DEFINITION- Brumation is the equivalent in reptiles to mammalian hibernation. Brumating reptiles "shut down" their bodies and typically stop eating, drinking, and defecating once in full brumation. During brumation, the animal's growth and development are temporarily stopped. This period can last for several weeks. They often wake up to drink water and return to "sleep". They can go for months without food. Reptiles may want to eat more than usual before the brumation time but eat less or refuse food as the temperature drops. During the first year of life, many small reptiles do not fully brumate, but rather slow down and eat less often. Brumation should not be confused with hibernation; when mammals hibernate, they are actually asleep; when reptiles brumate, they are less active, and their metabolism slows down so they just do not need to eat as often. Reptiles can often go through the whole winter without eating. Brumation is triggered by lack of heat and the decrease in the hours of daylight in winter.
WHEN- If you have been a reptile keeper for any time, you've probably noticed that your animals tend to slow down a bit in the fall. This can happen very naturally, without artificial changes to lighting or heat. This is brumation. If your reptiles are near a natureal light source, or if they enjoy the outdoors if you live in a southern state, the effect can be more pronounced.
WHY- Brumatoin is natures way of telling cold blooded animals it is time to slow down and rest for a season. Feeding slows/stops as their metabolism does the same. Why should we send our animals through this process? Two reasons. First it is better for their health if properly brumated. This is what they do in nature. Brumation giving them a natural break. Also, some will say their animals breed better. We have been brumating our leopard and crested geckos for years and it seems when they come out of brumation, they eat like a tiger and are ready to breed.
It is ultimately important that you know your animals and their needs. The closer to the equator your reptile naturally occurs, the less need it has to brumation. In cooler climate, animals are more reliant to brumation.
HOW- In nature, animals recognize this change of seasons and will head off on their own to find a secluded log, crevis, or may even dig/find a tight hole to crawl into and then go into a state of 'suspended animation;. In captivity, we can control this with the light cycle and any artifical heat we offer. We can also provide a safe area to their needs.
As important as providing your reptiles the opportunity to brumate, it is as important, or more so to prepare them first for the event. The one mistake often made is not brumating in steps. We adjust temperatures and light cycles in 3 steps. Each step drops the light hours in the day and the temperatures incrementally until the 3rd step which results in both finally arriving at the winter brumation. This allows the animals to adjust to their environmental changes gradually. If one drops temperatures in one stop, food may sit in the animal's stomach undigested and rot causing great damage and even death in the animal. Sometimes overlooked is the need to adjust lighting as well as temperatures. This can easily be done using a simple timer. With each step, move the morning and the evening times up by the desired amount.
During brumation, provide fresh, clean water but no food! This is most difficult for reptile keepers. We all want to make sure our animals are as healthy as possible. However, at lower temperatures, the animals do not need eat and the extra food will be damaging to their health.
SPECIAL NOTES- We never brumate animals that are a year or less in the Supreme Gecko facility. While our rooms will cool down, we keep heat tape/heat cable running on the younger animals.
As an example in our facility, our crested adults are usually maintained around 72-78 during the day with temperature drops to around 70 at night. Leopards are maintained at 82 degrees (hot spot around 92-94 degrees) and drop to about 74 degrees at night. In the winter time, the crested gecko's temperatures drop to about 68 during the day and 64 at night. Leopards are maintained around 70 degrees and drop into the high 60s at night. Light cycles from from 14 hours a day to around 8 hours a day.
There are specific steps to helping your reptiles come out of brumation Continue reading about brumation at Reptile Brumation – Coming out of the ‘Deep Sleep’.