Brumating Babies

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Scotts1au
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Brumating Babies

Postby Scotts1au » Wed Oct 17, 2012 4:42 pm

For those who've been around here a few years the discussion has come up about whether or not to brumate babies in their first year, or keep them on heat for the first year. I thought the following might be of some use.

There have been issues reported of Alpine Blotched blueys failing to thrive after being woken or simply dying in brumation in their first year.

My first batch of babies that I recieved in 2007 from a breeder in Sydney I brumated against the breeders advice. Consequently two of the three ended up dying despite otherwise very good husbandry. This year I moved house over the Winter Period, having several juvenile Alpine Blotched blueys left from this years babies. I decided to allow them to brumate from May to September in an unheated garage (min temp would have been in the order of 5C inside the brick garage - ave temp probably 10C).

Anyway cutting a long story short, one of the three babies died yesterday (despite my only other losses being due to an accident), meaning that both times I have attempted to brumate them over the winter period I have had babies that have died, this is despite these species experiencing cold conditions in their natural habitat. The death is consistent with the experience of other keepers that I spoken to over the year. I have taken micro-climate issues into account. When taken out of brumation there were no apparent signs of dehydration the animals weren't fed for some time before being brumated etc.

I suspect that it comes down to the fact that some animals are more "fit" than others and probably would have died in the wild but keeping them heated and active in their first year gives them a better chance to be fully developed (organs etc) than those that are subjected to stresses early. There were no apparent differences in growth rates or any other outward development or fitness or illness issues prior to going into brumation though.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Jeff » Wed Oct 17, 2012 7:53 pm

Thanks for the info Scott. I think NOT brumating babies of all Tiliqua species during their first winter is one of the things that most people generally believe in, just because it is what has been passed on for years. It is much better to have actual evidence to support the belief.

I think this is one more example of a time that it is NOT best to attempt to mimic natural conditions as closely as possible for our captive blueys.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Richard.C » Thu Oct 18, 2012 1:23 am

Its an odd one scott,ive also had the odd issue to,its only the odd one or 2 though,even 2 that were kept outdoors succumbed,but not until spring,yet 12 others were fine

I used to think maybe its a dryness factor with brumating juvies indoors,but outside here over winter and spring is anything but dry,lol

Another thought i had was maybe they ate late,and picked up an infection from not being able to digest meal,or the oppasite,ate to early in spring,it seems to happen after the coolest weather,and they go down hill when there siblings take off again

I brumated mine this season,no issues at all,the kimberley babies shut them selves down,no issues there either,but i lost a few babies a couple of seasons ago,same symptoms as the juvie blotchies,prob with juvies is they are more vunerable,they can go down hill fast,less hardy to keeper error i guess

Or perhaps they are weakened animals like u said,so behind the 8 ball from the start
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby kl » Thu Oct 18, 2012 5:15 pm

Unless someone told me of some health benefit I was not aware of, I would not brumate first yr animals.

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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Lea » Sun Oct 21, 2012 4:11 am

Absolutely in agreement with not brumating babies in their first year. I haven't had too many, but 75% have faired badly if brumated in their first year. This year was probably my worst experience and I might butt in with some photos on your thread, if you don't mind, Scott, with Suunto having a TERRIBLE first year brumating.

Suunto is a shingleback from last year's babies. She was a healthy weight and size at the end of summer and eating well. I was quite careful with their diets, making sure there was good weather and plenty of warm days in the run up sleeping after their last meal, just to ensure they had all managed to properly digest their food. I then just let them naturally sleep, keeping fresh water available.

Our winter in SA was mild, if a little wet, so I do think their increased activity levels during the winter periods may have influenced things a bit, but overall, things appeared to go well. All, but Suunto, seemed to fair extremely well, with weights remaining fairly stable and no big losses.

Suunto emerged quite emaciated and after some deliberation, I ended up bringning her inside and warming her up. Unfortunately, her condition was fairly poor and I had a struggle to get her to eat, syringe feeding became my only option to recondition her. She did respond, thankfully, but I learned a harsh lesson about brumating babies.

Thank you for starting this thread, Scott. It's comforting to know others have had similar experiences, if sad, but definitely beneficial for future brumations knowing this.

I'll start a new thread with my pictures of her emaciation, if you like, but it seems appropriate to post them here though. (she's fat and happy in her recent pictures, so the difference is fairly astonishing).
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Fatal_S » Sun Oct 21, 2012 9:33 am

Question: Since it's been brought up on the general forum, what about babies brumating themselves. As in conditions remain the same (warmth/food/water available) but the baby brumates.

I personally will not force a baby to brumate or to remain awake - I leave conditions the same for the first 2 years of their lives and let them do what they want to do. But I have only a few years experience, and am still learning a lot every winter I brumate.

So I suppose my question is do you believe brumation itself is dangerous for babies, or rather brumation under cold/poor-conditions is dangerous for babies?
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Richard.C » Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:13 pm

Mel thats why i let mine brumate,because sometimes they just go and do it even with heat available,i find it safer letting them continue,over winter here my cages have an enormous temp gradient,alot just go curl up down cool end,some stay active,some i just turn lights off and let them brumate,for me its probably safer shutting them down,its more risky for me to try keeping them active

Brumation is fine for babies,but get it wrong and compared to adults they are more at risk of succumbing,obviously diffetent species req,uire different conditions,eg my northerns shut down in conditions the blotchies would remain active in,so benefits either way i guess drpending on your conditions,if you can keep them active easily its probably safest to not brumate them
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Jeff » Sun Oct 21, 2012 2:32 pm

I think the main reason that many wild blueys don't make it through brumation their first year is that the conditions are extreme. Most of the time, our captive skinks are not subjected to conditions as harsh as those that wild blueys experience. I believe that mostcaptive babies would probably do fine being moderately cooled their first year, but I would still never do it on purpose.

The key is to watch your babies closely during the fall. I would recommend keeping the temperatures constant as the season changes, BUT if your skink is determined to brumate, then I wouldn't try to stop it. The thing to be careful of though, is keeping the skink warm enough to burn calories while he is not eating. That is what leads to dangerous weight loss. If your northern shuts down with normal temperatures, then I would lower the temps to 65-68f 24/7, and stop offering food completely. Only leave it that way for 6-8 weeks though. After that I would work them back up to normal and start offering food again.

I definitely think it is best to NOT brumate skinks over their first winter if possible. They are just not as hardy as adults yet. Nothing is gained by brumating them, and there is a real risk of losing them. If they brumate anyway, all you can really do is make things as "survivable" as possible.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Scotts1au » Sun Oct 21, 2012 3:24 pm

Funny thing that initially I mentioned that I don't brumate my babies a couple of years ago and got critism on this site from a few people as being cruel and setting them up for problems later in life etc etc.. This was after my initial experience, however of having complications in my Alpine babies - which I feel are particularly sensitive to management in their first year. Years ago I used to brumate baby lowland blotchies without problems, cos they were born outdoors and overwintered with their parents. However that was in Melbourne with a milder climate and with animals which were sourced from the area. I have however found dead babies in the wild, I have some photos somewhere.

My baby Alpines show no interest in brumating if they are kept in an environment where the min temps don't drop below about 20C at night (which is maintained by a low wattage CHE attached to a thermostat at night). They do continue to grow like stink and eat throughout the normal brumation period and emerge at about 40 cm(ish) long in September, when I normally put them outside again, only because they have outgrown their welcome indoors by this time, this is the start of our Spring. This year I brumated them out of necessity rather than wanting to test them out, but thought the observations might be useful.

There are definately issues with emaciation in animals which are active but not eating, a particular problem with Easterns because they don't brumate as effectively as blotchies. Easterns are up and about even in 10C, sunning themselves but won't eat until October, or even November for males. My baby blotchie that died this year wasn't emaciated, I figure probably organ failure of some kind.

Colin H was adamant that young Alpines in particular need to be kept going, citing problems with them starting to eat again and generally failing to thrive and of dying suddenly for no apparent reason.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Jeff » Sun Oct 21, 2012 3:30 pm

If there was a "like" button on your post, I would have hit it Scott.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Lea » Sun Oct 21, 2012 4:05 pm

This is Suunto when she first woke up. Note the extremely sunken tail and thin appearance, particularly the scrawny hips and legs.


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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Lea » Sun Oct 21, 2012 4:17 pm

This is after about a month and a half. The difference is staggering- i will definitely think more about brumating babies after this.

To the query about letting them brumate, I think it was Mel who asked whether letting them do what comes naturally. Suunto is kept outdoors all year and so letting her do what came naturally, was just a matter of seeing what happens and even though there was a lot of activity due to milder temperatures, they all brumated to some degree, refusing diets etc and increasing their sleep to wake ratio as the winter set in. I would see them on warm days though, even in the middle of a harsh spell. Despite being a healthy weight at the start, she had a marked decline, far more than any of the other skinks, even bearing in mind her weight ratio to length and build.


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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Richard.C » Wed Oct 24, 2012 1:18 am

Easterns are an oddity in cold climates,they find places that heat up in cold weather for brumation,they actually leave it on sunny days as it can get to warm,so to prevent losing condition they come out to maintain right cool temp ,a great adaptation in cooler climates

Compost heeaps are loved as over wintering sites by easterns down here,one local snake catcher gets lots of snake calls over winter only to find its an eastern or less commonly a blotch using thefe compost heap to over winter
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby El Lobo » Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:56 am

It does make you think about the Blotchies around here being born so late in the season and brumating before they have any real chance to increase their condition. I have only found 3 or 4 babies dead in our yard from an estimated 3 separate litters and 2 of those had puncture wounds at the throat.

There was an article I read a while back that I think was from some research conducted by the University of Tasmania which extrapolated data estimating only 15% of the Tasmanian lowlands make it to adults.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby critterguy » Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:46 pm

My first guess would be that babies have much more sensitive microclimate needs for successful brumation compared to adults. I'm sure the first winter weeds out many that either made dumb decisions in site selection, or simply were not very tough physiologically. In captivity, we can't provide quite the variety we can in the wild. Also, in captivity, with fewer animals we want all of them to make it. I don't think that is necessarily a good thing. Not saying let all the weak ones die, but not using them as breeders would be prudent so to save future keepers and breeders from problems.

By breeding in captivity we are invariably selecting for a different animal than what may be most fit in the wild. (maybe in the wild the ones that refuse to brumate and grow like crazy end up keeling over). Whether that is a good idea or not depends on the keepers opinion and how he sets up his animals.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Scotts1au » Wed Oct 24, 2012 7:34 pm

Agree that in captivity we are breeding animals that suit captivity better, not necessarily however breeding against animals (at least in the short term) that would survive in the wild because we are not actively selecting against that trait. The selection comes not in death of individuals and breeding of survivors but in our anthropogenic judgement of which animals to breed from. Invariably those traits aren't the same set of traits that the natural environment would select for. Arguably a sedate temperament, bright colours, large size are all likely to be traits that would see many animals naturally selected out of life and subsequent breeding for future generations. I don't think we can say however that we are actively selecting against cold tolerance or the ability to select appropriate site selections for brumation, because those things aren't tested for, or against in our selection process.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby critterguy » Thu Oct 25, 2012 3:58 pm

Scotts1au: by not selecting for it you will in a sense be selecting against as it is going to be lost/diluted through genetic drift. The willingness to brumate could be selected against since such animals would be a pain in the butt and would grow slower.

I see nothing wrong with it, captive hobbyist blue tongue skinks are not ever going to be reintroduced to the wild.

The only potential issue would be someone wishing to keep blue tongues in an outdoor enclosure who buys from someone who has bred his for many generations indoors. Problems could theoretically arise.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Scotts1au » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:17 pm

I'm not disagreeing about the genetic drift issue, however I believe that anthrogenic selection is a far greater issue. I believe that the genetic drift is a many generational issue (10s or even 100s) whereas human based selection - establishment of breeding lines, inbreeding etc are far bigger determinants to the genetics of a small population size. There is plenty of evidence for animals sourced from captive lines being extremely fit and diverse wild type genetics and rapid reversion, even after many years of selection, modicodling in captivity, ie. goats, pigs, feral cats etc etc. I think that the drift issue is somewhere very low down the list of concerns, not saying that it isn't there as an issue.
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby Richard.C » Thu Oct 25, 2012 8:55 pm

I dont think u can selective breed out the want to brumate with them,especially if you want to breed them,especially blotcheds,theres a reason they arent found where its more consistantly warm

To stop them brumating you have to trick them into thinking its the active season,which even then is classed as cool compared to say a northern or indos norm
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Re: Brumating Babies

Postby critterguy » Fri Oct 26, 2012 8:17 am

Richard: I should mention I was thinking more along the lines of babies in their first year of life...some it seems are a lot more willing to continue feeding.

Scott: Both excellent points. I dunno if we will ever have to worry about it with skinks, though captive animals are definitely going to be larger and more colorful if the breeders select for what most people want. But it'd be interesting if, say, US bloodlines of Australian animals end up different than those from the motherland.

It may be a bit taboo to bring up culling but in species that we have large numbers of it is something to consider. Not saying they need to be disposed of but anything that does not thrive from the get-go for what appears to be genetic reasons should be kept just as a pet...could make the lives of future keepers a lot easier. No factual evidence to support this claim that I can find but many old timers in the fish and reptile hobby complain about how bloodlines in the old days were much hardier and vigorous than today.

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