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Postby Scincoides » Sat Nov 07, 2015 11:41 am

Brumation in reptiles can be compared to hibernation in mammals. Blue Tongues and other reptiles don't shut down in the same manner that warm blooded animals do, but there are some definite similarities. Blue tongues are ectothermic animals, which means they do not produce their own body heat. Ectothermic animals rely on outside sources to maintain their body temperature. This is why we do our best to provide a large temperature gradient in captivity, it allows the animals plenty of options to suit their desired and required temps throughout the day. During the winter in the wild, these animals usually lack the ability to heat up to a temperature high enough to support normal daily activity. This is where brumation kicks in. Brumation is an activity that allows the skinks to survive long periods of below optimal temperatures. The metabolism slows down to prevent excessive weight loss, the animal stops eating to prevent undigested food from rotting in the gut, activity decreases or comes to a complete stop, and the skink becomes dormant for a period of months. Not all Blue Tongues truly brumate, species such as the Blotched and the Eastern do enter what most would consider a state of true brumation, but others such as the more tropical Gigas species don't do much in the way of slowing down in the wild.

What does this mean for my pet?
During the early fall, most keepers notice a drastic decrease in appetite and energy level in their Blue Tongues. For a new keeper this can be very concerning. It often gets viewed as a sign of illness by those who are unfamiliar with their pets natural winter cycles. Often a few degree ambient temperature drop caused by a cooling of your home, is all it takes to let the animal know that the time to shut down has arrived. For keepers with equatorial species, all that is noticed may be a smaller appetite and maybe a slightly less active skink, or you may not notice anything at all. For keepers with species from Australia, you may notice your animal staying in its hide, or buried for days at a time or longer, a complete lack of interest in food, and a very unhappy response from your animal when it’s disturbed. This is nothing to be worried about as long as the animal has good body weight and is in good condition. Leave the animal alone, let it rest. Blue Tongues have been doing this for thousands of years in the wild, without our help. Make sure that water is available, they do often wake up for a few hours here and there to wander the enclosure, get a drink, then head back to their preferred resting spot. Do not offer food during this period. Daylight hours can be decreased to better simulate winter conditions, some keepers eliminate the lighting altogether during this period.

What triggers my skink’s instinct to brumate?
Many factors go into your animal deciding that it’s time to shut down for the winter. Reduction of photo-period, drops in background temperature, nighttime temperature drop, changes in humidity, and barometric pressure change, all let the animal know on a subconscious level that winter is approaching. These are called exogenous cues, which are environmental variances that signal a seasonal change in the skink, and are most prominent in animals that occur in more temperate climates. There are also changes internally such as a shift in hormone levels, called endogenous cues, but they are the direct result of environmental factors. Most blue tongues in captivity will begin to slow down on their own without much work from the keeper. For breeders with climate controlled rooms or facilities, animals can be triggered to shut down by manually reducing temperatures and photo-period. This can be done all at once, or reduced slowly over a few days or weeks to simulate a gradual cooling like they would experience in the wild. Waking them up in spring is simply a matter of doing the opposite. Increase temps in the same method used to shut them down.

The amount of time spent in a state of brumation can vary drastically between the species/subspecies and the conditions in which they are kept. Some gigas species may only slow for a few weeks, many even continue to feed through the whole period. Other times with Aussie animals, especially wild ones and those housed outdoors in their native range, can be largely inactive for as long as 5 months at a time with no negative effects. In captivity 6-10 weeks seems to be average for most animals from a temperate climate.

Effects on reproduction:
Brumation is vital in breeding for most Blue Tongue species. It aids in sperm production in males, and helps the female prepare for ovulation in spring. It also helps to ensure that each gender becomes reproductively ready at the same time of year in captivity. The duration and intensity of brumation may vary by species, but the results are the same. Even the most tropical gigas species may show no outward signs of slowing during the winter, but will still pick up on outside ques which will allow the body to cycle for reproduction normally.

Some species have actually been known to breed during brumation. In the wild reptiles tend to breed at a given time of year that allows them to drop their offspring at a period of time where food and other resources will be most plentiful. This gives the babies the best chance at gaining as much size and condition as possible before experiencing their first winter.

Brumating Juveniles:
There has been a good deal of debate as to the merits of shutting juvenile skinks down for their first winter. I don't personally do it. Most breeders choose to use the winter months to continue growing their animals. In the 2 months of average brumation time, a fast growing juvie Blue Tongue can potentially put on an additional 4 inches or more. Most view it as unnecessary for the first year.If you chose to shut down a juvie animal, make sure that water is available at all times, refrain from offering food, and make sure to keep temps from dropping too low. While I’m sure a baby skink can handle temps just as low as an adult, it’s likely best for the health of the animal to keep them higher just in case. Preventing a juvie skink from brumating is usually very easy to accomplish by simply increasing temperatures by a few degrees and supplying them with nighttime heat.

This is a word that i see thrown around in regards to the winter activities of gigas species, by folks that don't know what it means. Aestivation is in fact the near opposite of brumation. Aestivation is a period of dormancy brought on by exposure to extreme heat or drought. Since high heat and arid conditions aren't often available to gigas species in captivity during the winter, it has little bearing on keepers interested in brumation.

In captivity, just as in nature, brumation carries risks. Fortunately though, in captivity, most animals that are being shut down are in controlled conditions which lessen chances of things going wrong. Weak, ill, and underweight animals should not be shut down. Brumation causes stress on the body of any reptile, of any species, old or young. If you are at all concerned about how to go about shutting your animals down for the winter, i highly encourage you to PM a moderator to help. We will all gladly help out any way that we can.
It also needs to be mentioned that any skink in your care should be monitored for signs of illness during brumation. This can easily be done when checking to make sure that they have clean water. Look the skink over for signs of illness (such as discharge around eyes, nose, and mouth, which are signs of possible respiratory infection) or weight loss. Most skinks lose some weight during brumation, which isn't a big concern as long as it stays below 10% or so of the animals total weight. Try to disturb the animal as little as possible, especially while inspecting it; usually a quick check can be done without touching it.

This was written with the intention of answering common questions regarding brumation. This was not intended to be a how to guide. If you are unsure of anything, i can not stress this enough, ask someone who's done it before.
Austin & Danielle
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