Bruce Explains Box Turtles: Estivation

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Bruce is a three-toed box turtle. Specifically, he is a Texas 3-toed box turtle (eastern box turtle), which means his species is found here in Texas naturally in certain wild places, mostly in the eastern parts of the state.

But just because Bruce is from Texas doesn’t mean our legendary summer heat doesn’t get to him.

When I first rescued Bruce, I was aware of (and terrified by) his need to hibernate annually. By hibernate I mean that when night time temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a fairly routine basis, Bruce starts thinking seriously about shutting down his metabolism and burrowing into the soil to sleep away the winter.

But what I wasn’t aware of – until it started happening – is that Bruce would also hibernate in the summer when daytime temperatures headed consistently into the 90’s.

He did this for the first time last year, which was his second year with our little flock. Of course, the moment he did it, his mama panicked and got on all the box turtle social media groups to ask what the heck was going on already – I mean, hibernation in the summer?!

This was when I learned the term “estivation” (aestivation). Estivation occurs when it gets too hot for the box turtle thermometer to comfortably tolerate. After all, like all reptiles, box turtles are cold-blooded and rely on resources outside themselves to regulate their internal body temperature.

So when it gets really hot outside, Bruce estivates. He crawls into his hay or digs a shallow burrow in the dirt and hides.

When he does this, I check on him every day. I do this by digging around in his enclosure until I find him and then I freak him out by touching him to make sure he is moving and bright-eyed.

Every other day or so, I wake him up and take him out of his burrow so he can eat. I either feed him live prey or put a nice menu that features protein in front of him. He usually eats it. Then I try to dunk him in his outdoor pool to hydrate before letting him burrow back down again.

It is not an exact science and that unnerves me. But mostly as long as he seems clear-eyed and alert and his shell, head, limbs and tail look healthy and normal, I try not to worry too much and let him take the lead.

Bruce all curled up in his lovely soft cool hay pile to estivate for the summer.

And remember…..

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