Brumation – Did You Know…

… That brumation is a term used for the hibernation-like state that cold-blooded animals utilize during very cold weather. On the other end of the spectrum is a state known as aestivation, which like brumation, provides a way for reptiles to handle temperature extremes.

All reptiles and amphibians are ectothermic (cold-blooded) animals, relying on their environment for thermoregulation. That said, these animals have evolved and adapted incredible survival strategies to ensure survival when environmental conditions become unsatisfactory. One such adaptation is brumation.

Brumation can be loosely equated to hibernation among mammals. When a reptile brumates, it becomes lethargic, sometimes not moving at all for the duration of the cold season. When out in nature reptiles find a space they consider safe and spend their brumation there. Burrows, rock crevices, caves and leaf litter are a few examples of such safe places. Some species an even brumate under water…

The amount of time that a reptile brumates depends on many factors. The most important one is if the animal is in the wild or held in captivity. If it’s kept in captivity, environmental conditions can be easily manipulated by the keeper at any given time. Age of the animal, its gender, geographical origin, and varying natural conditions also play a big role. In general, reptiles will enter brumation in the late fall (when temperatures drop and the days get shorter) and come out of brumation in spring, triggered by increased temperatures, longer days, and changes in general weather.

Why do Reptiles Brumate?

As ectothermic organisms, reptiles cannot raise their body temperature independently of environmental conditions, and as such must contend with the conditions that nature presents them with. The vast majority of our planet experiences seasonal temperature extremes, from the deserts to the plains to the tropics. The amount of temperature variation does change from region to region. Sub-tropical animals, as well as those found near the equator, often do not undergo what a “true brumation.” However, these animals are just as receptive to natures cues as those from more northern or southern climates. They may slow down by reducing food intake, but not enter a true state of brumation.

Interesting enough, many reptile species live in regions that have weather extremes (cold winters and hot summers) and therefor have to adapt in order to survive. In the most basic sense, brumation is a survival tactic – a tactic that has been hard wired into the brains of these animals for well over a million years.

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