A lot of animals hibernate during the winter, including reptiles like snakes and bearded dragons. But do leopard geckos also hibernate? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.
Leopard geckos do hibernate in cold temperatures. But their form of hibernation is called brumation. This term is usually used for all amphibians and reptiles, while hibernation is commonly used for mammals. During brumation, leopard geckos go into a semi-dormant state for around 30 to 90 days.
What is brumation?
Scientifically, brumation describes a metabolic process that takes place in temperate reptiles during their winter sleep. When the cold period is short, the process can be referred to as Torpor. However, these processes are categorized by a general metabolic slowdown but aren’t as dramatic as mammalian hibernation. These processes often occur in leopard geckos that are older than one year.
Why do leopard geckos brumate?
The general consensus is that leopard geckos and other lizards brumate during cold seasons to conserve energy. However, we have yet to fully understand the various reasons these reptiles brumate.
We know that it’s a natural part of their life cycles, especially in the wild. But even then, this process only takes place in places where temperatures significantly drop in some seasons – it never happens in areas without winters.
What are the signs of brumation?
The major signs of brumation include:
- Loss of appetite
- Slow or no movement
- Frequent hiding
- Staying on one side of the tank
- Frequent sleeping
- Reduced pooping
What are the different types of brumation?
Generally, there are two types of brumation among leopard geckos – voluntary and involuntary brumation. The former involves the natural way leopard geckos enter into brumation – as a way to cope with lower environmental temperatures. On the other hand, the latter is usually orchestrated by a pet owner for their own personal reasons.
It’s done by steadily decreasing the lighting and heating of your leopard gecko’s tank until it’s forced to brumate. In most cases, pet owners do this to save money or as preparation to leave their leopard gecko behind as they go on vacation.
What are the advantages of brumation?
The major advantage of brumation is that it can aid the breeding process. This is because of the sudden temperature rise leopard geckos experience after brumation has ended. This change will automatically initiate your gecko’s breeding season, providing them with more opportunities to multiply.
However, brumation can negatively affect your leopard gecko – it causes stress because of how much it slows down your gecko’s digestive system. As such, it’s not advisable to forcefully brumate your leopard gecko unless you are a breeder.
Even then, professional breeders advise that you only brumate female leopard geckos 6 to 8 weeks before you get them to reproduce. However, there is little scientific research on this topic and you could still get good results without brumation.
How do you prepare your leopard gecko for brumation?
Some of the things you can do to prepare your leopard gecko for brumation include:
Get them checked by a vet
Before you let your leopard gecko brumate, you need to prepare it for the process. You can start by taking your gecko to the vet so that they can ensure that it is healthy enough to survive brumation. During this visit, your vet will check your pet’s parasite loads, fat reserves, and other health aspects.
They will particularly pay attention to the plumpness of your leopard gecko’s tail – the plumper the better. So if your gecko’s tail is slim, it’s best to feed them with fatty worms like superworms until it’s fat before you go ahead with brumation.
Also, if you find out that your leopard gecko is infested with parasites, you have to treat them before you allow them to brumate. If you don’t, the parasites will sap your gecko’s energy and can even kill it in lower temperatures.
Reduce their food consumption
Around 10 days before you initiate brumation, you should stop feeding your leopard gecko. This is because brumation slows down your gecko’s metabolism and allows food to remain in its gut for long periods.
After a while, this food begins to rot, accumulate bacteria, cause inflammation, and damage your gecko’s gut. So instead of feeding your leopard gecko before brumation, focus on providing them with water.
How do you initiate brumation in your leopard gecko?
During brumation, you should slowly start changing the light and heating conditions in your gecko’s tank. Ideally, you should reduce the tank’s daytime temperature from around 86 degrees Fahrenheit to around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, it’s advisable to reduce the tank’s night temperature from above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Beyond that, you can change the tank’s light cycle from 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of the night to 10 hours of the day to 14 hours of the night.
However, it’s best to switch light cycles gradually instead of suddenly – the latter can stress your leopard gecko and dissipate its energy. Also, it’s important to monitor your gecko’s hydration and weight loss. For best results, use a letter scale to weigh your leopard gecko at intervals.
If you notice that your pet is starting to lose more than 10% of its original weight, it’s time to stop the brumation process. This level of weight loss usually indicates that your leopard gecko is infected with parasites or that the temperatures in its tank are too low. On the other hand, a thinning tail can be an indication of dehydration. Ultimately, your leopard gecko should not be lighter than 60 to 65 grams.
How do you care for your leopard gecko during brumation?
During brumation, there are still things you need to do to keep your leopard gecko healthy. After all, they’re still a little active and need some things to survive. For instance, you’ll still need to provide water 24/7 – you can put some in a shallow bowl placed in your gecko’s tank.
Also, always ensure that your leopard gecko has access to calcium supplements. You can do this by providing a container full of calcium powder in one corner of your gecko’s tank. Just ensure you don’t provide any vitamin D3 – it will discourage your leopard gecko from feeding and ultimately cause more harm than good.
What should you expect from your leopard gecko after brumation?
After brumation is over and you revert your leopard gecko’s tank heating and lighting conditions to normal, your pet will take a few days to be active again. But when they finally do, you will notice that they have a strong appetite. As such, ensure that your gecko has an abundance of food and water during this time.
Since brumation will deplete your pet’s fat reserves, feeding them with fatty insects like grubs, roaches, and larvae is particularly a good move. You can even give them a few more insects than usual – just be careful not to overfeed them. A few months in warm weather will surely get your leopard gecko’s appetite back to normal though.
When is brumation dangerous for your leopard gecko?
Generally, it’s dangerous to brumate leopard geckos that are sick or under one year of age. Since baby geckos and juveniles need to eat every day and every other day respectively to grow, forcing them to brumate will negatively affect their general health and wellbeing. That’s why they don’t even brumate in the wild.
It’s also important to know that sick leopard geckos can die if they are forced into brumation. This is because brumation makes them weaker than usual and unable to fight off even the mildest of illnesses. Some signs that your leopard is sick include bloating, diarrhea, and straining to defecate.
Tips for effective brumation
To ensure successful brumation in leopard geckos, here are some tips and tricks to apply:
Involve your vet in the brumation process
To avoid any issues, it’s always a good idea to involve your vet before, during, and after brumation. Your vet is in a better position to tell whether the process is going well or whether brumation needs to be stopped.
Have a dedicated area for brumation
To maintain cool temperatures, you should set up a dedicated area for your leopard gecko to brumate. You can even do this by moving their enclosure to a colder part of your home. Just ensure that you choose a suitable spot before you start the brumation process.
Ensure your leopard gecko has hiding places
While leopard geckos generally need hiding places, they need them more during brumation. It’s particularly important to provide hiding spots that are tight and dark.
Put an emergency plan in place
To ensure that you’re ready for anything, ensure that you come up with an emergency plan with your vet or an experienced friend before brumation takes place.
Ultimately, leopard geckos don’t need to brumate to be healthy – they mainly do it as a result of cold temperatures. So even if your gecko doesn’t do it, you don’t need to force them to. Just ensure that their food, water, and environmental needs are met!