Ask any tortoise owner, and they will tell you that the scariest thing is when putting your tortoise into hibernation. There are many areas we need to educate ourselves on when it comes to hibernation. When it comes to backyard hibernation, your worries are no different from any other setting.
It is fair to say you can never be too careful when it comes to hibernation, but there is no need to be fearful of the process. Being underprepared is when you will encounter problems, so learn the process, and you will be good to go.
Yes, your tortoise can hibernate in your yard or back garden. In the wild, tortoises construct their burrows for hibernation in some very inhospitable places and survive without problems. Your yard can offer the same if not better hibernation location than your tortoise would have in the wild.
With that said, your tortoise is likely to encounter some dangers just as they would in the wild. Planning for these problems before they arise is key to having a successful hibernation. We dig into some of the issues you may face and how to overcome them to better prepare for your tortoise yard hibernation.
Can my Tortoise Hibernate in the Yard?
Some species of tortoises hibernate during the colder months of the year. In the wild, tortoises hibernate on their own, outside, in their natural environment. This begs the question, can your pet tortoise hibernate outside?
The answer to that question is yes! Your pet tortoise can indeed hibernate outside in your yard, even if it is a pet. However, this might not always be the best for your tortoise, and there are some things you need to know before you turn your sleepy tortoise loose for the winter in the garden.
Problems you May Face Backyard Hibernating
You need to be aware of a few environmental hazards if you are going to try and let your tortoise hibernate outside in a natural or semi-natural setting.
All of these issues can potentially be fatal and need to be taken exceptionally seriously before considering letting your tortoise hibernate outside.
Let us take a look at some of the biggest problems you are likely to face and how to tackle them before they even happen.
One thing that people often overlook is the potential for your tortoise burrow to become flooded. During a hard rain, even an unexpected or rare rain, water can seep down into the tortoise burrow and drown your snoozing pet.
Many places feature dry winters but not all of them. Before you let your tortoise burrow or before you choose a place to build them a burrow, you need to make sure that the ground is not easily saturated and has no prior history of flooding.
Hibernating tortoises do not have the wherewithal to notice something like water flowing into their burrow, and they can easily drown if you are not careful.
Similar to rain, frost can be deadly to a hibernating reptile. Burrows needs to be dug sufficiently deep in order to avoid getting affected by surface-level frosts and freezes. If you dig your burrow too shallow and frost gets into the burrow, it can kill the tortoise.
Similarly, temperature regulation is extremely important in order to maintain a hibernating tortoise.
If the temperatures drop too low, the tortoise will freeze to death in its burrow. If the temperatures get too hot, the tortoise will wake up prematurely, ruin its hibernation schedule, metabolism, and even lead to an early death.
Lastly, you need to be aware of local predators. If you are in an area where burrowing predators are common, you have to secure your tortoise burrow to protect it from being eaten while it hibernates.
If a predator happens across a hibernating tortoise, it will not hesitate to claim an easy meal.
These are some of the most dangerous hazards your tortoise can face while hibernating outside on its own, and they are not dissimilar to the same threats they would face in the wild.
Be sure to keep all of these things in mind, so you do not put your tortoise at risk during an outdoor hibernation.
Maybe the most significant concern we have as tortoise owners are maintaining the perfect temperature throughout our tortoise hibernation.
The temperature gets too hot, and our tortoise will awake early from hibernation. Too cold, and the tortoise’s essential metabolic functions will be unable to work correctly. Both situations have the potential to lead to an early death.
In order to maintain the temperature of your hibernation burrow, it is suggested that you embed a wireless thermometer within the burrow that you can check from your home. Keeping a steady natural temperature is imperative for a successful outdoor hibernation.
Before the tortoise is ready to hibernate, you have to make sure that the burrow is appropriately insulated.
It is deep enough to avoid the severe temperature swings of the surface, and that it is sealed will not let in cold air or water.
If you see temperatures fluctuating from within the burrow, you have to be prepared to carefully alter or insulate the burrow to maintain a consistent temperature.
If you live in a part of the world where you don’t feel you can maintain the correct temperature over the whole period, then other places to hibernate will need to be considered.
An insulated cardboard box in the garage would be the next best place after your yard. You will need to make sure your garage has no heating, which they generally are not.
Helping Your Tortoise Hibernating in the Yard
If you have an indoor tortoise that you think would be better suited to hibernating outside, you can construct or modify an existing outdoor structure to fit your needs.
Anything that is cool, dark, dry, and easy to maintain can be a suitable hibernation habitat.
Things such as sheds, garages, and garden boxes could potentially be used to house your tortoise as it hibernates.
If your tortoise already lives outside, it might start to prepare its own hibernation burrow within its habitat.
You can keep an eye on its activity, help add insulation and embed that thermometer so you can keep a safe eye on your tortoise as it makes its final preparations.
Tortoise Hibernating Naturally in the Yard
If you want to allow your tortoise to hibernate in the yard naturally, on its own, you certainly can, but it carries more risk than an assisted hibernation.
Natural burrows will not have the added insulation and thermometer that you can add to help monitor your tortoise.
In fact, you might not be able to find and get to your tortoise at all, meaning if something goes awry, you will not be in a position to notice or know about it.
However, tortoises naturally have the instinct to burrow and hibernate when the time is right.
You should only allow your tortoise to hibernate naturally outside on its own if it is a tortoise that already lives outside year-round on its own, to begin with.
Your tortoise should know what to do by its instinct, but allowing it to behave completely naturally can lead to situations out of your control down the road.
If you are worried about your tortoise’s health pre-hibernation, during, or after hibernation, be sure to consult with your veterinarian.
It might be a good idea to have your tortoise get a check-up before hibernation season, so you know the whole health situation for your pet before it begins to hibernate.
Leaning how much your tortoise should weigh is a must if you want to help them through hibernation successfully. After a successful hibernation period, you have to do a little Feeding a Tortoise After Hibernation with the best foods.
If you are prepared to take on some risk and monitoring responsibilities, you can safely let your tortoise naturally hibernate outside.
It is a scary process and something that feels totally unnatural to us as humans. However, with some careful planning, the process becomes second nature after a few times. It is believed that a tortoise that hibernates lives a longer life.