Why do tortoises hibernate?

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Not all species of tortoise hibernate, but most Mediterranean breeds are not built to be awake and eating all year round. If you do own a pet tortoise, it’s important to find out whether your tortoise should be hibernating for part of the year and, if so, to hibernate your tortoise in a safe, comfortable box kept at the correct temperature. For now, let’s take a look at why tortoises often need to hibernate, even when they’re kept as pets.


Many tortoise breeds have hibernated in the wild for thousands of years, which means that modern tortoises are genetically geared for this kind of life cycle. Some common tortoise breeds that do hibernate include the Hermans tortoise, the Marginata tortoise and the Spur thigh tortoise. Conversely, Leopard tortoises and African spurred tortoises do not need to hibernate because their wild ancestors do not hibernate.

What purpose does hibernation serve?

Nobody knows exactly why tortoises hibernate in the wild, but some theories are floating around. Tortoises cannot maintain their own body temperature independent from environmental temperature, and hibernation is one way for a tortoise to exercise some control over its body temperature. The most common theory of tortoise hibernation is that period of dormancy and sleep halt growth which prevents the tortoise from growing too fast too quickly; winter hibernation in tortoises also results in a shutdown of hormones and a hormone surge in the spring, which could be a way of regulating the animals’ reproductive cycle.

How do I hibernate my tortoise?

It’s recommended that before hibernating your tortoise for the first time, you read a detailed guide to familiarise yourself with the dos and don’ts of tortoise hibernation. Generally, in hibernation, tortoises need to be kept in a small tub somewhere with a steady temperature between 3 and 7C. It is usually recommended that pet tortoises are not hibernated in the first year of life. At the same time, lighter tortoises should be hibernated less or for short periods of time to prevent too much weight loss.

Find out more about tortoise care.

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