What is Brumation?
Most people are familiar with the term hibernation where an animal such as a hedgehog finds a safe place to hide and sleeps through the winter.
Brumation or Hibernation?
Why do Bearded Dragons brumate?
Lets look first at where bearded dragons come from. They are prevalent in Central Australia with a range stretching from South Australia, up through New South Wales to inland Queensland and across to Northern Territory. The recommended temperatures in a bearded dragonís vivarium come from the summer temperatures here, which range from 30 to 33 degrees centigrade the day, dropping to 18 to 21 degrees at night. During the winter months the daytime temperatures will be 15 to 18 degrees in the daytime, and 3 to 6 degrees at night. Beardies are unable to migrate to a warmer climate, so to cope with the colder months they slow down their metabolism, find a safe place to hide (in a hole under a rock) and donít come out until the weatherís warm again.
If I keep the temperature in my vivarium constant, why would my bearded dragon want to brumate?
Bearded dragons were imported into the UK from Australia during the 1960ís and 1970ís. Since that time bearded dragons have been bred in captivity. The instinct to find somewhere to sleep during the winter may, to some extent, have been bred out of the pets we have nowadays. Some bearded dragons kept in captivity naturally slow down in winter, others keep going showing the same activity and interest in food all year long.
If your beardie shows signs of slowing down then you can help him brumate. Thereís not a lot of scientific evidence yet to say the effect that brumation has on a bearded dragonís overall health and lifespan, but the current thinking is that it may shorten their life if they are not allowed to brumate. But as discussed above, the urge to brumate was instinctual due to the environment that wild bearded dragons live in. Captive dragons have no such necessity to have an annual shutdown. It may be, in years to come, that reptile keepers are advised to enforce a period of brumation on captive bred bearded dragons, but for now the advice seems to be if he wants to brumate, help him, if he doesnít, and you donít want to force the issue, donít worry about it.
How do I help my bearded dragon brumate?
As we try to mimic their natural environment in setting up the vivarium, so we should mimic the weather patterns which would induce brumation. In mid autumn, or when you sense your beardie is slowing down, start reducing the temperature in the vivarium so after a period of 4 to 6 weeks it there is no heating at all. It is important to check that your bearded dragon has cleared out itís bowels before switching off the heat, as anything left in his gut may rot or ferment. The steps to follow are: stop feeding, reduce temps slowly, wait until your bearded dragon has cleared itís bowels and then turn the heat and light off.
When you have turned off the heat and lighting give him a couple of days and then put him in a cool place for the next three months. A box in a cupboard in an unheated room is ideal. Make sure you provide water as brumation is different to the deep sleep of hibernation, and they can wake up for a drink. It is important not to feed during this period.
You do not have to take them out of the vivarium - beardies can brumate in their vivarium with the temp and light off, and covered with a blanket. But taking them out means they can have an undisturbed rest and gives you the opportunity to strip down the vivarium and give it a good clean.
After three months (or when he naturally starts to stir) gradually start to turn up the heat and light again. They do not lose weight during brumation as their body processes have slowed, but will be very hungry when they are fully awake.
Can all bearded dragons brumate?
A sub adult, that is up to 12 months of age, should not be encouraged to brumate as they are still growing and need to keep eating. If a young dragon looks like itís trying to slow down over the winter, keep the temps up and the lights on and feed as normally as possible.
My bearded dragon is seven years old and has never brumated. Would it do her good if I lowered the temps next winter?
As previously mentioned there are no major studies on this subject so if your dragon has never shown signs of brumation and is perfectly healthy then it will probably make little or no difference With a young dragon however it is suggested that you do try to encourage what is a natural process and has been for a few million years.
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Brumation is essentially the same, but is given a different name in the reptile world as it involves a different metabolic process. The reptileís metabolism will slow right down during brumation without the need for food to sustain them - a hibernating animal will live off itís fat reserves which it has built up during the summer months.
In essence though, to pet owners, hibernation and brumation are essentially the same. During the colder winter months the animal will slow down and Ďsleepí, waking again when the weather warms up.