Depending on what species you have, your blue-tongue may or may not brumate. What’s the difference? How do let your skink brumate? This guide will get you squared away.
First of all, brumation and hibernation are the exact same thing.
The word “brumate” comes from a 1965 article on the Hibernation of Horned Lizards by Wilber W. Mayhew, who proposed the new word as distinguishing between hibernating in ectotherms (reptiles) and the hibernation that occurs with mammals.
However, the word itself is unnecessary, as the word basically implies that lizards hibernate in a way different from mammals, which is true, except there is quite a bit of differentiation in the way that mammals themselves hibernate!
Basically, anytime you hear the word brumate from now on, just realize that it means the exact same thing as hibernate!
What is Brumation?
Think of brumation as an adaptation.
In the winter months, the weather makes getting food a lot more difficult for most animals. The temperature drops, and that means that a lot of animals need to spend more time under shelter rather than out foraging for food. Food which was once plentiful and bountiful during the summer months suddenly becomes scarce.
What brumation (hibernation) does is essentially help animals store energy over those tough winter months by remaining inactive.
Note that “inactive” doesn’t mean “sleep“. Those are 2 entirely different physiological processes. In fact, sleeping takes a lot more energy than a state of inactivity!
Think of it like this.
What if you knew you weren’t going to be able to eat for 2 months?
If you had the ability to somehow adapt for this, what would you do?
Well, here is what animals do:
- they accumulate a bunch of food before the process starts
- they slow their heartbeat and body temperature down to conserve energy
- they slow their metabolism down to conserve energy
- then they remain inactive and wait the 2 months out
That’s exactly what bears do for instance, to get through those cold, frigid months in the winter.
The thing with blue-tongue skinks however, is that the species comes from different types of climates.
The native environment of tiliqua is a bit different from that of gigas.
In general, the Australian species of skink are the ones that tend to brumate. Typically, the Indonesian species do not, at least not to the same extent. This is because the seasonal change in Indonesia is not so much hot transitioning to cold, as much as dry transitioning to wet.
Why do the tiliqua species brumate?
The reason is simply to escape the colder temperatures during the winter, where it is often more difficult for them to eat food and survive.
So, what happens to blue-tongues is:
- blue-tongues will mate and start breeding
- the temperature starts to drop in the late fall in Australia (April and May)
- once June starts most blue-tongue skinks will enter a state of brumation
- during this state they will be inactive and safe from the outside elements
- when it starts to heat up again, they come out of their brumation
But that’s in the wild.
The real question is, do you need to induce your captive (bred) skinks to hibernate as well?
Let’s get to that next.
Should You Brumate or Not?
Fortunately, this question is quite easy to answer.
You should brumate your skink if he or she wants to, and you shouldn’t, if he or she doesn’t want to.
Here’s the thing, you can’t force a blue-tongue to brumate. Either it will or it won’t. Even if you leave all the lights on full-blast, give it the same amount of food, if the little guy wants to brumate, he’s going to!
If you’ve got one of the Indonesian species of skink, you will more than likely not need to do anything special during the winter months. No changing lights, temperature, or anything like that, as they usually only slow down a bit. Usually, this means eating a bit less food. Not always however, as sometimes you probably won’t even notice their slight changes.
Just be aware that it’s normal for their appetites to decrease during the winter months, and at the same time continue acting as if everything else was normal.
If you’ve got a Northern however, there is a fairly high chance that you will start seeing changes in their behavior independent of what you are doing.
Note that this applies to any blue-tongues that have not been bred. If you are breeding your skinks, you will almost certainly want to induce brumation. Otherwise, it’s best left up to the skink itself.
Basically, you’ll want to watch for signs that your blue-tongue is starting to go into “brumation-mode“. These are things such as:
- hiding more often
- burrowing more often
- refusing more and more food
If you start to notice these, then it’s probably a good idea to start getting ready for your skink’s brumation period.
In order to help your skink acclimate and induce brumation, you’ll need to do a few things.
How do You Brumate Your Blue-Tongue Skinks?
Creating the conditions which can allow your skink to brumate in a healthy environment is not that hard. In fact, it’s really, really simple.
There are however a few hard and fast rules that I would advise anyone to follow.
To start with, never try to brumate a skink that is less than a year old.
There’s a good reason for this.
Young skinks are still gaining size and weight at this age. Blue-tongues grow faster during their first year than at any other point in their lives. If you were to try to induce them to brumate, they are essentially going to waste away a good 2 months of their lives, lose weight and possibly develop harmful health consequences.
There just really is not good reason to do it.
But what if start to see signs that your young skinks want to brumate?
Again, if they are under a year old, you should try to not let them brumate. Here’s how:
- when you start to see signs of brumation; hiding more often, burrowing more often and less eating, keep the lights on and keep offering food
- consider turning up the temperature in the terrarium just a few degrees
- increase the time spent with the lighting on, consider keeping the lighting on for up to 16 hours a day
Basically, you want to stimulate your young skinks as much as possible, so you don’t give them any good reason to brumate.
Now, if your skink is older than a year old, you’ll want to check on a few things to make sure they are ready for a healthy brumation (given that they are starting to show signs of getting ready to brumate):
- they are at a healthy size and weight
- they show no visible signs of illness or disease
- they are not nursing any injuries, cuts or bruises
If your little guy can pass that test, he (or she) is ready!
Sometime around October, you should start seeing those signs I mentioned above that your blue-tongue is ready to brumate.
Your little skink will start showing these signs as blue-tongues are able to sense the temperature and the air pressure dropping, which signals to them that winter is coming (Long Live the Starks!).
A good time to start your brumation process is in November, when it starts to get cold in places like the United States, Canada and the UK.
The process is:
- First, add a bit of substrate to your terrarium bedding. Your goal here is to make your substrate a little thicker than usual, so that your blue-tongue can burrow down into it and be nice and comfortable: also consider adding an extra hide; putting it in a good location with heaped on substrate to provide a dark, cool place to hide
- You’re going to feed them one last time, so make sure it’s a good, hearty meal: feel free to give a little bit extra food: it’s going to be a while until their next meal!
- Keep everything the same; the temperature, how long you keep the light on, everything except for food, for one week, don’t feed them anything: this is going to help clean out their system and allow for everything inside to be fully digested (however keep offering clean, distilled water even if it’s been a while since you’ve last seen them)
- After 1 week has passed, drop the temperature by a few degrees*, and cut the number of hours that you keep the light on in half, from about 16 to 8: again keep on offering good, clean fresh water on a daily basis
- After 2 weeks have now passed, turn off all your heat sources; both overhead ceramic and under the tank if you have them, and only use your UV light, again only running the light for about 8 hours
- After 3 weeks have passed, you can now turn off your UV light: at night you can use a red light: at this point you shouldn’t be disturbing them at all, just let them do their thing
- Consider putting a dark-colored towel or lid on the terrarium to keep it even darker, this will make them feel even more comfortable
For temperatures, you can use the figures listed below as guidelines. Adjust as necessary.
- For Northerns (and Easterns) and Irian Jayas, keep the temperature betweeen 55 and 65 degrees (that is 13 to 18 degrees Celsius)
- For Indonesian species that want to brumate, keep the temperature lower than usual, but not lower than 65 to 70 degrees (18-20 degrees Celsius)
Keep offering them water, but do your best not to disturb your little guys.
Sometime in January, right around the middle of the month, you will notice your blue-tongue start to become active again. They won’t be running around your terrarium like usual, but they will probably be coming out a bit more.
What you don’t want to do is to crank the heat back up, turn the light back on for 16 hours a day and start feeding him a big meal of hearty dog food ASAP.
Instead, you’ll want to slowly reverse the brumation process, basically following the above steps, but in reverse.
In February, your blue-tongue should be back to full activity and everything should be running back as normal.
And that’s really all there is to the brumation process!
How Different Skinks React to Brumation
I love to eat raw chocolate-chip cookie dough. A lot of other people (my wife included) think it’s disgusting.
Blue-tongue skinks are quite similar. They have different likes, dislikes, personalities, tendencies, habits, etc.
Basically, different blue-tongues are going to react differently to how they brumate, when they brumate, when they come out of it and all of that.
Some blue-tongues will not want to brumate at all, particularly Indonesian species. That being said, if your Northern or Irian Jaya doesn’t appear to even want to brumate, don’t be alarmed. That’s totally normal. Not every Northern or Irian Jaya will brumate.
Skinks will go about this process in their own way:
- some blue-tongues will stay burrowed in their substrate and rarely, if ever, come out
- some will come out, but just to drink water
- some will come out, drink water and even lay in their basking spot a bit
- some will come out, drink water, lay in their basking spot and even look around for food
- some will act as if it’s not winter at all
Whatever you do, try to avoid the following:
- forcing your blue-tongue to brumate when it’s under a year old
- forcing your blue-tongue to brumate when it shows no clear signs that it actually wants to
- forcing your blue-tongue to eat when it doesn’t want to
- disturbing your bluey, especially right in the middle of brumation season
- waking up your bluey while it’s sleeping
On that last note, if you do, you are liable to get a strong hiss right back in your direction from a really grumpy blue-tongue. Just let them be. Mother Nature knows whats right.
To sum everything up here:
- brumation and hibernation are the exact same thing (and you can use either word without being wrong)
- Northerns and Irian Jayas tend to want to brumate more than the Indonesian species
- only create the conditions for a good brumation if you notice visible signs from your blue-tongue, such as it hiding more often, staying burrowed longer and going longer and longer without food as the winter season approaches
- follow the procedure outlined in this article regarding how to induce a good brumation, remember not to just turn off all your lights, heat and food, but instead slowly ramp down, then back up again as the winter winds down
- follow the signs your skink is giving you!