Most turtles hibernate. The further turtles are away from the equator the sooner and the longer they take a winter “nap”. The closer to the equator means it’s warmer and the turtle may not hibernate.
Sea turtles do not hibernate. They migrate to warmer tropical water to stay in during the winter.
Why do turtles hibernate?
Animals hibernate because they are sensitive to cold and/or have a specialized diet than can be threatened by winter. These Turtles also need a cooling period to keep their immune systems functioning better as well as triggering optimum reproductive and mental health.
Zoos accommodate brief to regular cooling periods for turtles. Turtles usually stop eating 10-14 days before they actually begin to hibernate. This is thought to empty out the intestines so deadly bacteria can’t grow during the dormant cooling period. Turtles are allowed to soak in water for hydration reasons before they enter into hibernation.
So how do turtles hibernate?
Beginning in September to the middle of October they look for a safe place to hibernate. Turtles are ectothermic. This means they get their warmth through the ground, air and water. They are cold-blooded animals. They find some softer earth in a protected spot and begin to dig. Turtles have strong claws that can score and part the earth. They go as deep as possible for protection from raccoons, dogs and other predators.
Turtles that make their home in water have basically the same needs, except they go to the bottom of a pond to find a protected spot to burrow under debris. They are safe there for two or three months.
Once the water turtle settles in, its breathing slows way down and they stop breathing through their lungs. They achieve getting oxygen through special skin cells inside their tail. A water turtle is breathing through tail during hibernation period!
Watch this educational video of painted turtle hibernation
Turtles will show obvious signs when it’s time to hibernate. They’ll quit eating and appear to be lethargic. Dr. Roger Klingenberg has a cooling program for captive box turtles at his office in Greeley, Colorado. He knows the importance of having healthy turtles that were probably rescued from roads. Clients bring him their turtles for controled hibernation.
It’s well known that when a turtle awakens from hibernation that they are cold and are groggy. They seek warmth on roadways and the outcome doesn’t always end on a positive note. They must be warm to have an appetite or to be able to properly digest their food.
Please pay close attention and watch for turtles on the road in the spring. Turtles are beneficial to the surrounding habitat.