FAQs About Turtle Overwintering/"Hibernating" Behavior
Shell Rot in Turtles,
Red Eared Slider Care,
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Freshwater turtle help. YBS, brumation
Each time I've done a search online I've come up with your site, so not sure
if it's okay i seek help here or not.
Our two turtles live together and are not in an aquarium but rather have
been in tubs with covers that they've continuously outgrown. I'll attach a
couple of small pics to add colour :o)
4 year old yellow -bellied slider (loc. Italy in climate
sim. to California)
Went into a type of brumation in November 2015 - still having trouble
getting it to wake /eat. (if I hold him he moves about with force to get out
of being held)
Tom (name) did not eat at all, but the other one did the entire time. Tom
however preferred to sleep/walk about occasionally and just stay on it's
I kept him out of water a bit but in the bathroom floor and perhaps I've
given him a cold/flu from perhaps a drafty area while out of water. I had
read turtles like to stay out of water occasionally during this time, so
each few days I put him in long enough to rehydrate (bottoms up :o) and swim
This lasted until about March.
He wheezed a bit on and off during the winter but it was slight so I didn't
worry about it. He (or she) also had swollen eyes at some point but they
seem to come
and go so I didn't think it was a vit. a def. as it was more so when tom was
out of the water. NOW - he's not eating so that's 5 months without food,
isn't listless per se but in water does not float and just goes to the
bottom to hide. They have an outdoor tank (rabbit cage/plastic bottom) that
i put them in on a sunny day to get their vitamins, I also did this in the
winter as I have for past 4 years without problem, only for a few hours at
the heat of the day and not on a windy day.
eye scratching with forearms
a lightish coloured spot on his head
not floating if I put him in the bathtub of warm water (as always been happy
to be on bottom, not a swimmer per se, normally walks slowly even in water)
sneezing or coughing under the water on and off (i have video of this which
could send via drop box if you like)
bubbles coming out of nose or mouth sometimes, when in water a weird
flicking/jerking of the head to the left or the right from time to time.
For the past 10 days I 've had him in inside in a small plastic tub keeping
him contained and alone, with a small water heater that heats the water 2
degrees more. Therm. reads about 22 - 25, so that would be about mid 70s.
But for me it feels fresh to the touch, not warm like a bath I'd want to
I thought it needed to be 70 degrees to eat and about 80 to get better, so
perhaps it's not hot enough. There appears no changes in him and I worry
that one day I'll just find him not moving at all b/c he starved to death.
I'm fairly sure he has a RTI /eye issue but how to treat and what to do is
beyond me. I contacted an exotic pet vet but she was an hour away and wanted
100 euro just to look at it or tell me anything, so i declined to try other
I hope this is the right avenue . I thought this would be a short email, so
sorry - so much for being brief :o) I look forward to any help you could
PS ( i read various posts on your site re illness etc. esp. the sleeping one
late 2015. )
<Brumation can be a problem because, as you essentially said, too awake to
sleep but too asleep to eat. The real concern is not eating, by the way.
Our concern for brumation is that there is food in his stomach that is
rotting instead of being digested. The treatment is pretty simple:
Dry-docking. Get him somewhere warm and dry were the temperature is around
32(c) 24 hours a day. Let his entire body warm up and get his metabolism
into motion again. Same treatment as if he was otherwise sick (dry-dock, UV
lights and a short bath each day) and let's see how he's doing after a week>
Yellow Bellied slider in Italy
I read your suggested pages and wonder if this is part of early brumation
process or a sick eye from the lack of Vit. a you talk about.
This turtle (one of two) is 3 years old now, and kept in water in the bath at
night and a 6" deep tank outside in the day where he/she gets full sun or shade
as it chooses.
For now we're experiencing temps of 50s at night and about 60 to 70 in the day.
I saw this red swollen eye problem in march last year and just presumed it was
part of the brumation, but now am wondering if it's the illness. here is a photo
from last year
which is the same as one eye that has begun closing now again.
I've never had any success getting any greens into them. They turn up their nose
at lettuce/tomato/veg in general. I've not tried plants though - would I get
them from a fish store?
Thank you in advance and I appreciate any help you may be able to offer me.
<Hello Anne. Turtles rarely, if ever, hibernate or brumate successfully in
captivity. As you may know, hibernating tortoises (i.e., terrestrial turtles) in
Europe is difficult and requires precise understanding of diet and healthy body
weight. Get these wrong and the animal will surely die.
Fortunately, it almost never arises with aquatic turtles because the conditions
indoors don't match those in the wild. It isn't cold enough for a start, and
there aren't the sorts of burrows or muddy substrates the animals would
naturally use. So when you see an aquatic turtle becoming torpid, it's almost
always a problem that needs investigating. I'd have you read this article first:
I'd then have you read here, scrolling down to the section on Swollen Eyes:
Re: Yellow Bellied slider in Italy
okay thank you - I thought they were getting the vit. a from their dried shrimp,
dried fish or fresh/cooked meats (pork/chicken/beef). My bad.
<Not bad as such, but easily overlooked. Meaty foods are not the major source of
food for these animals in the wild. Plants are, and to some extent carrion as
well. Good quality Koi pellets are an excellent staple, together with clumps of
cheap pond weed (Egeria or Elodea type things).
Bits of meaty food once a week are fine, but don't go wild, and do remember that
shrimps and mussels especially contain thiaminase, which causes real problems
for reptiles. Cockles are better, as are slivers of white fish fillet. NEVER use
mammal or bird meats. Too much fat. Beefheart is the exception, but VERY
So the swollen eye is indeed a lack in its diet. I will read what you suggested
and thank you again - i don't need to keep one separated from the other do i?
<Should be fine together if they cohabit well. Turtles can be aggressive, so use
your common sense, observe how they interact, and act accordingly.
Re: Yellow Bellied slider in Italy 10/30/15
thanks a lot Neale,
I appreciate your insight and will check out if shops sell some weed ( so to
<Real good. Cheers, Neale.>
Red Eared Slider; hibernating... beh.
I have a red eared slider. Male I believe. About 8 yrs old. This year he
seemed sluggish and the pet store said he was probably hibernating. But
he's never done that.
<Indeed. The pet store are talking rubbish. Sliders can become torpid if
exposed to prolonged cold, but in captivity this is invariably fatal. So
it should never, ever be allowed to happen. Even in the wild their
mortality rate is high during winter, particularly for yearlings.
Assuming you have a heat lamp over the basking rock, your Slider should
never become torpid.
Reptiles are normally very good at maintaining a proper body temperature
by alternately warming up under the heat lamp and cooling down in the
Fun fact: like other reptiles, turtles can't hibernate. Hibernation
implies a controlled lowering of metabolic rate, which reptiles can't
do; it's a mammalian trick necessary because mammals have insane energy
demands that many species simply can't satisfy in the colder parts of
the world during winter. Rather, reptiles allow they metabolic rate to
decrease as their
environment cools down, even finding steadily cool places to rest so
they're kept consistently cool (rather than frigid) through the winter
period (mud at the bottom of a pond, for example, essentially going
without air for months!). In any case, reptiles need to eat a bit more
than normal before this resting phase (technically called brumation)
because they must have a very specific amount of fat stored up before
wintertime, otherwise they starve. The size/weight of a tortoise before
brumation is quite well understood, it's called the Jackson Ratio, but
for Sliders this simply isn't known well enough to be safe. Hence, we
don't allow Sliders to rest during the winter. We keep them warm all 12
months of the year!>
Also noticed some excessive shedding on his back left foot. So I put him
in a dry tank. I take him out once a day to a small feeding tank. I put
Betadine on him for two weeks to kill any potential fungus/bacteria. I
now think he's hibernating in the dry tank.
He wants to craw under the papers and towels. He is sleepy and slow to
react when I get him up.
<This is worrying. When turtles become sluggish in captivity, it's
usually a sign of a metabolic problem. May be as simple as not enough
warmth. Check the air temperature under the basking spot and also make
sure the heat lamp is working. But more serious problems could be lack
of UV-B (a good "next thing to tick off" because it's a common cause of
reptile health problems); a bacterial infection that needs antibiotics;
or a diet that's chronically lacking in some essential nutrient such as
calcium. So if you're sure the turtle isn't chilled, call a vet, because
they're really the only people who can diagnose lethargy/sluggishness
problems with reptiles, and often the only people who can provide the
treatment (vitamin shots, antibiotics).>
I do have a UV and heat light on.
What to do????
<Most welcome. Neale. Have cc'ed to Darrel, our turtle expert, in case
I've missed anything.>
Re: Red Eared Slider 1/28/15
Thank you :)
my turtles are mating & it's Oct. 10/14/13
Hi, I have a female red slider The male is yellow, I
know that they will inter breed but it is oct. I got the pair from my
niece this summer she has had them for six years. I built them a habitat
outside. ( we live in no. cal.) They have a pond that is 10' by 5' 3'
deep, they are fenced in & we have a cover for night to keep them safe.
they have been in it for 3days.
This morning I went to uncover them & they were attached. Should I be
concerned by the time of year? Should I set up a nesting box. Should I
not Hybernate them ?
What to do...
<Hello Erin. So far as turtles mating goes, provided the female can get
away from the male when she wants too, then no harm done. If she can't
get some peace and quiet, then yes, constantly being with an amorous
male turtle will "wear her down" and potentially cause stress-related
Now, in the UK it is universally recommended that casual hobbyists don't
hibernate turtles kept outdoors. Instead, the advice is always to bring
them indoors. Why? Because unless a turtle has the right amount of fat
before it hibernates, it will die. Estimating the weight of a turtle
ready to hibernate depends upon various factors; with tortoises (what
Brits and Australians call the land-based turtles) the calculation is
called the "Jackson Ratio" and you can find out about it online. There's
presumably something similar for aquatic freshwater turtles (what here
in England are called terrapins). Do also understand that turtles don't
hibernate in snow or ice! They would naturally dig some sort of
appropriate burrow, in many cases in the bottom of the ponds, actually
under the water! During their winter sleep they are (amazingly!) able to
absorb enough oxygen from the water to survive -- assuming the water
isn't too warm (so using pond heaters isn't a good idea) but also
assuming the water isn't too cold (if the pond freezes solid, then it's
death for the turtle). It's all very complicated, but in the wild,
turtles select their winter quarters carefully, but even so, mortality
is very high, especially among young turtles hatched that year. Anyway,
without a shadow of a doubt the safest approach is to create an indoor
enclosure you can use from the time air temperature sinks below, say, 10
C/50 F. In spring, once all risk of frost has passed, you can release
them back into the pond. Since this is a temporary enclose, a very basic
(and inexpensive) system can be created; see here:
Hope this helps. Cheers, Neale (cc'ed Darrel and Sue, our turtle
Re: my turtles are mating & it's Oct. 10/14/13
I couldn't add a thing to what Neale said!
<Thank you both. B>
Eastern Painted Turtle question, sys., overwintering
I acquired a baby Eastern Painted turtle last summer while on a trip to
It spent the summer in my outdoor 1200 gal. pond, but I brought him in
before winter. He has been living in a 20 gal. aquarium with filter,
heater and basking light in my basement. I want to re-introduce him into
the pond but I am not sure how to go about it. Do I put him back in when
the pond water reaches a certain temperature? I would appreciate any
help you could give me.
<Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta) do naturally inhabit places that
sometimes get quite cool, even frosty, though they do best (are most
common) in warm temperate to subtropical environments. So, the short
answer to this is "it depends on where you live". Assuming you live
somewhere that's cool temperate, in other words where summers are warm
but winters cold, often frosty or snowy, then you will probably want to
save putting this little chap out until late spring when all risk of
frost has passed and the days have become substantially longer than the
nights, so air temperature at night doesn't drop too low. Basically,
from around May through to September is going to be about right. My
understanding is that it's air temperature that matters, not water
temperature -- turtles and terrapins warm up on land, and then go into
the water to cool down (or at
least, being cooled down while they're foraging or whatever). So,
provided daytime air temperature is around 18 C/64 F and nights aren't
very much cooler than that, your turtle will deal with whatever the
water temperature in the pond might be. I've cc'ed this to our resident
turtle expert Darrel, so if I've missed something, I'm sure he'll chip
in! Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Eastern Painted Turtle question
Thanks so much, you have been a big help. We live in central Illinois
where we do get some harsh winters, thus the decision to overwinter him
<Sounds very wise.>
This at least gives me some direction, thanks again.
<Glad to be of help! Cheers, Neale.>
Re: Eastern Painted Turtle question 4/12/13
The only things I'd add are these:
First, when moving a turtle in and out of protected enclosures they
changes are more sudden that when nature does it, so the turtle's
metabolism has a hard time keeping up. What concerns me is when we
move our turtles outside a little too soon - when the days are starting
to warm and the nights begin to be wild ... the turtle adapts very well
-- and then we have a cold spell for 5 or 6 days.. a slight relapse of
winter, you might say... can be very hard on the turtle. Perhaps
he's eaten a full meal and now with the cold, the food just sits there
in his stomach starting to rot. For this reason I
usually wait until we can "count on" Spring weather. Later rather
Second, when we change their surroundings so abruptly, it often causes
them to be a bit unsettled and they can respond to this with what I can
"walk-abouts." They simply LEAVE. Many years I
think I've "lost" a turtle, only to find that a year earlier when he
left, he'd walked to a quiet corner and buried himself at the base of a
bush. So it's best if the pond area is enclosed or fenced in some
Re: Eastern Painted Turtle question 4/12/13
The only things I'd add are these:
<<Thank your Darrel for this/these additions. Cheers, Neale.>>
Help with outdoor turtles
<Hiya - Darrel here>
We have a pond in our backyard that is about 10X12 and 4 feet deep and
live in Washington State. We have 5 red eared sliders
that were given to us as they were trying to find a nice home. The
turtles vary in sizes but the smallest is about 4 inches across the
shell. In the fall, we stopped feeding them along with the Koi in the
pond as I read that they hibernate over the winter.
<They bruminate - which is different technically, but for your
purposes the same idea>
I've noticed over the past couple weeks the turtles are getting out
of the water and up on the rocks.
<Weird weather causing unusual behaviors. Warm enough to stir
activity, yet not warm enough to be metabolically active>
I checked and the small turtle has puffy, swollen eyes. I've
brought him in the house today but I'm not sure what to do since
they were hibernating until recently.
<I know what to do>
Should I keep him in the house and raise the temperature in the room
he's in to warm him up?
I'm afraid to change his body temperature too quickly as I fear
that might shock his system.
<Just having him at inside room temp is good. Then a small
incandescent bulb over part of his enclosure for a few days, then maybe
to a heat/basking-type lamp>
Should I start feeding him?
<Not just yet. There is a point where they will eat, but
not properly digest. It's always best to wait until
they are fully awake and active>
If so, what is the best thing to give him since he's coming out of
hibernation? Should I give him cod liver oil?
<Or pieces of beef or chicken liver>
Or, should I just put him back out by the pond and he'll be
Again, these are outdoor pond turtles so I'm not sure how I should
treat them since they've been outside all winter. Any advice you
can give would be greatly appreciated.
<There turtles can live in places where they lakes actually freeze
over winter, but what people fail to understand is that not all DO
survive… so it's usually not a good idea. In your climates
I would remove them from the pond around the time you stop feeding the
Koi and place them in a land-type container or tub that has a basking
lamp and a UV-B bulb. They don't need the water except
for a 15 minute bath for their weekly feeding. Keep this up until
the weather has CONSISTENTLY warmed the pond water to at least 60
degrees and the sun is out on the basking rocks daily>
<Regarding the vitamin deficiency, make sure he's kept to an
'active' temperature so that he continues to eat - and then
treat as described here:
My Red Ear Slider Turtles...
Hi, <Hiya - Darrel here>
I am really have some concerns about my two red ear slider turtles. I
rescued them from a friend who was very bad because he kept them in
their closet, never changed the water of the aquarium. There were three
of them and what I did was put them in a large aquarium that
accommodated the three of them and I bought an artificial rock where
they basked in the sun. I would change their water every two days and
feed them turtle food and they love fresh shrimp and fresh fish. I kept
them in our backyard.
<Thank you for the rescue, but generally speaking an aquarium is not
the idea thing for keeping turtles outdoors. The glass can have a
tremendous heating effect on the water that you really can't
control. You should either keep them inside the house, which is
easiest, or build them some sort of small pond>
I live in CA and when the weather became cooler in October, I went to
PETCO and they recommended the coconut mulch where they can
Immediately they burrowed themselves under the mulch.
<Hmmm. Although they do hibernate (actually they bruminate as you
wrote) over winters and can even survive a frozen lake, it's
important to note that not all DO survive each winter. I'd much
prefer that you take them indoors during the colder months>
In January, one of the turtles came out and I thought that it already
woke up. I put it in the water. But I put him back again in the mulch.
After a week I just it not moving and it was dead but the two other
turtles are still burrowed.
<Yes, this winter in California was "bad" for reptiles. It
was cold enough to slow their metabolisms down, but NOT cold enough for
them to really enter brumination / hibernation. Just as you
experienced, one warm week and a turtle began to get active, yet he
wasn't really up to speed.
I'm sorry you lost him>
In February, the two woke up and basked themselves in the sun. I do not
know if I did something wrong in moving them inside at night and I keep
the lamp on. And move them again in the morning outside .
<No, that was good.>
I kept doing this until April when I moved to a new place. Then I
placed them in a large plastic bin with the artificial rock. They would
bask in the sun but them I am scared to let stay outside so I move it
again to the small aquarium and put it under the table without any
light at night in the backyard and move it in the morning to the bin so
they can bask in the sun.
<That seems like a lot of work. Why not move the aquarium indoors
and simply add a basking lamp and a UV lamp?>
A couple weeks ago, they would not eat but they would bask in the sun
and when I got home one day I found the other turtle missing. I kept
looking but cannot find it. I then released the other in our
<OK - stop. Unless your back yard is some sort of natural habitat
for turtles, releasing them there was not a good idea. Outside of a
genuine nature preserve, they need to be confined to an area where you
can care for them>
Then I found it at the back of the door leading to our garage with its
side up. As to the other turtle, I found it burrowed in the dirt under
our almond tree. Both them are burrowed there. Is this okay?
They are still burrowed until now and the weather here is still chilly
at night. Do you think they will die?
<To be honest, you need to improve your standards of care quite a
bit or that may happen>
If they wake up and if I put them in a large aquarium with water enough
for them to swim can I keep them there all night long with our light in
the backyard on? I am a new turtle owner.
<Yes you are>
<Lilia, start here:
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/RESCareBarton.htm read this
entire article. Make sure you understand it COMPLETELY. Do further
searches on WWM (there is a Google Search Box at the bottom of the home
page, click "search on WWM" and type your keywords) and write
back if you can't get other answers>
<After you've read the article and understand their basic needs,
then we can talk about how to house and care for them. As I said
before, an aquarium is a bad idea for outdoor use. As you have already
experienced, the sun heats the water and the night chills the water. To
keep the sun from heating it TOO much and the night from chilling it
TOO much - you have to have a whole lot of water in the tank. Four or
five inches in the bottom will heat like an oven during the day -- and
the glass sides makes it worse. The only exception is if you had the
Aquarium on a porch or under an awning where it doesn't get direct
<As far as the bin is concerned, a large plastic bin or what they
call a "stock tank" can make a nice turtle habitat. It takes
a bit of work to fix it up to look pretty in the yard, but that's a
different subject. The important thing is that the sides have to be
high enough that they can't climb out. The one thing we don't
want is for them to get out and wander around the yard or bury
themselves somewhere where we can't find them>
Re: My Red Ear Slider Turtles
Do I just wait until they come out of the dirt or do I dig in the get
them out and put them in the plastic bin again?
<Please get them out now>
Should I leave them outside at night?
<It depends on the amount of water you have. If the bin is an 18
gallon Tupperware tub filled to 10 gallons, then no - it will get too
cold at night AND too hot during the day unless it's shaded. If you
have a 100 gallon plastic tub with 50 or 60 gallons of water, and a
wire mesh cover to keep cats and other predators out, then yes they can
stay out all night>
I want to get them out of the dirt now and put them back in the
<I agree. But remember, they need a nice, dry, warm basking area
too, not just water>