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All About Reptile Brumation | Everything You Need to Know

All About Reptile Brumation | Everything You Need to Know

All About Reptile Brumation | Everything You Need to Know

What is Brumation?

Brumation is a natural physiological process that some reptiles undergo that is similar to hibernation in mammals. During brumation, these reptiles enter a period of dormancy, usually in response to changes in temperature and light cycles. They become less active, reduce their food intake, and often spend extended periods resting. Brumation typically occurs in the winter or colder months and helps reptiles conserve energy while their metabolic rate sharply decreases. This behavior is a part of their natural cycle, and it can also occur in captivity when environmental conditions are suitable. It's important for keepers to provide the right conditions for brumation and monitor their reptile’s health during this time.

What is the Difference Between Brumation and Hibernation?

Brumation and hibernation are both forms of dormancy that various animals, including reptiles and mammals, undergo to survive adverse environmental conditions, but there are some key differences between the two:

  1. Species:

   - Brumation is primarily observed in reptiles, amphibians, and other cold-blooded animals.

   - Hibernation is predominantly seen in mammals, although a few species of birds and insects also exhibit similar behavior.

  1. Temperature Regulation:

   - Brumation often occurs in response to cooler temperatures, and reptiles that brumate are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is influenced by their environment.

   - Hibernation is usually triggered by cold temperatures, but mammals that hibernate are endothermic, meaning they can regulate their internal body temperature and often enter a state of torpor where their body temperature drops significantly.

  1. Metabolism:

   - During brumation, a reptile's metabolic rate decreases significantly, but it doesn't drop as dramatically as in hibernating mammals.

   - Hibernating mammals experience a profound drop in their metabolic rate, with reduced heart rate, respiration, and energy consumption.

  1. Duration:

   - Brumation can vary in duration, from a few weeks to several months, depending on the species and environmental conditions.

   - Hibernation typically lasts for several months, with some mammals hibernating throughout the entire winter season.

  1. Purpose:

   - Brumation in reptiles helps them conserve energy and avoid extreme environmental conditions, preparing them for future breeding and activity.

   - Hibernation in mammals is primarily a survival strategy to endure food scarcity and harsh winter conditions when foraging is limited.

  1. Frequency:

   - Some reptiles, like bearded dragons and tegus, may brumate annually, while others may not brumate every year.

   - Many hibernating mammals, such as bears and groundhogs, hibernate each winter.

What Species of Reptiles Brumate in Captivity?

Several reptile species may undergo brumation in captivity, mirroring their natural behaviors. While not an exhaustive list, some common reptiles that may brumate in captivity include bearded dragons, Argentine tegus, leopard geckos, corn snakes, and king snakes.

Do I Need to Brumate My Reptile if They Naturally Brumate in the Wild?

No, you do not need to brumate your reptile if they are a species that naturally brumates. However, we are now learning that allowing reptiles to seasonally cycle may be beneficial for their health, and may even prolong their lifespan. It is recommended to allow reptiles to brumate if you notice that they are attempting to do so, instead of trying to keep them awake.  

How Do I Know If My Reptile Is Trying to Go Into Brumation?

A few signs that your reptile may be about to go into brumation is reduced appetite, sleeping more, and hanging out in the cooler areas of the enclosure instead of basking. 

Oftentimes, owners will get worried that their reptile is becoming ill, because the signs of a reptile about to brumate and a reptile becoming sick can look quite similar. The main telltale sign that a reptile is sick and not brumating is weight loss. A brumating reptile will not lose significant amounts of body weight while resting, even without eating anything at all. Due to their slower metabolism and cooler temperatures, a brumating reptile can survive on fat stores without depleting their body of essential reserves.   

Can I Keep My Reptile From Brumating?

It is not advised to disturb your reptile to keep them from brumating unless your animal is sick, young, or otherwise weak and your veterinarian advises you to do so. Even with keeping your lights and temperature consistent in your reptile's enclosure, some reptiles will still brumate. Keeping temperatures high while a reptile is brumating can cause their metabolism to remain high, which can lead to significant weight loss. It is best to let your reptile brumate if they choose to, and ensure you are providing the ideal conditions for them to do so safely.

Do Pet Reptiles Need to Brumate to Survive?

It is not necessary for captive reptiles to brumate to survive. Thanks to our ability to provide consistent food, water, and heat all year round, reptiles do not need to brumate to endure the colder months. However, as mentioned, brumating is a natural process that may benefit the health and longevity of your pet. 

It is debated whether some reptile species need to undergo a cooling period to reproduce efficiently. Some breeders report fertility issues and smaller clutch/litter sizes when attempting to breed animals that have not been cooled. 

Reduced daylight hours and cooler temperatures signal to the female reptile's body to prepare for ovulation, and for the male's bodies to begin producing sperm. In some species, it is thought that males will not produce fertile sperm unless adequately cooled.

In tropical species that do not brumate, the reduction in daylight hours as well as change in moisture levels (triggered by a dry or wet season) encourages breeding behavior. The result is the animal's offspring being born or hatching during spring/early summer when resources are abundant.

How to Prepare for Brumation

If you have decided that you would like to replicate the natural seasonal cycle for your pets, or you have an animal that naturally brumates every year, there are a few things you can do to prepare your pet for their winter slumber.

In the several weeks leading up to anticipated or planned brumation, you can begin feeding foods that are higher in fat or increasing the overall frequency of feeding. This will allow your animal to store a bit of excess fat. Remember, a healthy animal in brumation does not burn through all of their fat reserves, so you should not be noticing a significant loss of body condition in your brumating reptile.

Two to three weeks before brumation begins, meals should reduce drastically in lizards, and cease in snakes. This gives the reptile a chance to adequately digest and clear their system of any food before cooling. Animals that are fed too close to cooling may run the risk of food sitting in their digestive tract due to their inability to digest adequately, which can be fatal. 

Research the typical conditions of brumation for your pet, as this can vary widely species by species. For example, North American colubrids are typically cooled for around 3 months, black and white tegus can brumate for up to 8 months, while bearded dragons can brumate from a few weeks up to 6 months! Humidity requirements for each reptile may vary during brumation as well. 

Now that you have learned about the process of brumation, you are better equipped to provide the proper conditions for your scaly friend this winter! While it can be sad to have your pet resting for a few months, remember that brumation could be the key to your reptile living a longer, healthier life! 




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