Brumation is a period of dormancy in reptiles. It is similar to hibernation in mammals. During brumation, reptiles shut down their bodies to conserve energy. They may not move, defecate, drink, or eat for several weeks. When reptiles are about to brumate, they migrate to underground burrows or the darkest, coolest part of their habitat. Reptiles brumate any time within the year, unlike bears who hibernate during a specified season. During this season, reptiles do not respond to normal stimuli such as prodding and poking. Males occasionally emerge from brumation before females.
Reptiles That Brumate
The bearded dragon is the most brumating of all the known reptiles. Their brumation pattern is highly unpredictable and it may brumate every year, through the season, for a short period, or never at all. Some bearded dragons might brumate on and off during a season. Other animals that brumate include certain species of turtles, snakes, tortoises, and some amphibians such as frogs.
Why Do Reptiles Brumate?
Reptiles are ectothermic organisms meaning that their temperature varies depending on the environmental conditions and they must, therefore, adapt to the nature around them. Sudden climatic changes affect the metabolism rate of animals forcing them to adopt extreme measures to survive. Brumation is a survival strategy hardwired into these animals over thousands of years. The Russian tortoise, for example, experiences over 100 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, but temperatures in the winter fall far below the freezing point. It brumates during the winter to conserve energy and keep warm. Sub-tropical animals especially those found along the equator do not undergo “true brumation,” but they may slow down on food intake and limit their movement.
Differences Between Brumation and Hibernation
There are key differences between hibernating animals and brumating reptiles. Hibernating animals remain asleep the entire season and do not drink while brumating reptiles may emerge from sleep to drink water and eat. The reptile may stay active for a couple of days before returning to the deep sleep.
Brumation for Pet Reptiles
Reptile pets do not need to brumate because they are subjected to the same climatic conditions as humans. However, brumation is innate, and some pets may instinctively venture into a deep sleep. To prevent pets from brumating altogether, it is essential to maintain the correct temperature, lighting, and feeding pattern. It is also important to keep the animal engaged in physical activities. To prepare their reptiles for brumation in readiness for the winter season, pet owners should ensure that they have enough body fat, free of both external and internal parasites, and encouraging defecation by soaking them in water and massaging the belly. Sick reptiles risk dying during brumation.