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FAQs About Turtle Systems: Overwintering

Related Articles: Turtles, AmphibiansRed Eared Slider Care The Care and Keeping of the Red Eared Slider, Trachemys scripta elegans by Darrel Barton,

Related FAQs:  Turtle Systems 1, Turtle Systems 2, & Further Subdivided FAQs on Turtle Systems: Turtle Enclosures, Turtle System Filtration, Turtles & Light (UV plus), Turtle System Heating, Turtle Substrates & Decor, Aquatic Turtle Basking Areas, Turtle System Maintenance, RES Systems, & Turtles 1, Turtles 2, Red Ear Sliders, Turtle Identification, Turtle Behavior, Turtle Compatibility, Turtle Selection, Turtle Feeding, Turtle Disease, Turtle Reproduction, & by Species: Cooters/Mud Turtles, Softshells, Snapping Turtles, Mata Matas, Tortoises, & AmphibiansOther Reptiles


Red Ear Sliders; overwintering         1/5/15
Hi there,
<Hiya - Darrel here>
I have two red eared sliders that I got as babies 8 years ago. They lived in an inside aquarium up until last year as they got too big. They now live outside on my balcony in a prefab pond. I have a filter, basking area and a heater. I live in Southern California where it's generally warm.
<Yes. Generally they don't need a heater at all.>

However, we've had some really cold nights and I'm frightened that the turtles are suffering...daytime highs are mid sixties. Nighttime lows are low forties/high thirties. I know sliders are supposed to hibernate at temps below 50, but I'm afraid it's not cold enough....or that it's cold enough at night, but not during the day. I've heard that this "middle ground" can be very stressful for the turtles.
<That is right, it can be>
Should I bring the turtles in for the season?
<You certainly can.>
Perhaps just in at night?
<Some people do that as well>

I would appreciate any guidance you can give me. I've spent hours reading about hibernation, but haven't found any real information on what to do in this "middle-ish" climate.
<OK - here's the deal. It depends on your pond. The deeper the pond the more heat it will retain during the night, especially if you have a heater. My adult Sliders, also here in Southern California, live all year long in an un-heated outdoor pond that is two and a half feet deep. During the month or so that it gets chilly here, they tend to settle to the bottom when there's no sunshine to soak up and they get along just fine.>
<Other people take their sliders in for the winter by placing them in a closed cardboard box in a corner in the garage.>
<In your case, if the water is heated to at least 60 degrees during the day, all I'd add is a 125 watt heat lamp over the basking area. If they are otherwise healthy they'll be fine. I wouldn't feed them again until it warms up … but they act so needy and beg so well that I'll even break that rule once in a while myself>
Thank you so much for your help.
Re: Red Ear Sliders        1/5/15

Thank you SO much for getting back to me! This is just the info I needed!!! I appreciate your help! Happy New Year!! :-)

Red eared sliders in the garage over winter  9/1/12
Thank you in advance for your time.  Long story short, I inherited 4 baby Red eared sliders. I put them in one of my old 20 gal tanks and put it in my garage. They have been doing great. Next summer, I hope to be able to put them in my 2000 gal Koi pond. However, this winter is the problem. I already have two saltwater aquariums, 70gal and 180 gal. My wife said hell will freeze over before another tank is set up in the house. I live in southern Indiana. Even though last year was pretty mild, it can get quite cold. My plan is to either keep them in the 20 gal or purchase a larger stock tub and keep them in my garage this winter. The garage is insulated but not heated. I've already have UVB bulbs and heat lamps. I can also add some heaters to the water to keep it warm. Will this work?  Even if I heat the water, the air will obviously not be as warm as it should be, especially at night when the heat light goes off or when I open the door to get the cars out. Or, am I thinking completely wrong here and shouldn't provide heat and let them hibernate?  Any help with this matter would be greatly appreciated.
<Hello Brian. You are quite right not to let them hibernate. Red-Ear Sliders do not hibernate, and in fact getting any kind of reptile to hibernate is very difficult to do properly and needs careful understanding of the balance of size and weight (the Jackson Ratio) for that species before they go to sleep. Red-Ear Sliders have only moderate tolerance for cold, and winters in their natural habitat, the southern United States, tend to be mild and any really cold periods are brief. So while they do become inactive when it's cold, they don't need to do so for very long, and physiologically can't tolerate extended periods of inactivity brought on by a long, cold winter. Even here in England where they have become established, they only live in relatively warm microclimates, primarily cities, and when it does get really cold these populations die back considerably -- only to be topped up again when unthinking pet-owners dump unwanted specimens back in the city ponds! Anyway, basic care for this species is summarised at the link below, and particularly for overwintering, the system used can be very basic.
So long as you have a heating lamp (which works through infrared) the air temperature in the garage won't matter overmuch, but if you can stick an aquarium heater protected with a heater guard in the water, that could be used to make sure the water doesn't get too cold (turn the heater down to its lowest setting). Insulating the aquarium or tub would be useful too.
Cheers, Neale.>

Shelving a Turtle or two?   9/1/10
Darrel, if you guys weren't experts in this stuff, I would think you are off your rocker!
<Never assume - I may an expert AND a nut!!>
Packing up turtles in a box and putting them on a shelf as if you were storing a fake Christmas tree? I certainly would have NEVER thought of that! If it isn't considered inhumane to do such with these little guys, then that's what I will do with them.
<Inhumane would be to let them freeze. Nature freezes them all the time in the Northeast .. and what many people fail to realize is that not all do survive it.>
I just didn't want to get attached to them in any way and then find out that I am going to have to find new homes for them.
<You should be fine>
As for the fear factor, they are currently sticking their heads up out of the water when I approach them, then scurry back to the bottom of the pond, then sticking their heads out - it is actually rather comical to watch them doing this. I placed a couple of pond plants in there to help them hide a little better but am following your advice and not attempting to feed them
anything for at least another week. It was a waste to put food in there as they weren't even looking at it, much less thinking about eating it.
Sorry for all the endless emails, I really do appreciate the time you have spent answering my questions and I think I have at least a grasp now on how to deal with them. Really, your answers really helped to ease my anxiety about everything that is going on with them.
<No problem, Ben. I get paid per word. Per word per word>
Ben B

Re: Shelving a turtle or two, hibernation  12/24/10
Hello again:
<Hiya - Darrel here>
I know this topic was discussed several months ago, but I am now finding myself with a question about "shelved turtles". The temps went down quite a lot last month, so I put them in the cardboard box with the padding as you said to do. But now, the temps are in the high 60's or low 70's high with lows in the high 40's to low 50's. Is this "cold" enough to continue keeping them in storage? Should I bring them out and then put them back in if it starts getting cold again?
<No. The problem is, with these temperature changes, they might not ever reach a stage of brumination (sort of like true hibernation except they're still awake). Cycles of warm (bit not warm enough) and cool (but not cold enough) keep them from reaching this state and it's very hard on them.>
<My advice is to leave them in the box until youre sure that Spring is here to stay>

Hibernation for aquatic turtles  12/15/08 Good morning Neale, ...I have 2 babies aquatic turtles (yellow belly and northern red belly) in a 10 gallon tank. 2 inches each of them in size....Suddenly one (the Yellowbelly) of them decrease his activity, remain in a corner of the aquarium and principally stop of eating. I'm very carefully with all conditions of the environment and the turtle looks good at his external characteristics.....is possible that he is trying to hibernate?....What is the best to I can do it? Thanks in advance Victor <Hello Victor. Generally aquatic turtles won't/can't hibernate in captivity. It is possible to "force" them to do so safely by controlling temperature carefully, but otherwise it is simply much safer and much better to leave them pottering about their tank as normal. Day length may regulate activity levels, and decreasing temperature (if your tank is unheated) certainly will. But otherwise just leave them doing their usual thing, cutting back food if they aren't feeding much. It won't do your turtle any harm at all not hibernating, and indeed the risks caused by improper hibernation are much more serious. However, because your tank is small -- much smaller than I'd consider safe for even a single turtle, let alone two -- I'd be very cautious about water quality. Also check the diet is correct (lots of greens!) and that their is UV-B light for basking. When turtles, and reptiles generally, don't get the right food and the essential UV-B, they slowly become less active and healthier, eventually getting sick. If your turtle is seemingly lethargic, and temperature is appropriately warm, I'd double check your turtles is healthy. Cheers, Neale.>

Frozen painted turtle  11/29/08 Hi. <Hiya Deb - Darrel here this morning> We recently found a painted turtle (4 inch diameter) frozen in the ice of our pond. We chipped out a section of ice with the turtle and brought it inside to thaw. Incredibly, the turtle does appear to be alive but still in hibernation. <Yes, he was hibernating to the point of stasis. The Emydid turtles, for the most part, do quite well in frozen creeks and ponds by shutting down to an almost imperceptible metabolism until the thaw comes. On the other hand, this is never something we intentionally do to our pets because not all do survive. In your case, I would have suggested to leave him alone and let nature take it's course, but I understand the desire to "jump in" (pun intended) and try to help. Now that he's out, we'll press onward> We aren't sure what is best for his survival now ... keep him indoors and let him come out of hibernation or place him in a shallow goldfish pond that hasn't frozen over yet. The daytime temps are still in the mid 30's with overnight lows dropping to high 20's. What is his best chance of survival? <Deb, at this point, I'd like you to bring him indoors, place him in a cardboard box or some other suitable container with high sides and then place him in the coolest part of your house. Not a porch or area exposed to the outside temps in the 20's, but not next to the heater either. I'd like him to experience temps in the 40's, 50's & 60's for a few days, if possible and then up to the comfortable indoors temps of your house. In other words, we want to warm him up FAIRLY quickly, but not so fast as to shock his system. If he warms up gradually over a few days or a week, you'll see occasional signs of activity (mostly looking around probably the way WE do when we first wake up in the morning) and then small movements until he has shaken the hibernation off and then begins to walk around. Wait a week after he's fully active to place him in a shallow bowl of room-temperature water to soak and hydrate for a few minutes, and then another week before offering him some Repto-Min sticks or Koi pellets (same thing only less expensive) in the water.> <At that point, might as well give him a name and create a more {semi}Permanent winter home for him and either keep him there as a pet, or plan to release him to the pond when the nighttime temp is consistently above 60 and the daytime has consistent sunlight and at least 75 degree days.> Thanks you, Deb <Yer welcome, Deb!>

Putting my turtles to hibernation 11/19/07 Hi <Hiya! Darrel here> I have a Three Toed Box Turtle (about 6 or 7 inches long) that I have had for 6 or 7 months. I keep him in a large outdoor 5x8 cage built out of cinder blocks 2 high and lined with bricks sunk in the ground inside to keep him from digging out. There is a small shallow pond in it and I also have a chain link cover over the top. Our dirt is mostly clay so I mixed up a patch of it with lots of sand for him to dig in but he never digs. <Box turtles seldom dig actual holes. They're more likely to just find a natural depression at the base of some plant and hunker down for the evening or the season that way.> It is starting to get colder so I figure he should go into hibernation soon. The thing is he doesn't dig so I don't know if he will just go sit somewhere and hibernate. That would be bad for him right? <"Bad" is a relative term, Amanda. Winter causes their systems to shut down to a minimum for the season, but you have to remember that in nature, not all of our animal friends survive each winter. When possible or practical, I arrange for my animals to be spared the entire process> I also considered putting a box stuffed with hay for him to dig into in his cage so he wouldn't have to go underground. <Two course of action here. You could find a bigger box of cardboard or wood, put some straw or hay in the bottom and bring him inside, maybe to your room, and spare him the whole hibernation process. Two, you could get a smaller box, fill it with straw as you suggest and place him in a safe place on your porch or in your garage and let him shut down for the season. You don't say where you live, so I'm not sure just how cold or dangerous your winters are. More on this in a moment> Should I stop feeding him yet so his food won't rot in his stomach? <As fall approaches their appetites should start to shrink and yes, you should slowly reduce their feedings, both in amount and frequency> I also have a Map Turtle (about 4 or 5 inches long) I keep in an outdoor aquarium. Last year I just put him in a smaller container and put him in our glassed in porch (its unheated) and he hibernated on the bottom of the tank. Is this an okay way for him to hibernate this year? <A lot of the same advice applies, Amanda. For my inside animals and individual specimens, I bring them inside the house or porch and add a little heat and avoid hibernation, but for my outdoor ponds I have no choice but to let nature take it's course. The worry is that the pond is deep enough and the body of water large enough to maintain some temperature balance (cold or hot) and here's the reason: Most of our reptile and fish friends from temperate climates can hibernate over winter without problem, but what I call "almost winter" can be lethal to them. "Almost Winter" is where it is clearly winter and their metabolisms shut down according to plan, but it's not cold ENOUGH to shut down all the way .... or it has too many warm periods where they reheat and become semi-active only to be hit by another cold snap .. these transitions can be lethal to them.> <Here's an example: Yes, you could put your Map turtle in a large enough tank and allow him to over-winter, or you could keep the water warm to around 65-70 and a basking area warm to 88-90 and avoid winter altogether. BUT .... if you were to let the water become 50 or 55 and still have the basking area active, his only choices would be TOO HOT (for winter) and TOO COLD (for summer). Personally, I'd rather see the Map Turtle in a tank on top of the dresser in your room all year 'round than outside.> I would appreciate any reply to this. Thanks. -Amanda <You're welcome & best of luck to you!>

Re: Putting my turtles to hibernation  11/24/07 Thanks for all of the tips but I have a few questions about what you said. I live in Southern Louisiana and the weather has been going under 35 for a few days and back up to 85 for awhile from what you told me this is dangerous for them. <Well, see .. this is where more information is better. Southern Louisiana doesn't really have "winter" in the conventional sense. Your turtles won't really "hibernate" in the traditional sense but rather slow way, way down to a state we call "torpid".> Should I just take them in the garage where the change is less severe until the weather levels out? <In the climate you have as I now understand it, they'll both be fine outside during the winter PROVIDED that (A) - They are healthy, active and properly fed until this winter started, (B) - you stop feeding them until the weather warms permanently and (C) - the winter is more or less "normal" and starts warming again in late March or April> I would bring them both inside for the winter (the Map Turtle all the time) but my parents have a no pets in the house policy. <I have two sons. Reptiles and fish are welcome in my house ... it's a no KIDS inside policy I'd like to have!> How big would a box for the box turtle have to be for him to live comfortably if I were to take him inside? <For "over wintering" not very big at all. Twice his length would be fine, but in Southern Louisiana I wouldn't worry about it.> I don't have a basking lamp for my map turtle but I have his tank where the sun hits it in the morning and afternoon sort of a natural lamp does he need a real lamp? <Make sure the sun isn't filtered through the glass. Standard aquarium glass and even window glass filter out a great deal of the healthy UV waves and can over heat them as well. If you do that, you should be fine. Make sure that all animals that get direct sunlight can also get OUT of that sunlight when they choose.> Thanks again for a reply. Amanda

Turtle Surviving In the Outdoor Koi Pond   10/5/06 My wife found a tiny baby turtle in our yard in the spring, we named him Sal Manilla. We constructed an enclosure in the shallow end of our koi pond, about 12" wide by 24" long, and about 8" deep. He's been there all summer, and grown to around 2 inches in size on a diet of turtle pellets, koi pellets, blood worms and brine shrimp. We had considered bringing him indoors for the winter, but now are wondering if it might be better for him if we released him into the pond. The pond is about 3 feet deep, 3000 gallons, and our koi survive the winter well there. Our concerns are due to cold winter (we can easily expect long stretches where it will remain below freezing, and occasional overnight temps as low as 0 degrees F), his young age, and in some small part, also concerned he might burrow into the gravel bottom and tear the lining of the pond. Option 2 is a 5 gal aquarium. Do you think our turtle Sal has a decent chance of surviving the winter outdoors in Rhode Island? After all, he was born wild... You opinion would be greatly appreciated. Dave < I would keep him indoors. The natural pond is made of a soil/clay bottom. If the water gets too cold then he could bury deeper in the mud and increase the insulation. Gravel is too porous and allows the cold water all the way through to the bottom liner an offers no insulation.-Chuck>

Hibernating Turtles   8/12/06 Hello. I have 2 red eared sliders and I have them outside in a pond. They have plenty of basking space and shady places. I have been keeping them in the pond for a few summers now and have been bringing them inside during the winter.  I was wondering if it is possible to keep them outside during the winter and if  so do I need mud in the bottom or what should I do. Thank  you <Hibernating turtles can be somewhat challenging. First your turtles must be in good health. Sick turtles do not usually survive a season of hibernation. Secondly, is make sure they are well fed. They must have enough fat reserves to last them through the winter. Do not feed them in the late fall when things have already cooled off. The food will rot in their gut and cause problems. Depending on where you live the pond needs to be fairly deep so that it doesn't freeze solid. In the south a couple of feet may be fine. Deeper the farther north you go. They need mud to bury themselves and to help insolate them. This year many turtles came out of hibernation early because of an unusually warm winter and early spring. Sudden cold fronts caught them already out and many turtles got sick with respiratory infections.-Chuck>

Red Eared Sliders Changing With The Seasons  12/13/05 Should I adjust the basking and UV lamps for my sliders with the changing light conditions as the seasons change outside?  I keep my 3 RES's in a large indoor pond that is heated all year round.  Should I keep it spring and summer all year (maybe 12-14 hours of light), or should I shorten their days to reflect the fact it's winter coming on?   Again, the air and water temp will remain the same all year.  Thanks!   LARRY in Los Angeles < As long as the water temperatures don't change then I would not change the lighting. If you were trying to breed them then I might try a different diurnal period along with a cooling period. Then in the spring I might try to increase the water temp and the lighting to simulate spring.-Chuck>

Winter and Red Eared Slider I really need to know if I can leave my red eared sliders out side in the winter or not. I have a little pond outside that they can live in. I have a heater for the pond so it won't freeze.   I keep gold fish in it and they stay alive.  I have it all fenced in so they can't get hurt by any animals. They also have land to go onto so they can be on land if they need to.  please help <It really depends on where you live.  If it gets cold enough they should bury themselves at the bottom of your pond and go into hibernation.  I personally would move them inside, I have never hibernated a turtle or tortoise and if I were going to try it I would like to be in control of the conditions.  Check out the links below to help with your decision.  Best Regards, Gage http://www.anapsid.org/hibernation.html http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/Refrigerator.htm  >

Turtle Hibernation Regarding hibernation, we live in the Houston, TX area, where the temperature rarely drops in the 20's. the kiddie pool is only 9 inches high, so am I right in saying its not suitable for hibernation of my turtle? my family does not plan on bringing inside for the winter, so can I just hibernate it in a 14 inch high bucket that we have that's wide enough for her to fit in with an inch or so at least the whole way around extra? after all, she doesn't need any room for movement, just a deep hibernating spot, right? I just want to know if the bucket is deep enough for her to hibernate safely at 14 inches or if its too shallow. thank you <I have no experience hibernating turtles,  I do not know if the bucket technique is a good idea, sounds like it will be hard to regulate the temperature.  There is a good article at the link below on hibernating turtles in the refrigerator.  I would get a good book that thoroughly covers hibernation before trying it.  Best Regards, Gage. http://www.tortoisetrust.org/articles/Refrigerator.htm   >

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