.

TT also recommends that sick or underweight tortoises are not hibernated.

Should hatchlings and babies/juveniles be hibernated? Again, the usual answer is, well they would in the wild. I'll be very honest and admit here on the TT Forum that, despite TT advice (which I've even given out myself to others) I'm guilty of being cautious about hibernating my own hatchlings! Partly because I'm less sure of applying the Jackson's Ratio for juveniles (in which regard, by the way, I think the ratio is easier to use than trying to interpret the graph) to such small creatures, whose statistics are tricky to measure accurately, and partly because I'm not entirely convinced of the argument that even this year's hatchlings will be hibernating in areas where the climate dictates that they must. Frankly I'm worried that we don't know what the survival rates are for those tortoises! If baby tortoises are like baby turtles, which hatch in their thousands but only a very small percentage of whom make it to becoming mature adults, or like tadpoles...well, I've only had six babies, and I wasn't prepared to gamble!

Do tortoises need to hibernate? It's like the nature/nurture debate in child development! Clearly, as tortoises are ectothermic, responding directly to prevailing heat and light levels, and this drives their sleeping and waking, feeding and breeding, basking and roaming behaviours, they must largely be responding to falling light levels and dropping temperatures in the wild, combined with consequent reductions in available food sources. But is there also an instinctive internal drive towards hibernation as well? Tortoises are also certainly creatures of habit, which many keepers observe, and which filed work appears to confirm in wild tortoises, who visit familiar scrapes and follow familiar tracks etc. Do instinct and habit play a part?

Whether or not we're over-riding instinct or habit, clearly it is possible to avoid hibernating a captive tortoise by maintaining high summer temperatures artificially...I have done so successfully with my hatchlings and also with underweight juveniles/adults. It can be hard work - decent inside space is needed for larger tortoises, and keeping temps high enough can be challenging in a cold winter! Expensive too. (Hibernation is in these senses much easier!) But I've also observed that tortoises thus maintained over the winter can sometimes be prone to premature digging down etc in spring or early summer unless conditions then are as optimal as possible...as if they are trying to make up for the hibernation they weren't afforded? But I might just be imagining that.
OTOH, successfully hibernated tortoises do wake with obviously renewed vigour - especially obvious in males!

There are many on the Forum who hibernate their tortoises as naturally as possible even though they're being kept out of their natural range. I have often let my adults wind down naturally, driven by failing light levels and drop in temperature, although I often keep basking lights on in the GH to extend the season a little. Sometimes I bring them in and extend the season more, but then have to wind then down artificially. Some, eg Sandy, let them dig down in their Greenhouse or even safe places outside, and all seems to go well. I've been using the fridge methods for several years now because my previous locations for hibernation boxes etc weren't cold enough..successfully apart from one sad loss which was presumably my fault as the tortoise was borderline on the JR graph - a mistake I regret hugely, of course, and which has led me to exercise much more caution with the others.

And that's the thing. We refer to nature as our guide in these matters, but many of us are keeping our tortoises either far from naturally, or with inevitably huge compromises. Keeping tortoises out of their natural range in the first place; then artificial heating, lighting, and now refrigeration: then we're entirely responsible for what happens.

i know I've not answered Tracietorotise's question...but would be interested in anyone else's thoughts on any of this!
Stuart
Hermanns (old female and 6 home-bred offspring), iberas (two), kbn (rescue), leopard, horsfield (rescue), stars (2 - long term loan), red-eared sliders (5)
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby tracietortoise » Mon Sep 10, 2018 10:21 pm

Stuart thank you for your thoughts - lots there to think about and really good to hear your experiences, good and bad, with your own torts. I guess there really may be no absolute answer - the more research i do into this, the more confused i become! I have a (quite possibly totally unfounded) theory that our torts live for so long because they conserve energy for a huge percentage of their life through hibernation - their bodies don’t wear out so quickly as they escape the wear and tear of living whilst ‘sleeping’. This means it makes complete sense to hibernate - and yet as you rightly point out, geographical and local environmental factors in their natural wild state will be variable and so by ‘forcing’ a hibernation every year for a given amount of time are we over riding the benefits that a wild tortoise would gain from their shorter/longer/warmer/cooler hibernations which are dictated by the ever changing climate itself? It really is a complete worry for me (and i’m sure i’m not alone). I have 5 non hibernating torts so the over wintering isnt a problem at all. I have a dedicated room which is well equipped with light, heat and accommodation. My decision is compounded by the fact that the tortoise in question has shell damage sustained several years ago ( before he came to me). He is missing lots of the overhanging carapace and so his weight and measurements are somewhat unique. The JR doesnt well with him as he appears lighter due to a a smaller shell area than would be normal. I have also just taken ownership of a new arrival - a 2 year old hermanns -fostering with a view to rehoming but in all likelihood will stay so i will have double dilemmas next year! (I definitely wont hibernate the new one this year).
Well i suppose if i ponder for too much longer the decision will be made anyway. Once again though, many thanks for your thought provoking answer, much appreciated. And will welcome others input.
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby Stuart » Mon Sep 10, 2018 11:28 pm

I have a (quite possibly totally unfounded) theory that our torts live for so long because they conserve energy for a huge percentage of their life through hibernation - their bodies don’t wear out so quickly as they escape the wear and tear of living whilst ‘sleeping’. This means it makes complete sense to hibernate

That makes sense, but the largest and possibly longest lived tortoises are tropical...

I have 5 non hibernating torts so the over wintering isn't a problem at all.

I have non-hibernating tortoises too, as you'll have seen from my signature list. No quandaries with most of those...leopards, stars and hingebacks are tropical torts. But the misshapen horsfield should probably be sleeping for more than 50% of the year, yet is so deformed that it's difficult to get a sense of her true body mass and I haven't hibernated her since taking her on as a rescue. And possibly never will. Not good.
Stuart
Hermanns (old female and 6 home-bred offspring), iberas (two), kbn (rescue), leopard, horsfield (rescue), stars (2 - long term loan), red-eared sliders (5)
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby tracietortoise » Tue Sep 11, 2018 7:29 pm

Hi stuart - very similar here. Mine are all rescue cases - the non hibernaters have always been fairly straightforward. The Leopard and the Tunisians over winter in their indoor accommodation with no issues. Since taking on the Hermanns last year i have had to learn a whole new list of requirements for the new species. And interesting that you also have a tort with deformities. My little chap is estimated around 10 years old and had it tough in his past. He is missing huge amounts of shell and the healed tissue on his back and legs is revealed. I have weighed him today and he is just around 25 grams lighter than this time last year (although weighed on different scales which always makes me wonder). Perhaps some of this is due to his being relatively inactive over the hot summer (and thus eating less). I had been planning to start the winding down process through october and into november but having thought of little else this week i feel i may over winter without hibernation again this year and reassess next autumn. I dont feel 100% confident that he’s up to weight and ready. I would be devastated if he didnt survive and at the moment the risks are outweighing the benefits for me. Unless anyone else has any thoughts / info.
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby Stuart » Wed Sep 12, 2018 1:21 pm

I posted pictures of my horsfield back in January 2014 in this thread: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=10103#p85783

I can't say she's much better now - that early damage is pretty irreparable, sadly. Quite a character though.
Stuart
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby tracietortoise » Wed Sep 12, 2018 10:07 pm

Oh, Poor little thing. I suppose once that drastic damage is done it could take years, if ever, to put right. The only blessing is that she ended up with you. I’ve tried to attach a photo of mine - it was taken on his arrival here before transfer to his new accommodation. His shell will obviously never re grow but over the last 18 months has become less flaky and is very solid. It was caused by a dog. I think he’s a tough little guy to have come through. His remaining shell was covered with nail varnish when he arrived with his first rescuer - this had almost all been removed by the time he came to me but you can still see traces of it in the pic. He’s a grumpy little guy and i’m still not sure he likes me but he won’t be going anywhere. This is his last home :-)
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Re: Is it more beneficial to hibernate or to stay awake?

Postby Stuart » Wed Sep 12, 2018 10:09 pm

That damage looks grim...but she's alive and being well cared for now!

(nail varnish? :shock: )
Stuart
Hermanns (old female and 6 home-bred offspring), iberas (two), kbn (rescue), leopard, horsfield (rescue), stars (2 - long term loan), red-eared sliders (5)
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