Although it is hard to believe here in Southern California, winter is coming. Winter is the time when many species of turtle and tortoises will hibernate in the wild (actually the more correct term is "brumate", reptiles don't undergo the same physiological changes that occur when mammals hibernate).
Hibernation usually coincides with shorter day lengths and the onset of cooler weather when the lack of suitable food sources and the climatic conditions are not conducive for normal reptile behavior.
During hibernation the body processes slow down. Digestion ceases, the circulation is reduced, and the immune and other defense systems slow or stop. Because of these changes disease can develop unchecked, and even mild or minor complaints can turn into major problems for turtles and tortoises. For this reason the Club advocates that you should NEVER HIBERNATE SICK OR INJURED TURTLES OR TORTOISES!
Hibernation needs vary according to the type of turtle. Some care recommendations (taken from the CTTC care-sheets) for different types of turtle are given below. If you need more information contact CTTC Officers, they will be able to refer you to someone who can help.
Desert and Texas Tortoises
Usually by the end of October, desert tortoises will eat less, bask less, and appear sluggish. A suitable hibernation place may have to be provided. Some tortoise owners use a dog house insulated with a thick layer of dry soil, leaves, or shredded newspaper. The entrance should be covered with a tarp to protect it from flood or rain. Many keepers prefer to "store" their pets in the garage. The tortoise is placed in a stout cardboard box, that is deep enough that it cannot climb out, and is covered with insulating layers of newspaper. The box is placed up off the cement floor in an area free from drafts or rats. If the box is placed in your garage, remember not to run automobile engines because of the risk of poisoning from the fumes. A cool closet is also a safe place for hibernation.
Some tortoises will build a burrow, and in some areas may successfully hibernate themselves. However, before allowing this, consider the location of the burrow. If there is a significant risk of flooding from heavy rainfall do not allow your pet to hibernate there.
Hibernating tortoises should be checked periodically. A sleeping tortoise will usually respond if its foot is touched. If the tortoise should waken, encourage it to return to sleep. When the days begin to warm, around March or April, the tortoise will become active in its storage box. At this time, a warm bath should be given, and the tortoise will often take a long steady drink. Within a week or two it should resume its normal activity of eating, exercising and sunbathing.
It is important that a tortoise be plump and in good health before hibernating; otherwise, it may not survive the winter. By the end of the summer, a well fed tortoise will form fat reserves around its shoulders and legs.
If for some reason you do not wish your tortoise to hibernate, it must be brought indoors and kept at a warm temperature (75-85° F) for it to remain active. It will require room for exercising and regular feedings. Many tortoise keepers believe that it is better to keep hatchling tortoises active for their first one or two winters.