Brumation is the reptile equivalent of hibernation, that is, that period of time during which an animal slows its own metabolism and ceases almost all activity in order to conserve energy and survive winter.
In the wild, tegus will retreat to a safe space to hide when days start to get shorter in autumn and stay there for 6-7 months until spring arrives. During this period of brumation a tegu will sleep a lot and not eat any food, and barely drink any water.
Do tegus need to brumate?
In captivity, tegus do not necessarily need to undergo brumation. In the absence of the conditions that trigger hibernation (shorter day cycles, lower temperatures) within the enclosure, a tegu will simply keep being active, feeding and growing. As a matter of fact, tegus that do not brumate tend to grow larger in size compared to those who do.
The only potential health concern when it comes to skipping brumation is a potential impact on fertility. This is a concern especially for females as there is growing evidence that not letting them undergo brumation in the first two years of life may lead to infertility and increased risk of becoming egg-bound.
There is still limited research on brumation and the effects it (or lack thereof) has on tegus, but to be on the safe side: if you are planning to breed tegu lizards, it is better to let them undergo brumation especially when they are young and still maturing.
How to induce brumation
The best way to encourage your tegu to go into brumation is to set up a living environment which resembles its natural habitat and especially the changing of seasons. There is a misconception that tegus brumate when it is winter because temperatures are colder, but this is actually not the case. Brumation seems to be triggered by a combination of environmental factors and reduced daylight is what seems to have the greatest impact.
To induce brumation, try gradually reducing the amount of time your lights are on in the enclosure, set up the timer to 8 hours instead of 12, if you have multiple lights start shutting them off entirely one by one. Once the tegu goes to sleep, you can actually shut all the lights off for the rest of winter, saving on energy bills is actually one of the main “perks” of brumation for tegu owners.
During winter you can lower temperatures to around 55°F – 70°F (13°C-21°C). Lower temps alone will not induce brumation, but if your tegu is hibernating it can help to keep the enclosure cooler to aid slowing their metabolism as they would in winter.
How to care and feed your tegu during brumation
When a tegu starts showing the first signs that they are about to go into brumation, they will gradually become less active, sleeping a lot and spending time in their cage more than usual. You should keep offering them food regularly at this time but you will notice that they will start refusing to eat – do not insist.
Start lowering the lights and offering food less often until the tegu retreats to their hide to hibernate. At this point, they will basically sleep for months and do not need light nor food. You should keep a bowl of fresh water available but most likely they won’t drink any.
The tegu may wake up and come out every now and then, in this case you can try offering some food and see if they accept it, most likely they will go back to sleeping right after. Remember that a tegu can go months without eating in winter, so do not be alarmed. Do not leave any uneaten food in the enclosure for more than a couple of hours.
Coming out of brumation
There is no way to artificially stop or shorten brumation. Tegus will naturally start becoming more active as they come out of brumation, waking up and leaving their hide more often for basking. At this stage, it is too soon to start offering them food again, but make sure to keep fresh water available to them.
Monitor your pet for a couple of weeks, during which they will either go back to sleep or become more and more active. In this case, you can start reintroducing food to them gradually and turn the light back on a 12 hours on/off schedule.
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PetsWithScales.com is an informational website about big lizard pet care. We collect and provide information from different sources across the web on how to keep and care for reptiles as pets. The species we mainly deal with are tegus, monitor lizards, skinks and geckos. Our aim is to provide high quality information to help pet owners make better, more informed decisions about their animal’s diets, health and life.