Not all tortoise species hibernate. But what about the Sulcata, otherwise known as the African spurred tortoise? Do they spend any significant time in a less active state and what does this all mean for owners? I spent some time researching the species to find out exactly how they instinctively respond to colder climates.
So, do sulcata tortoises hibernate? Sulcata tortoises do not hibernate, even if conditions become too cold, such as during the winter. It is for this reason that they need to be kept sufficiently warm, especially during the colder months. If temperatures fall too low, anything under 17°C (63ºF), their bodies will start to shut down, and they can quickly die.
In fact, no tortoise truly hibernates. That is for warm-blooded animals only.
Instead, in cold blooded reptiles such as tortoises, they enter a state known as brumation.
Its a very similar state; but instead of deep sleep, is mostly a condition of limited movement and lack of eating.
Nevertheless, it is a dormant state and a survival mechanism that many reptiles go through to survive harsh conditions.
Even certain species like the Russian tortoise do this.
But, Sulcata tortoises are different. They do not brumate.
They are one of a few species that do not instinctively leverage this process.
As such, taking care of a Sulcata tortoise requires close attention to detail and an optimized setup of heating and UVB lighting.
Let us now take a closer look at what conditions are too cold for a tortoise species unable to hibernate/brumate, and how you can safely take care of them, even during the winter!
How Cold Is Too Cold For A Sulcata Tortoise?
Anything below 7°C (45ºF) is considered to be too cold for a Sulcata tortoise.
Instead, the ideal temperature range to keep this species at is between 25-35°C (77-95ºF) during the day.
You should also ensure they have a basking spot, at a slightly higher temperature of up to 50ºC (122ºF).
This will enable them to periodically bask, and obtain any additional heat that they require.
Equally, they’ll be able to access cooler areas of their enclosure, to cool down as and when needed.
Remember; tortoises cannot generate their own heat! They rely on external sources to keep them warm.
Furthermore, the Sulcata species is native to hot environments in the wild; specifically deserts and semiarid regions in northern Africa.
Therefore when keeping Sulcata’s as pets we need to replicate their natural conditions as far as possible.
We can do this via several different options. Whether this be through:
- A ceramic heater,
- Tube heaters,
- Reflector Bulbs/ Spotlights, or
- Heat mats.
A combination of the above can help your tortoise to remain warm from up above and below ground.
Irregardless of the heating you choose, having a thermostat installed will ensure you can monitor and regulate the temperature at all times.
Plus, keep them well distanced, or protected, from your tortoise. You do not want to risk any injuries or burns!
One final thing to consider is that heating and lighting does need to change at night.
At night, Sulcata’s need a drop in both temperature, and to be transitioned to complete darkness.
At night, the temperature of the enclosure should gravitate around 18°C (65ºF), but no lower.
Ceramic night bulbs are ideal here as they produce the heat without any light.
How Do You Take Care Of A Sulcata Tortoise In The Winter?
Taking care of a Sulcata tortoise in the winter is all about refining and optimizing environment to ensure they remain at a sufficient temperature.
If you were to force the cold weather upon your Sulcata, especially on younger and baby ones, they are unlikely to make it successfully through the winter.
Adult Sulcata’s may be able to survive; but they will be far from in conditions in which they can flourish.
Generally, why put your tortoise through this kind of stress and take any risks?
Instead, they may require moving inside.
Due to their sheer size, many Sulcata’s are kept outside; primarily in sheds, outbuildings or even greenhouses.
But, you should look to bring them inside during the winter. This is otherwise known as Overwintering.
This is a process all about providing warmer temperatures in an indoor setting, which they would acquire naturally in the wild, but are no longer possible in your location outdoors.
Anytime the temperature drops below below 12°C (55ºF) you should look to do this.
You also need to consider where you are moving them too.
Cold garages or cold basements will not suffice.
Temperatures can easily plummet there too.
Instead, you should look to bring a Sulcata into a heated room.
Whether this is a heated garage, basement or any other location that is insulated or has a means of heating.
For some owners whom have the luxury of a spare room for their Sulcata to live, there is little that needs to be changed.
But generally, overwintering is something most owners need to consider.
It usually only lasts for a few months, depending on where you live.
But it is required a necessity for this species when the temperature plummets.
Sulcata tortoises do not hibernate, or brumate if we are using the correct scientific term.
That being said, this does not leave them any less vulnerable to cold and extreme temperatures.
If anything it leaves them more at risk.
They do not have instinctual protection that is afforded to other species. It is a survival mechanism after all.
So, if you are considering owning a Sulcata tortoise and you live in a location that experiences cold winter months, you must be willing to prepare in advance.
Whether you can afford to provide your Sulcata with a separate and distinct warm space in your house, (with a separate room preferred), or you have an outbuilding that you can optimize for their needs.
Either way, this species cannot drop below 7°C (45ºF). It can be fatal.