Do Box Turtles Hibernate? | How Do BOX Turtles Hibernate?

Do Box Turtles Hibernate? Technically speaking, box turtles do not hibernate. They brumate. For North American Box Turtles, it is natural to brumate (winter cool-down). It allows them to survive the extreme conditions in the winter season when food is scarce, and the temperature is low. 

As turtles fall into the reptile family for them, brumation is referred to as hibernation. In this article, I will deeply explain this point. Box Turtles Hibernate if you are interested in the hibernation of your pet turtle, then it is advisable to create an adequate environment indoors. You should never ever allow your box turtle to hibernate outdoors. 

Note: Gulf Coast Box Turtles and Florida Box Turtles are two species that hardly hibernate. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of hibernation of box turtles?

Hibernation has a bunch of drawbacks even if you carry it out with proper care and precautions because there is a chance that your pet box turtle will die. If you own a diseased and unfit box turtle, it is less likely to survive. Even healthy and young ones can die during the period of hibernation. 

It is only advisable to allow hibernation when it is indispensable. Ensure that the temperature inside the box (make it a turtle hibernation box) remains ceaseless throughout the winter if you want to push your box turtle into the hibernation period. You can only maintain the temperature if the box is kept inside. 

The turtle breeders say the cooler spell assures an affluent breeding season. Breeding activity stimulates when the temperatures return to normal after the cooler spell. If you own several turtles kept outside, it can be challenging to house them inside during winter. Consequently, it may lead to overcrowding among box turtles in their enclosures indoors. 

Winter is tough to deal with for your turtles, so you can take the chance to house them all inside the indoor enclosure. During hibernation, chelonians usually do not move and rouse that much. In this case, hibernation may be the by-default choice for you. 

How long do box turtles hibernate?

When do box turtles hibernate? Hibernation is directly linked with the shift in seasons. Turtles prepare for hibernation when the winter starts and the temperature becomes low. Box turtles in the wild search for space to hide and spend their winter in the hibernation period. They move and eat less during this time to survive the winter season. 

What months do box turtles hibernate? In North America, the Winter season starts from mid of October and lasts till the end of February. So, wild box turtles enter into their burrow and remain there till the spring season. They only have to survive by doing less activity and sleeping all the time to save their energy. 

How deep do box turtles dig to hibernate?

Wild turtles dig 2ft (60cm) deep to hibernate in the winter. The area is safe from winds and falling snow, so they keep their body temperature normal without eating. For pet turtles, you can create an artificial hibernation den. It helps you keep an eye on the health of your turtle and monitor temperature as well. 

do box turtles hibernate

How to prepare a proper environment for your box turtle hibernation indoors?

Follow these steps if you want to create an adequate environment, so your pet box turtle can hibernate indoors:

Prepare For Hibernation

Hibernation is not like shelling peas. You must plan it properly if you do not want the turtle to die. The planning part includes taking appointments from a herp vet regarding your turtle’s health, changing its diet routine, building a turtle hibernation box, and fasting the chelonian. Each of these steps is crucial for the box turtle’s survival. 

Step 1: Consult With A Vet

Pet owners typically do not consider regular checkups essential to pet maintenance. Truthfully, they do not take their pet box turtle to the vet unless and until the pet becomes ill. Even close to the ground, the infection can kill a hibernating turtle. I urge you to consult a pet doctor before hibernating your box turtle. 

Professional vets are capable of tracking down those infections that you can not even if you are a box turtle keeper for years. A vet may carry out some medical tests of chelonian such as blood tests, x-ray, and take fecal specimens for parasites. You can not do that work by yourself at home.

If a herp vet is unavailable, you should not hibernate your turtle if you find the following signs in it. 

  • Weight loss
  • Swollen body parts
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Cuts, wounds, and any injury
  • Discharge from eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Shell rot

Step 2: Change Box Turtle’s Diet

Make required changes in your pet’s diet if you are planning to hibernate it. Feed your box turtle food rich in Vitamin A. If your diet is already high in Vitamin A, then you have to continue this routine. The fact is leafy and green vegetables are a primary source of Vitamin A. 

Some other vegetables that are high in Vitamin A are the following

  • Carrots
  • Dandelions Greens
  • Squash
  • Collard Greens
  • Broccoli

Animal foods that are a great source of Vitamin A are:

  • Pinkie Mice
  • Fish
  • Cod Liver Oil
  • Beef

Note: Other than the mentioned foods, many more options contain high amounts of Vitamin A. 

Step 3: Before Hibernation, Fast Your Box Turtle For 10 Days

From the end of the summer, you should increase the amount of fiber in the diet of your box turtle. These are fiber-rich food options for your pet: 

  • Timothy hay
  • Alfalfa
  • Grasses
  • Weeds

Box Turtles require less time to digest food as compared to tortoises. 10 to 14 days before hibernation, you should end up feeding the chelonian. Doing this will safeguard your turtle as the undigested food in its digestive tract can lead to infection and decay.

Step 4: Ensure Your Box Turtle Is Fully Hydrated

During the fast, keep your turtle fully hydrated by putting it in a bowl of slightly warm water once every two days. Thirty minutes are enough for this procedure. Water should not be more than ¾ inch deep to prevent drowning. Remember that drinking water should be clean and fresh to avoid any tragedy.

Step 5: Monitor Weight

Right before the start of hibernation, weigh the box turtle. Once the hibernation starts, weigh your pet every 2 to 3 weeks. Within a month, a box turtle should not lose more than 1 percent of its total body weight. For example, if your turtle has a 2.5 Kg weight and loses more than 25g in a month, you should stop its hibernation. Severe starvation is the leading cause of death among box turtles during hibernation.

Step 6: Lower The Temperature Of The Box Turtle’s Enclosure

Slowly reduce the box enclosure’s temperature during the initial week of the hibernation process. Keep the temperature to 18°C (65°F) for the early three days. Lower the temperature to 16°C (60°F) over the following two days. Moreover, reduce the temperature to 9 to 10°C (48 to 50°F).

Step 7: Decide Where To Accommodate Your Pet Box Turtle

Hibernaculum is another name for a hibernation box. Box turtles can be hibernated both indoors and outdoors. Still, I recommend you to use a hibernation box for this purpose, as it allows you to effortlessly shift its position and examine your pet whenever you want. You need to prepare the hibernation area even if you are allowing your turtle to hibernate outdoors.

Step 8 – Built A Hibernaculum

The box inside a box hibernaculum is a popular choice. A hibernaculum can be any box in which a turtle can hibernate. It is not complex to make. Follow the below-given steps to create it. 

  • Place a small box inside a large box
  • Put the layer of insulative material such as shredded newspaper between the larger box and smaller box where the smaller box is over the layer. It acts to give insulation. Polystyrene and packing foam can be an alternative materials to shredded newspaper. 
  • Make sure the box is capable enough to accommodate the turtle and allow movement. 
  • In the box, there should be some substrate that allows the turtle to bury itself within it. You can use moss, coco coir, and shredded paper. A mix of damped moss and shredded paper can be an excellent choice as a substrate. 
  • Create a lid in the larger box by drilling some holes for ventilation. To frequently check the temperature inside the hibernaculum, place the thermometer inside.
  • Position the hibernaculum where it can get natural light. 

Carry Out The Hibernation Process

The temperature inside the hibernation box should be low enough to ensure that the hibernation process progresses and high enough to ensure that the turtle does not freeze. During hibernation, the turtle will remain active in the box if the temperature is not too low to enable hibernation. 

Routinely weighing your turtle will help you infer whether it is losing its body fat too fast or not. If you notice that it has lost 1% of its body weight, end the hibernation process. The temperature must be between 1.6C (35F) to 10C (50F). Ideally, it should be 4.5C (40F).

Step 1: Keep Check On Temperature Daily

There can be various spots in your house where you can place the box turtle hibernation box. The garage, basement, and shed are some ideal positions where you can house box turtles while they hibernate. No matter where you place the box enclosure, you should ensure that the temperature is optimum and the predator cannot attack your pet. In addition, the temperature should not go down below 2°C (35°F) and high above 10°C (50°F). 

Step 2: Examine Box Turtle Every 2 Weeks

To confirm that the box turtle is healthy, inspect it every two weeks. During the examination, check its moisture level, activist level, appearance, and weight. 

  • As I have said above, during the inspection, check whether the chelonian has lost more than 1° of its total weight or not. 
  • Check the substrate. If it is moldy, replace it, and if it is dry, moisten it.
  • If you notice that the turtle’s skin is drier than normal or if it has urinated, these are the clear signs. In this case, rehydrate the turtle in tepid water and put it back into the box enclosure.
do box turtles hibernate in winter

Why should you stop the box turtle hibernation process?

Hibernation is a harsh period for unhealthy box turtles. They may show signs of bad health, and in some cases, they die. If that happens, then immediately stop the hibernation process. Stop the hibernation period if any of the following is true:

  • If your turtle keeps on moving and remains active during the hibernation period.
  • If a chelonian loses weight, more than 1% of its total body mass. 
  • If the box turtle excretes/urinates. 
  • If you notice your pet’s illness like wheezing and discharge from the nose, mouth, and ears.

What to do after a post-hibernation period of Box Turtle?

For breeding turtles, allow them to hibernate for 6 to 8 weeks in the Western and Northern U.S. Gradually increase the temperature after the hibernation process ends. Keep the temperature inside the hibernaculum at 15C (60F) for the initial two days. Increase the temperature to 19C (65F) for the following three days. 

Afterward, take the temperature inside the hibernaculum to 21C (70F) at the cooler end and 29.5C (85F) at the warm end. With each passing day, your pet box turtle is returning back to its normal state, soaking in the tepid water. It recommends doing that as it will make your turtle fully hydrated like the pre-hibernation stage.

Final Words

Box turtles’ hibernation is confusing. That is why many keepers question, ‘do box turtles hibernate.’ Hibernation is not required unless and until you want your box turtles to breed or you do not have enough space indoors to accommodate them during the winter season. If you have decided to hibernate your turtle, then follow my guideline. Never hibernate injured, ill, and unfit box turtles, as they are less likely to survive.

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Hey, I've done my Ph.D. in Marine Biology. I'm a turtle enthusiast and have been owning turtles for the last 22 years and dedicated to sharing my experience to help you in pet turtle upbringing.