Geckos are the only species of lizard to have as many as 1500 sub-species, this makes them incredibly interesting animals. It also means that there is a lot of scope for them to be kept as pets, with so many different geckos to explore.
But one of the things that you must consider when adopting a gecko is that these animals may go into a winter deep sleep known as brumation. This is similar to hibernation in mammals but there are differences.
In this article, we are going to be looking at the brumation habits of both wild and captive geckos, giving you a good idea of what to expect, should your pet decide to bed down for the winter.
What Is Brumation?
A lot of pet owners ask whether geckos hibernate.
Geckos do not hibernate in the same sense that a lot of mammals do. However, they do go through a process known as brumation which has a lot of similarities to the mammalian process. Brumation happens typically during the winter months when the food supply is far less great than it would be in the summer.
This process is a survival technique but whereas hibernating is a sort of sleep, brumation is more of a slowing down period for a reptile.
Geckos and other types of lizard do not enter into a deep sleep, from which they will only awake come spring but instead, their bodies and many of the systems within the body will drastically slow.
The metabolism is one of the key systems to slow down during brumation and this means that the gecko does not need to eat or drink anywhere near as much.
However, unlike mammals who may not eat at all during hibernation, a gecko may still have the odd morsel here or there. They may also brumate close to a water source so that they can rehydrate themselves when they need to.
During brumation, a gecko will lower its body temperature. This is one of the most wonderful things about geckos; they are able to regulate their body temperature merely by moving location.
For example, if they want to warm up, they will bask in the sun; this is why it is important to have a heat source in the enclosure of a captive gecko. Conversely, when they need to lower their temperature for brumation, they will crawl underground or into somewhere dark.
Do Geckos Need To Brumate?
In captivity, there is no real need to a gecko to brumate since the temperature and food supply is always constant. In a captive environment, these animals may not even be able to differentiate between the seasons.
However, there are some breeders that may encourage brumation as they claim that this can help a female to produce a healthier egg clutch.
The reason behind this thinking is that in the wild, there is a clear connection between brumation and breeding season. As the geckos brumate, it is believed that this has an impact on their hormones.
Since breeding season happens just after brumation ends, there is a suggestion that the process helps the reproductive health of the animal.
However, brumation can be a dangerous process if it is not carried out correctly and while some owners force their geckos into brumation, this is not a good idea.
As the lizard enters into the process, there is a risk of food not being fully digested and this can cause health problems. What’s more, you may also find that the gecko’s temperature falls too low and this can cause further issues and potentially death.
For this reason, we would always suggest not forcing your pet into brumation. If you are a breeder, you should seek professional advice from a vet or other experienced breeder before even considering a forced brumation.
How Do I Know If My Gecko Is Brumating?
If you are a pet owner, you may inadvertently discover your gecko brumating and at first, this can be pretty shocking. Some people make the mistake that the animal has died so before you worry about anything else, you should check that your pet is alive and well.
The first thing to consider is that brumation is a normal part of a geckos life cycle and while it is not always common in domestic animals, it does still happen.
That being said, if the gecko is under one year old, brumation could be dangerous and we would suggest seeking advice from your vet. They will be able to assess the health of the gecko and determine whether it should be disturbed from brumation or merely monitored.
If you want to avoid the shock of discovering a brumating pet gecko, you could familiarise yourself with the common symptoms that brumation is near. Quite often, these can be similar to symptoms of illness but more often than not, if you notice any of the following, it is likely that you pet will be preparing to brumate.
- Loss of appetite
- Spending more time in the cooler part of the cage
- Seeming less active than usual
- Hiding for long periods
How Long Do Geckos Brumate?
The length of time that your gecko will spend in brumation will vary greatly from animal to animal. Typically, you can expect him to remain in brumation for between one to three months or 30 to 90 days.
While you could be forgiven for thinking that, during this time, you do not need to provide the same care for your pet, it is still vital that you leave a water supply in the enclosure.
You may also wish to lower the overall temperature of the tank until the lizard begins to rouse, at which point, you can begin to increase it once again.
In the case the you wish to rouse your gecko before the natural end of his brumation period, for example, if he is losing too much weight, then turning the temperature up can help to do this.
Geckos are a very popular species of lizard to keep as a pet and while they are small, they still require careful care. One aspect of this is being aware of the brumation process which is similar to hibernation, a process that we see in other types of animals like mammals.
Geckos typically brumate in the wild, however, when kept as pets, this is not a behaviour that we always observe since the conditions do not call for it.
However, brumation is also something that is naturally ingrained in a gecko so they may still do it in captivity. If you do find that your gecko is brumating, there is no reason to be alarmed; this is very normal and unless there are health reasons that could be exacerbated by brumation, you can leave your pet to do what he does naturally.