Updated April 12, 2022
hibernation, brumation, Torpor? All three can be describe as a period of inactivity where an animal's body temperature, heart rate, metabolic rate, and respiratory rate naturally drop. Hibernation is a deeper and longer version of Torpor, with the hibernator not able to easily wake to escape deadly situations or search for food. (*Fun fact bears are not true hibernators, they go into a state of torpor) Ground squirrels, deer mice, and some types of bats are true hibernators.
The term Hibernation is for warm-blooded animals, while Brumation is for cold-blooded ones. Mammals need to eat as much as possible before Torpor or hibernation VS cold-blooded animals that gradually slow down eating, eventually stopping altogether before brumation. Reptiles need heat to be able to digest their food. When it becomes too cold for them to do this, the food may sit in their digestive tract and rot - which can prove fatal.
why do reptiles brumate? Reptiles that naturally live in climates that have cold seasonal shifts primarily brumate to survive temperatures that would otherwise kill them, or make their prey scarce. It is also a way to conserve energy. In the wild, the animals would receive cues for this shift via hormonal fluctuations, humidity shifts, air pressure changes, and the decrease of hours of sunlight. Even in captivity, our reptiles can still sense these shifts. Some may choose to brumate on their own.
It is interesting to note that we keep all of our Western Hognoses in the same type of environment and we will see the odd one chose to slow down. Almost always it is a male.
Anytime an animal has stopped eating for a few weeks in a row, and it's not in the animal's favour, we temporarily down-size their enclosure. After a couple of weeks, they eat fantastically and can be up-sized again.
health Any animal being brumated needs to be in peak health. Never brumate an animal with an RI (Respiratory Infection) or underweight/dehydrated. Once temperatures are lowered, a minor health issue can become dire. If an animal is healthy when it first goes into brumation but look to be becoming ill, that animal will need to be gradually warmed up, re-introduced to the correct heated temperatures and possibly put on medication. Consult a reptile knowledgeable vet if you are concerned about the health of your animal.
duration Brumation will vary between species, and your location. Here in Canada native reptiles (and captive) naturally brumate earlier and for longer periods due to the light cycles and colder weather. Typically we start the brumation process in October. Wild Western Hognoses in Canada have been known to brumate up to 7 months! Most Western Hognose breeders set brumation to last around 3-4 months.
is brumation needed for breeding? The short answer is no, however, brumating your breeding animals can help time when to pairing based on ovulation cycles. (*Note not all females will have a ovulation shed, and is not required.) Fertility wise, we have noticed it is more important for breeding success to brumate Western Hognose males. (That has been the case here.)
does my pet need to be brumated? No. folks not looking to breed their pet Western Hognose, and many other types of reptiles do not need to create a brumating environment. Some animals may naturally slow down, eat less, and do a type of brumation. Unless they are losing weight or appear to be ill, there is no cause for alarm. Just ride it out until they perk back up in the spring/late spring.
our western hognose brumation process
October 1st (or desired date)
Stop feeding at the start of October. We wait two weeks to allow the food to fully pass. An empty stomach is crucial for brumating. We downsize our animals as in the wild they would be brumating in small mamal's dens. We leave their water dishes in with them, providing fresh water.
October 15th (two weeks after start)
Fully Inspect all brumating animals. Cover all brumating racks with dark fabric to reduce light. Reduce heat gradually over a week until it is lowered to 55°F/12°C.
Check on once a week, top-up water/spot clean if needed. We do a fast but thorough inspection of each animal. Any that look like they are not brumating well. (Any animals with weight loss, looking dehydrated, or sick, etc. get pulled from brumation. They are gradually warmed and treated accordingly.
Brumate until early January (or desired date.)
We usually brumate for 3-4 months, some breeders have had success doing as short as one month. We feel that is less natural and puts the reptile through a lot of change in a short amount of time. Each to their own.
Remove dark coverings. Increase heat over a week until it is back to normal.
Hot Side - 90 °F / 32.2 °C - 93 °F / 33.9 °C (Max)
Cold Side - 75 °F / 23.9 °C - 80 °F / 26.7 °C
Jan 22 (one week after waking animals.)
Feed brumating animals a small meal. Jan 27/29th (5-7 days after first meal) Feed a regular-sized meal. After 2-3 days after feeding we pair the animals. Depending on how voracious the females are, or if they need to build more muscle, we might wait until they have had more meals. We watch for a couple of minutes to see if the female is showing any signs that she would rather her mate as a meal.
Do not be alarmed if your breeding male/s do not want food. They may just be too focused on breeding, which is natural in the wild.