Animal Information

Dormancy, Hibernation, and Brumation are Periods of Rest for Plants and Animals

Brumation is a dormant period for reptiles. As with hibernation in mammals, their bodies shut down and conserve energy for the coming year. During the period of brumation, a reptile may not eat, drink, defecate, or move for several weeks. Plants even take a period of dormancy. I guess we all need a little rest now and again.

Dormancy is a period in an organism’s life cycle when growth, development, and (in animals) physical activity are temporarily stopped. This minimizes metabolic activity and therefore helps an organism to conserve energy. Dormancy tends to be closely associated with environmental conditions.

Organisms can synchronize entry to a dormant phase with their environment through predictive or consequential means. Predictive dormancy occurs when an organism enters a dormant phase before the onset of adverse conditions.

For example, photoperiod and decreasing temperature are used by many plants to predict the onset of winter.

Consequential dormancy occurs when organisms enter a dormant phase after adverse conditions have arisen.

This is commonly found in areas with an unpredictable climate. While very sudden changes in conditions may lead to a high mortality rate among animals relying on consequential dormancy, its use can be advantageous, as organisms remain active longer and are therefore able to make greater use of available resources.


Aestivation, also spelled estivation, is an example of consequential dormancy in response to very hot or dry conditions. It is common in invertebrates such as the garden snail and worm but also occurs in other animals such as lungfish, salamanders, desert tortoises, and crocodiles.


Diapause is a predictive strategy that is predetermined by an animal’s genotype. Diapause is common in insects, allowing them to suspend development between autumn and spring, and in mammals such as the roe deer (Capreolus capreolus, the only ungulate with embryonic diapause[citation needed]), in which a delay in attachment of the embryo to the uterine lining ensures that offspring are born in spring, when conditions are most favorable.


Brumation is an example of dormancy in reptiles that is similar to hibernation. It differs from hibernation in the metabolic processes involved.

Reptiles generally begin brumation in late autumn (more specific times depend on the species). They often wake up to drink water and return to “sleep”. They can go for months without food. Reptiles may eat more than usual before the brumation time but eat less or refuse food as the temperature drops. However, they do need to drink water.

The brumation period is anywhere from one to eight months depending on the air temperature and the size, age, and health of the reptile. During the first year of life, many small reptiles do not fully brumate, but rather slow down and eat less often. Brumation is triggered by lack of heat and the decrease in the hours of daylight in winter, similar to hibernation.


Hibernation is a mechanism used by many mammals to reduce energy expenditure and survive food shortage over the winter. Hibernation may be predictive or consequential.

An animal prepares for hibernation by building up a thick layer of body fat during late summer and autumn that will provide it with energy during the dormant period. During hibernation, the animal undergoes many physiological changes, including decreased heart rate (by as much as 95%) and decreased body temperature.

In addition to shivering, some hibernating animals also produce body heat by non-shivering thermogenesis to avoid freezing. Non-shivering thermogenesis is a regulated process in which the proton gradient generated by electron transport in mitochondria is used to produce heat instead of ATP in brown adipose tissue.

Animals that hibernate include bats, ground squirrels, and other rodents, mouse lemurs, the European hedgehog, some insectivores, monotremes, and marsupials. Although hibernation is almost exclusively seen in mammals, some birds, such as the common poorwill, may hibernate.

Brumation does not always happen without certain dangers, and many wild and pet box turtles actually die as a result. Although winter can be a perilous time for box turtles, preparing the turtle and providing the proper type of hibernaculum will permit pet turtles to overwinter safely

Around October, turtles kept in outdoor pens will begin to have reduced appetites. Some turtles housed indoors may also begin to refuse food as they respond to subtle changes in their environment and attempt to brumate.

It is dangerous to let turtles become dormant at room temperatures. Increase the amount of time the full-spectrum lighting is kept on to 14 hours a day.

Make sure the humidity in the indoor habitat remains high and keep the nighttime temperature above 75 degrees Fahrenheit. These changes mimic summer-like conditions and will usually keep your indoor turtle active all winter.

It is not necessary to brumate pet box turtles. Very young or newly acquired turtles should not be brumated, but they should be kept in indoor habitats during the winter.

It is not necessary to brumate pet turtles. Very young or newly acquired turtles should not be brumated, but they should be kept in indoor habitats during the winter.

If your area is unsuitable for safe brumation due to climate, predators or unsuitable soils, do not allow them to brumate in the ground. Instead, use artificial hibernacula or keep them active all winter in indoor habitats. Only healthy box turtles that have eaten well all summer should be hibernated.

Turtles that have recently recovered from illness or currently have swollen or closed eyes, discharge from the nares or mouth, runny stools, swellings on the head, are underweight, or have open wounds or prolapsed organs should not be hibernated. When any of these symptoms exist, have them examined by a veterinarian.

Brumation Checklist

  • Supplement the diet in late summer with vitamin-A-rich food.
  • Get a fecal test to look for parasites and veterinary exam a month before hibernation.
  • Prepare the brumation pit, refrigerator or brumation box early.
  • Stop feeding the turtle at least two to three weeks before brumation begins to insure the turtle has an empty stomach and intestines.
  • Soak the turtle daily for several weeks before brumation to make sure they are properly hydrated.

Preparing for Brumation

Offer more vegetables rich in vitamin A during the last month of warm weather. These include sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and winter squashes. You can also add a few drops of cod liver oil to food or a soluble or liquid vitamin-A-rich supplement to the water once a week for a month before they stop eating.

Be careful not to overuse vitamin A supplements because hypervitaminosis A can occur.

Overdosing vitamin A can cause skin redness and peeling, as well as liver disease. Daily soakings a few weeks before actual hibernation will facilitate the clearing of the turtle’s intestine of wastes.

Plant Dormancy

In plant physiology, dormancy is a period of arrested plant growth. It is a survival strategy exhibited by many plant species, which enables them to survive in climates where part of the year is unsuitable for growth, such as winter or dry seasons.

Many plant species that exhibit dormancy have a biological clock that tells them when to slow activity and to prepare soft tissues for a period of freezing temperatures or water shortage.

On the other hand, dormancy can be triggered after a normal growing season by decreasing temperatures, shortened day length, and/or a reduction in rainfall.

Chemical treatment on dormant plants has been proven to be an effective method to break dormancy, particularly in woody plants such as grapes, berries, apples, peaches, and kiwis.

Specifically, hydrogen cyanamide stimulates cell division and growth in dormant plants, causing bud break when the plant is on the edge of breaking dormancy.

Slight injury of cells may play a role in the mechanism of action. The injury is thought to result in increased permeability of cellular membranes.

The injury is associated with the inhibition of catalase, which in turn stimulates the pentose phosphate cycle. Hydrogen cyanamide interacts with the cytokinin metabolic cycle, which results in triggering a new growth cycle.

When a mature and viable seed under a favorable condition fails to germinate, it is said to be dormant. Seed dormancy is referred to as embryo dormancy or internal dormancy and is caused by endogenous characteristics of the embryo that prevent germination.

Dormancy should not be confused with seed coat dormancy, external dormancy, or hardseededness, which is caused by the presence of a hard seed covering or seed coat that prevents water and oxygen from reaching and activating the embryo.

It is a physical barrier to germination, not a true form of dormancy. Typically, temperate woody perennial plants require chilling temperatures to overcome winter dormancy (rest). The effect of chilling temperatures depends on species and growth stage (Fuchigami et al. 1987).

In some species, rest can be broken within hours at any stage of dormancy, with either chemicals, heat, or freezing temperatures, effective dosages of which would seem to be a function of sublethal stress, which results in stimulation of ethylene production and increased cell membrane permeability.

Dormancy is a general term applicable to any instance in which a tissue predisposed to elongate or grow in some other manner does not do so (Nienstaedt 1966).

Quiescence is dormancy imposed by the external environment. Correlated inhibition is a kind of physiological dormancy maintained by agents or conditions originating within the plant, but not within the dormant tissue itself.

Rest (winter dormancy) is a kind of physiological dormancy maintained by agents or conditions within the organ itself.

However, physiological subdivisions of dormancy do not coincide with the morphological dormancy found in white spruce (Picea glauca) and other conifers (Owens et al. 1977).

Physiological dormancy often includes early stages of bud-scale initiation before measurable shoot elongation or before flushing. It may also include late leaf initiation after shoot elongation has been completed. In either of those cases, buds that appear to be dormant are nevertheless very active morphologically and physiologically.

Dormancy of various kinds is expressed in white spruce (Romberger 1963).[10] White spruce, like many woody plants in temperate and cooler regions, requires exposure to low temperature for a period of weeks before it can resume normal growth and development.

This “chilling requirement” for white spruce is satisfied by uninterrupted exposure to temperatures below 7°C for 4 to 8 weeks, depending on physiological condition (Nienstaedt 1966, 1967).

Tree species that have well-developed dormancy needs may be tricked to some degree, but not completely. For instance, if a Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) is given an “eternal summer” through exposure to additional daylight, it grows continuously for as long as two years.

Eventually, however, a temperate-climate plant automatically goes dormant, no matter what environmental conditions it experiences. Deciduous plants lose their leaves; evergreens curtail all new growth. Going through an “eternal summer” and the resultant automatic dormancy is stressful to the plant and usually fatal.

The fatality rate increases to 100% if the plant does not receive the necessary period of cold temperatures required to break the dormancy. Most plants require a certain number of hours of “chilling” at temperatures between about 0°C and 10°C to be able to break dormancy (Bewley, Black, K.D 1994).

Short photoperiods induce dormancy and permit the formation of needle primordia. Primordia formation requires 8 to 10 weeks and must be followed by 6 weeks of chilling at 2 °C.

Bud break occurs promptly if seedlings are then exposed to 16-hour photoperiods at the 25°C/20°C temperature regime. The free growth mode, a juvenile characteristic that is lost after 5 years or so, ceases in seedlings experiencing environmental stress.

Many bacteria can survive adverse conditions such as temperature, desiccation, and antibiotics by endospores, cysts, conidia or states of reduced metabolic activity lacking specialized cellular structures.[14] Up to 80% of the bacteria in samples from the wild appear to be metabolically inactive. Many of which can be resuscitated. Such dormancy is responsible for the high diversity levels of most natural ecosystems.

Recent research has characterized the bacterial cytoplasm as a glass forming fluid approaching the liquid-glass transition,

Such that large cytoplasmic components require the aid of metabolic activity to fluidize the surrounding cytoplasm, allowing them to move through a viscous, glass-like cytoplasm.

During dormancy, when such metabolic activities are put on hold, the cytoplasm behaves like a solid glass, freezing subcellular structures in place and perhaps protecting them, while allowing small molecules like metabolites to move freely through the cell, which may be helpful in cells transitioning out of dormancy

Dormancy in its rigid definition doesn’t apply to viruses, as they are not metabolically active. However, some viruses such as poxviruses and picornaviruses after entering the host can become latent for long periods of time, or even indefinitely until they are externally activated.

Herpesviruses, for example, can become latent after infecting the host and after years activate again if the host is under stress or exposed to ultraviolet radiation.

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