In a bold attempt to catch us all unawares, Henry awoke from hibernation just before Christmas 2010. Only a few years ago that would have happened in late February. If he carries on like this he will be hibernating in the summer and demanding indoor accomodation (ie. heat, light and food) through the winter.
As usual, Henry had been hibernating in his “house” (a customised rabbit hutch!) in a partitioned area of our garage which is frost-proof. Fortunately I was checking him daily and noticed the first signs of movement. So he was moved into the house and allowed to warm up to room temperature gradually. Tortoises are cold-blooded creatures whose temperature matches that of their surroundings. Temperature and light levels are important in maintaining activity when a tortoise is not hibernating but sudden large changes of temperature are to be avoided. On the other hand, once awake, a tortoise must not be neglected and allowed to slip back into hibernation as he or she may not have enough reserves left to keep him or her alive for long.
Once in the house Henry would have reached room temperature within a couple of hours but he wouldn’t be interested in food for a few days. Usually I will give him a lukewarm bath each day for the first few days. This is supposed to encourage him to drink and get his systems working. Henry obviously remains blissfully unaware of the conventional wisdom on this matter. I have never known him to drink, which is why I try to ensure that he gets plenty of moisture in his food. The bath is a shallow plastic tray with less than an inch of water in the bottom (and only slightly warmer than room temperature). Although he doesn’t appear to drink the water, Henry seems to enjoy this. Once wiped dry he is returned to his house.
There is much more to the shell of a tortoise than meets the eye. It is not just a hard, inert material, but is growing and repairing itself all the time. I read somewhere a while ago that it is quite sensitive to temperature and touch and I have forgotten the finer details but remember thinking that it shouldn’t be painted or have anything attached to it.
Henry started exploring outdoors during warmer periods towards the end of March and stayed out fulltime by the end of April, partly burying himself at night in a pile of dry grass under his favourite bush. The picture above shows him emerging from said bush and waiting for the sun to shine. Let’s see how long he stays awake this year.