Resisting the Tortoise Hibernation Instinct in 15 Simple Steps

Our tortoise, Speedy Gonzalez, has not gained enough weight after his summer long bout with pneumonia, dehydration and kidney disease. According to the veterinarian, he won’t survive months of hibernation. I’ve followed instructions to construct a terrarium for him, a winter hangout.

1. Buy a very large plastic box (33 x 20 in. minimum).

2. Take this unwieldy box to the vet’s shop where she demonstrates how to attach two clamp lights, (one for light and one for heat), a thermometer and a timer.  Purchase this equipment and a multiple extension cord.

3. Assemble terrarium at home, lining the bottom of the box with shredded newspaper.

4. Add a shoe box cut in half for Speedy’s sleeping quarters and plates for water and food.

5. Insert Speedy.


6. Check the next morning. The thermometer is way below the 27 degrees C necessary to activate Speedy’s metabolism. He isn’t eating.

7. Remove wet newspaper where he spilled his water.

8. Plan B. Place him in a box in the sun.

9. Soak him in lukewarm water for half an hour to stimulate appetite and digestion.

10. Feed him turtle food with a syringe as in previous months. Allow half an hour. This requires four hands.


11. Gently massage his neck to relax and encourage swallowing.

12. Tempt him with chunks of ripe banana and kiwi.

13. Go to vet’s to change heat lamp bulb for a stronger one.

14. Check thermometer the next day. Only 22 degrees.

15. Repeat steps 8 through 12. Every day.

To the reader:  updates forthcoming.

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