Seasonal changes are common in most ecosystems and in some cases can be very extreme. Animals are often affected by these changes, as temperature and precipitation cycles change throughout the year. These changes affect, among other things, the animal’s ability to get food or water. For this reason, cold-blooded animals, such as reptiles and amphibians, have developed strategies to survive repeated adverse conditions, such as brumation.

In this article we will talk about what brumation is, how long it lasts, why it happens and give you some common examples of animals that go through this process.

What is brumation?

Ectothermic animals, also called cold-blooded animals, rely on heat sources in the environment because they cannot generate heat on their own. Most of these animals live in places where the temperature is relatively constant, such as deep ocean regions. However, some ectothermic animals also live in environments where temperatures fluctuate greatly, which affects them directly.

To cope with the drop in temperatures, ectothermic animals have developed behaviors such as brumation to regulate their body temperature and guarantee their survival. Similar to hibernation, they go into a dormant state where their metabolism slows down. They also reduce their activity level, body temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate like other animals do during hibernation. Also, they tend to hide underground, in cracks and burrows, to keep warm and safe. However, on the warmest days of winter, they venture out to fetch water.

Differences between brumation and hibernation

In brumation, both reptiles and amphibians slow down their metabolic processes, but are not completely in a state of deep sleep. They still need to move around to get some water and food to stay alive during this time.

In contrast, hibernation is a controlled, prolonged sleep state in which body temperature and physiological processes are reduced to their lowest level. During hibernation, the animal does not need to consume food or water because it lives on the reserves it has accumulated during the previous months.

Similar to hibernation, brumation allows animals to conserve energy, but not as much as hibernation.

How long does brumation last?

Brumation varies from species to species and depends on factors such as the age and condition of the animal. The duration of brumation also varies from species to species, as it is affected by the duration of low temperatures. This means that brumation can last between three and six months. This state of lethargy is broken as soon as the temperature rise begins.

Some examples of brumation

Having learned that reptiles and amphibians experience brumation when temperatures drop, let us show you some examples of animals that go through this fascinating process:

Common garter snake

Depending on the habitat, brumation of the common garter snake can last up to 6 months. However, the animal seeks out direct sunlight on sunny winter days. This species of snake is usually a solitary animal, but when temperatures drop, it is common for it to curl up with its conspecifics in the burrows of other animals, creating greater heat through contact with other snakes.

Fire salamander

Fire salamanders are another example of animals that suffer from brumation. This amphibian remains relatively inactive in extreme conditions, whether the temperature is high or low, and is therefore most active at night. It resides primarily in burrows, often choosing the same location year after year to reach this dormant state.

Common frog

When ponds and lakes freeze over in winter, you probably wonder what happens to the frogs that live in them. As cold-blooded amphibians, they go into brumation. This process usually takes place underwater and in groups of many of the same species. This dormant state varies by location and the length of the winter months.

Pond turtle

Brumation in turtles is quite common, especially in some species such as aquatic turtles. This tortoise has become a very popular pet and is now widely distributed in various habitats. They live semi-aquatic lives and tend to bask constantly to keep warm. When the water temperature drops between 15°C and 10°C, it is very likely that the turtle enters a state of brumation, since the ideal temperature of the water is 28°C.