As the winter sets in, turtles seem to suddenly ‘disappear’. This causes people who have an interest in them to wonder where they go. And that in turn leads to the question as to whether turtles hibernate, and if so, how they go about it. This article addresses these and other related questions.
Do turtles hibernate? The answer is ‘yes’. Turtles do hibernate or at least go into a state of dormancy known as brumation. Most turtles hibernate in mud under the water bodies they live in. But land turtles, such as box turtles, dig into loose soil – typically under fallen leaves – and hibernate there.
Sea turtles either hibernate in the mud under the sea, or migrate to warmer waters during the winter.
In the course of hibernation or brumation, turtles slow down their metabolism to the absolute minimum. They are therefore able to survive without needing food or much oxygen.
During turtle hibernation or turtle brumation, the turtles survive on stored energy reserves in their bodies. Those that are under water get to draw oxygen from the water using their blood vessels.
Therefore if you have been wondering what do turtles do during winter to survive, that is it.
Pet turtles too can hibernate, unless you keep them under highly controlled temperature conditions.
Do Turtles Need To Hibernate?
Turtles that are in parts of the world where winter temperatures fall below a certain level have a genuine need to hibernate. Hibernation helps them to survive the winter.
You have to remember that turtles are cold blooded animals. As ambient temperatures drop, so do their body temperatures. This is one of the factors that make it necessary for them to hibernate during the winter.
Moreover, in the wild food tends to become very scarce during the winter. Therefore if turtles are to survive this period, they need to lower their energy/food needs. This they are able to do through hibernation.
So that is the main answer to the question on why do turtles hibernate during the winter?
But turtles in the warmer parts of the world don’t need to hibernate. There are parts of the world where temperatures don’t drop significantly at any point of the year.
In fact, there are parts of the world that don’t experience true winters. Obviously, for turtles in such parts of the world, hibernation is not necessary.
That is why, for instance, tropical turtles don’t need to hibernate. Therefore if you have been wondering, do turtles hibernate all over the world, now you know the answer.
Turtle hibernation is not a global affair. It only happens in the latitudes further from the equator, where winter temperatures fall to freezing levels in winter.
With that background information, we can now proceed to tackle the do turtles hibernate question.
Do Turtles Hibernate?
Turtles in parts of the world where winter temperatures drop below a certain level (to freezing levels) do hibernate. Or at least they go into a state similar to hibernation, known as brumation.
While hibernating or brumating, turtles slow down their metabolisms to the very lowest levels. They become almost completely inactive. They get to a point where they look as if they are in months’ long sleep.
Turtles that live in water bodies will normally go to the bottom of those water bodies. At the bottom of the water bodies, there is usually plenty of mud. They burrow inside the mud, for the duration of the winter.
Turtles that live on dry land – for instance box turtles – will normally dig holes (in loose soil, and typically under fallen leaves) where they subsequently while away the wintry months.
Some sea turtles hibernate by burrowing inside the mud at the bottom of the sea. But others opt to migrate to warmer waters, then come back home when the winter passes.
Therefore if you have been trying to find out what happens to turtles in the winter – and why they disappear during the winter – this is it.
Someone may ask the question as to what necessitates turtle hibernation underwater.
What makes underwater hibernation necessary is the fact that water temperatures tend to be more stable than air temperatures.
Moreover, while air temperatures may fall below freezing point, water temperatures typically don’t.
Therefore when turtles hibernate underwater, they get to benefit from the warmer and more stable temperatures therein.
That, therefore, is mainly the answer to the question on how do turtles stay warm in the winter.
How Do Turtles Hibernate?
The turtle hibernation process can be visualized as having three phases.
In the first phase – the pre-hibernation phase – the turtles start slowing down. They focus on conserving the energy already in their body, rather than expending it on hunting activities.
They also stop eating much. This they do in order to ensure that the food that was already in their digestive tracts gets eliminated, with no more coming in.
That is necessary because if turtles go into hibernation with food in their digestive tracts, it can cause major problems.
In the second phase – the actual hibernation phase – the turtles slow down completely. They go into some sort of sleep. Some almost hibernate fully: in the sense that they almost go into full sleep.
But most turtles don’t really hibernate fully. They go into brumation – a state of dormancy but with some little activity.
In this phase, the turtles that live in ponds or lakes will burrow in the mud at the bottom of these water bodies.
Those that live on land will dig holes in places with loose soil (typically under fallen leaves) and burrow there.
In this state, their metabolism slows down. Their oxygen needs therefore fall.
Some turtles actually get into anaerobic state, during which they use absolutely no oxygen. But that then leaves them with severe cramps, due to buildup of lactic acid.
In the third phase – the post-hibernation phase – the turtles start becoming active again. They are able to sense the increase in water temperature and light, as spring draws in.
Then they get out of the mud where they had burrowed, to the surface. Thereafter they try to bask as much as possible, in order to beat the adverse effects that come with hibernation.
How Do Snapping Turtles Hibernate?
Snapping turtles typically live in ponds. Therefore when winter comes, they burrow in the mud at the bottom of the ponds. They stay there, until the wintry conditions pass.
Snapping turtles are among those that are able to go into true anaerobic states. This means that they eventually get to a point where they don’t use oxygen at all.
That of course leaves them with a lot of lactic acid at the end of the hibernation period. So when they emerge, they are badly cramped, which makes them rather immobile initially.
That also makes them very vulnerable to predators in the immediate period after hibernation.
The form of hibernation that snapping turtles go into is the one known as brumation. This means that although they are highly inactive, they don’t fall completely asleep. They may make minor movements while in this state.
Snapping turtle hibernation in captivity is also a possibility. That is unless one takes care to ensure that temperatures don’t fall below certain levels.
One may ask, when do snapping turtles hibernate? They normally start preparing to hibernate at the end of autumn, as temperatures fall. Then they go into actual hibernation at the start of winter.
Another related question: when do snapping turtles come out of hibernation? The answer is that the snapping turtles come out of hibernation at the end of winter and at the start of spring.
How Do Box Turtles Hibernate?
Box turtles are among the few that actually hibernate on land. The state of dormancy they go into may not qualify to be termed as true hibernation, but rather, brumation.
Anyway what box turtles do is dig holes in loose soil, typically under leaves, where they then spend the winter months.
A frequent question here is on when do box turtles go into hibernation? The answer is that, like all other turtles, box turtles start preparing for hibernation during the autumn.
Then they go into the actual hibernation during the winter.
One may also want to know: do pet box turtles hibernate? Pet box turtles are capable of hibernating, if they are allowed to.
But one can also keep them from hibernating, by ensuring that the temperature and light conditions in their enclosures don’t fall beyond certain levels.
How Do Red Eared Sliders Hibernate?
In the wild, red eared sliders normally live in lakes. So when it comes to hibernation, they do it in the mud, typically in the shallow parts of the lakes.
The form of dormancy that red ear sliders go into does not entail complete sleep. On the contrary, they are able to make small movements in this state. Therefore it is more of brumation, rather than true hibernation.
Therefore if you have been having the do red eared slider turtles hibernate question, now you know the answer. Red eared slider turtle hibernation is in the form of brumation, rather than true hibernation/complete sleep.
That is largely also what applies with respect to yellow bellied slider hibernation.
How Do Painted Turtles Hibernate?
In the wild, painted turtles typically live in freshwater bodies – typically ponds.
As winter approaches, the turtles find their way to the bottom of the ponds. Sometimes, they burrow as deep as 18 inches into the mud underneath the ponds.
As with most other turtles, painted turtles don’t sleep completely during the winter. Instead they slow down greatly, going into a state of dormancy known as brumation.
That is one of the most interesting painted turtle hibernation facts.
While bromating, the turtles will avoid activity. But they can still move slightly.
Often, people want to know: do pet painted turtles hibernate? If they are in stable temperature conditions (which don’t fall to near freezing levels), pet painted turtles don’t hibernate.
But it is also possible to make pet painted turtles to hibernate: by allowing the temperatures in their enclosures to fall. Or putting them in fridges.
People who breed turtles often find it necessary to allow them to hibernate, as that increases breeding success odds.
How Do Water Turtles Hibernate?
Water turtles typically hibernate by digging into the mud under the water bodies, and staying there during the winter.
While under water, the turtles rely on the energy reserves they had built up during the warmer months.
Their metabolic needs are low during hibernation. Therefore those energy reserves are enough to keep them going.
As for oxygen, they get it through from the water around them (using the blood vessels that are in contact with the water).
People often ask, do water turtles hibernate in the winter? And the answer is yes, though the hibernation they go into doesn’t entail sleeping completely.
It allows them to make some slight movements. Therefore rather than being true hibernation, it is really a form of brumation.
Another frequent question: when do water turtles hibernate? They hibernate at the start of winter. But they usually start preparing for hibernation in late autumn.
How Do Pet Turtles Hibernate?
Pet turtles obviously don’t have the option of digging into the mud at the bottom of a water body to hibernate there. But hibernation for pet turtles is still a possibility.
One way in which people get their pet turtles to hibernate is by providing them with insulated boxes.
Another way in which people get their pet turtles to hibernate is by putting them in the fridge.
If you put the turtle in fridge with a temperature setting of, say, 5 degrees Celsius, it will go into hibernation.
Of course, before allowing a pet turtle to hibernate, one needs to be sure that it is strong enough to withstand hibernation.
Hibernation is a taxing state to be in. Underweight, sick and very young turtles are often unable to survive it.
So it is best to take your turtle for a pre-hibernation health check-up.
You will also need to prepare the turtle for hibernation by, among other things, reducing its food supply.
Reducing its food supply is essential, because you don’t want it to go into hibernation with anything in its digestive tract.
If you don’t want your pet turtle to hibernate, all you need to do is ensure that the temperature and light conditions in its enclosure remain stable.
On the other hand, if you want your turtle to hibernate, you need to stop providing supplementary heating or lighting.
In response to the temperature and lighting changes that take place during late autumn and early winter, the turtle will automatically start going into hibernation.
If you are in the business of breeding turtles, allowing them to hibernate can increase chances of success.
When Do Turtles Hibernate?
Turtles hibernate during the winter. They start preparing to hibernate during late autumn. Then they go into hibernation during the winter.
Of course, in answering the when do turtles hibernate question, it is important to point out that the state of dormancy they go into is not true hibernation. On the contrary, it is more of brumation, rather than true hibernation.
It is a state of dormancy, but not complete sleep. So you find that the turtles are dormant, but they can still make minor movements.
Often, people who pose the when do turtles hibernate question also want to know when do terrapins hibernate?
That is because knowing when terrapins hibernate can give hints on when do turtles hibernate.
In both cases, the answer is that preparation for hibernation starts in late autumn. The actual hibernation is in winter though.
This works out to between October and November to between March and April in most parts of the US.
Where Do Turtles Hibernate?
Turtles that live in water bodies typically hibernate in the mud at the bottom of those water bodies.
Turtles that live on land – like box turtles – typically hibernate in holes that they dig in loose soil, typically beneath fallen leaves.
In answering this question (on where do turtles hibernate), we are in effect answering another one. That is the one on what do turtles do in the winter time?
So what the turtles do in the winter time is hibernate. And they hibernate in the mud at the bottom of the water bodies in which they live. Or they hibernate in holes that they dig in loose soil, typically beneath leaves. The latter is for land turtles, such as box turtles.
So that answers the question on where do turtles hibernate in the winter.
How Long Do Turtles Hibernate?
This question – on how long do turtles hibernate – is another one we encounter frequently in discussions that deal with this subject.
So, indeed, how long do turtles hibernate? Turtles typically hibernate for around 3 months. But some have capability to remain in hibernation for as many as 8 months, if conditions require them to do so.
In most places, wintry conditions remain for around 3 months. And that is also the duration for which the turtles remain in hibernation.
So if you have been wondering how long do turtles hibernate in the winter, there is your answer.
Since turtle hibernation takes the form of brumation, this also answers the question on how long do turtles brumate?
Someone may ask: do turtles eat less in the winter when they are in hibernation? And the answer is ‘yes’. In fact, most of them don’t eat at all during this period.
They rely on the energy reserves they had accumulated during the warmer months.
What Do Turtles Look Like When They Hibernate?
More often than not, alongside the how do turtles hibernate question comes this one: on what turtles look like when they hibernate.
In actual fact, turtles that are in hibernation look as if they are dead. They don’t move much. And they breathe very slowly. Their hearts beat very slowly (sometimes like once in 10 minutes).
They of course also don’t eat. And their temperatures drop greatly.
Then again, the people who pose the what do turtles look like when they hibernate question often also pose this one: how do I know if my turtle is hibernating or dead?
Or to put it differently, is my turtle dead or asleep? How do I know if my turtle is dead or in brumation?
The answer is first in knowing, what does a dead turtle look like? Then understand what a hibernating turtle looks like. Thereafter, you can differentiate the two states.
The answer is that a dead turtle’s skin looks loose or completely sunken. But a hibernating turtle’s skin is still somewhat taut.
A dead turtle doesn’t respond to stimuli. But a hibernating turtle will respond – albeit slowly – to strong stimulation: like poking in its cloaca.
A dead turtle will eventually start to decompose. But a hibernating turtle won’t decompose. So there are many ways to tell if your turtle is dead or hibernating.
When Do Turtles Come Out Of Hibernation?
Yet another question that typically comes up, alongside the how do turtles hibernate question, is on when they come out of hibernation.
Turtles come out of hibernation once winter is over, and temperatures (as well as daylight hours) start increasing. So that is at the end of winter and the start of spring.
In most parts of the US, this is roughly between March and April.
My Turtle Is Hibernating – What To Do?
Turtle care in winter typically entails dealing with hibernation. That is because, as we noted earlier, turtles winter survival in the wild depends on their ability to hibernate – or at least brumate.
If your turtle is hibernating, you need to provide it with an insulated box in which to spend the hibernation period.
You may also place it in a fridge, with temperature set at 5 degrees Celsius, to get it to start hibernating immediately.
Check it regularly, during hibernation, for signs of infection. If you spot those, take it to the vet urgently.
If the turtle’s skin gets too dry, soak it. Also ensure that the turtle doesn’t fall prey to predators, if it is hibernating outside.
Check its weight regularly too, during hibernation. If it falls too drastically, get the turtle out of hibernation (through gradual warming), and start feeding it again.
Final Verdict – Do Turtles Hibernate
Turtles that are in places where temperatures drop greatly during the winter do hibernate. More specifically, they go into a state of dormancy known as brumation.
They typically hibernate in mud, under the water bodies they live in. Land turtles hibernate in holes they dig in loose soil, typically beneath fallen leaves.
In hibernation, the turtles slow down their metabolism. They rely on the energy reserves built during the warmer months.
And as for breathing, they draw oxygen from the water using the blood vessels that are in contact with the water – mainly those in the cloaca.
Owners of pet turtles have the choice to either allow or not allow them to go into hibernation.
Hibernation for pet turtles may entail placement in insulated boxes or in the fridges with temperature set at 5 degrees Celsius.
Underweight, sick or very young pet turtles shouldn’t be allowed to hibernate.