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Anna, Reptile Expert, Biologist
Category: Reptile
Satisfied Customers: 11461
Experience:  Have owned turtles, snakes, amphibians, and lizards. Study and provide habitat for wild herps.
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I acquired a small box turtle this past summer, and now (here

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I acquired a small box turtle this past summer, and now (here in Albuquerque, NM), it's just about time to hibernate. I know almost NOTHING about turtles, but I've talked to several people who have some experience, and the most trusted have advised me that my turtle may need some "encouragement" to start digging.

It's overcast, breezy, and cool here in Albuquerque today. My tentative plan is to till a portion of my "garden" if you could call it that, strategically place some of the lava rocks that this turtle likes by "sinking" them a little and shoring them up with bricks, and then digging/tilling a little deeper. I don't have ready access to hay or straw, but a neighborhood store most likely sells rabbit hutch stuff to help keep rabbits warm. Would this stuff work for my turtle?

How agressive should I be in trying to facilitate this whole endeavor? One friend says that she will sometimes dig a tunnel, put one of her turtles in it, and then cover the tunnel with dirt. I don't feel comfortable with this.

I feel like I'm at the end of my rope one this one and that I MUST do something today.

Any advice you could give me would be much appreciated!!

My name is XXXXX XXXXX I'm a biologist with a special interest in reptiles. I'll be happy to answer your questions today, but successfully hibernating turtles is trickier than it would seem. Some additional information will be helpful.

First of all, is there any way it would be possible for you to bring Lila in the house for the winter?

What is the temperature outside today?

How well has Lila been eating for the last couple of weeks?

Thank you.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Bringing Lila into the house is not feasible at this time. Our house is very small, and I have three cats who would most like bother her if she were captive.

It's chilly outside but not freezing, 44 degrees F.


Lila's appetite has decreased over the last several days. She is also not interested in water. She DOES appear to be very healthy and strong (and stubborn).


I just picked a large lava rock to move to the section of my garden that I'm planning to till this morning.


Did a quick search for her, but I didn't find her.

Thank you for getting back to me. I’m working on your answer and will post it as soon as I have it typed up. Please don’t respond to this post as that can lock me out of the question. I’ll be back shortly.
Thank you for waiting. You're right to be concerned about your friend's advice to dig a tunnel and bury the turtle. If your friend has had success with that method, she has been very lucky. A turtle should never be forced to hibernate. Turtles naturally seek out the level in the soil where the temperature is safest - we don't know how to do that. Hibernation is a dangerous time for turtles of every kind, and even in the wild, many don't survive the winter. When we humans interfere, it becomes even more risky. If a turtle eats too much during the last few weeks before hibernating, the food will not be digested, but will rot in the stomach. That leads to fatal infections. If the turtle hasn't eaten enough during the summer to store enough fat to last through the winter, it will starve during hibernation.

Normally, box turtles will hibernate when temperatures are consistently in the 40's, but if the soil hasn't yet cooled off, many will wait until it does. In nature, when temperatures are in the 40's and 50's, many box turtles don't hibernate at all, but simply slow down for awhile. For Lila's sake, the only thing you should do is provide good places if she chooses to hibernate. Your ideas of tilling the soil, placing lava rocks, and adding some of the hay sold for rabbits are all good. You can take her to the place you prepare so she knows it is there, but don't try to force her into in any way. It's better to rely on the turtle's instincts than to enforce what we think is best for them. Some people hibernate their turtles inside in the refrigerator, but this procedure requires careful preparation. The following sites have more information on hibernation:

In summary, it is best if the only thing you do is prepare a good site, then leave it up to Lila. It's possible that she isn't mature enough for hibernation to be triggered (they often don't for the first few years) , or that she doesn't feel cold enough yet. Leave it up to her.

If you have more questions, let me know in a REPLY. I wish Lila a successful winter, however she chooses to spend it.


My goal is to provide you with excellent service – if you feel you have gotten anything less, please reply back, I am happy to address follow-up questions. Please remember to rate my service only after you have all the information you need. Thank you!
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Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you, Anna, I did view your answer and truly appreciate all the good
advice you gave me. I prepared a suitable place for my box turtle to use
for hibernation when she's ready. She started using her new lava rock
"cabin" covered with Timothy Hay right away. I searched for her several more times during the day, and she wasn't in her usual inadequate spots, so I'm reasonably certain that she is enjoying her new digs: much more roomy, warmer, easier to dig deeper, and in the SUNNIEST spot in my entire back yard, so it will remain comfortable throughout the winter. Thanks again for your excellent advice and for giving me the confidence I needed to do the right thing for this beautiful little creature!

You're welcome. I'm glad to hear that Lila has settled in to her winter home. I hope she'll enjoy a healthy hibernation.