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Why Are Lizards Not Seen In Winter?

Lizards are reptiles and like most reptiles, they are ‘cold-blooded’ or ‘ectotherms’. Coldblooded animals are those animals that cannot maintain their own body temperatures.

They are the same temperature as the atmosphere and so have difficulties in staying warm. They need an external heat source to maintain their body temperature.

‘Warm blooded’ creatures like humans and other mammals generate their own heat through various metabolic processes. This heat allows them to maintain a constant body temperature, no matter the temperature of the air outside..

When the temperature gets too high, lizards need to keep themselves warm or else they would freeze to death. This is because of their temperature changes with the environmental temperatures.

If it gets cold, they can become inactive and that would allow them to be easily attacked by predators. It also allows prey to easily escape as well. These behavioral changes due to minus temperatures can cost them their lives.

Thus, to avoid freezing to death, most lizards go underground to hibernate during the winter so they can stay safe and warm.

Underground temperatures are much higher than above and hence, the lizards spend their entire winter sleeping. This is why we do not see any lizards in the winter.

Some lizards do have cooling physiologies, while others prefer to migrate, however, in freezing temperatures, hibernation is their best bet.

Background

If you live in temperate regions where temperatures often fluctuate between too hot and too cold, you might often wonder, “Where are all the lizards gone all of a sudden?” We often do! During summers, it seems like you are being invaded by an army of lizards in your house and your garden.

However, during winters, you might not find any. Or, you might find a few frozen outside or hiding in the soil. So, where do they go in winters? 

So, what’s actually happening is that they are hibernating! The popular cartoon shows only depict bears going into hibernation. However, that is far from the truth.

Many reptiles such as lizards, snakes, turtles go under hibernation during the winters. To help you educate yourself on the topic, we have compiled a list of frequently asked question about lizards and their hibernation patterns!

Where do Lizards Hibernate in the Winter?

Lizards normally choose to burrow themselves into the ground as the temperatures are much higher below. However, we believe where they choose to do so mainly depends on the area they are living in. Most geckos are found in tropical regions, while a few can be found in temperate regions.

Most geckos, like other smaller reptiles, hide in logs or under rocks if the temperatures are not too cold. If the temperatures are too cold, they might bury themselves deeper in caves, rocks or burrows to avoid freezing, which is called hibernacula.

These cave hibernacula maintain their temperature well above freezing at 40 degrees F.

However, not all geckos prefer the ground. Some arboreal lizards like to hide inside the trees as they provide them with better insulation to the cold. They prefer hiding in older trees which might be hollow from places. They can even hide under the bark of the tree if the temperatures are not too severe.

Lizards living in the tropical region do not have to bear too harsh winters, so they can hide at shallow depths and under barks or logs. However, those living in the more temperate regions might need to burrow deeper.

Do Lizards Die in Cold Weather?

Lizards can die due to extremely cold weather as their body is unable to sustain the temperature. Even in mildly cold weather, lizards tend to become inactive.

Their digestion slows down and their immune system stops functioning properly. This makes them more susceptible to infections and diseases. Lizards stop walking with their legs and lie on their bellies instead ().

They do not eat or drink and can become dehydrated easily. Their eyes and skin appear more wrinkly and can become dry and cracked. This is normally why you are required to place a basking lamp and regulate the temperature of your lizard’s tank so accurately. Otherwise, it could easily die if it gets too cold to function.

So, hibernating during the cold weather is not only essential, it is vital to these reptiles if they wish to survive.

Do Lizards Migrate or Hibernate?

In reality, lizards prefer to stay where they are, rather than migrating. But, true hibernation is really only seen in mammals, I will explain in more detail later.  

This is because it is easier to brumate to help regulate their body temperatures.

Brumating allows them to soak the sun up in the morning, becoming active through the day while sleeping through the colder night.

However, some lizards do prefer to migrate to warmer climates. The lizards that live in mountainous regions move to the lower areas when temperatures start freezing. Others may migrate from land areas to coastal areas where the sun is always shining.

What Exactly is Brumation?

Lets dig deeper into brumation. Brumation is a period of dormancy similar to hibernation. During brumation, the reptile becomes lethargic to the point that they may not move at all during winter.

Pet lizards will sometimes brumate, even if their owner dutifully keeps their tank nice and warm. Some lizards simply have an instinct to brumate in winter. You can tell your lizard is preparing to brumate through the following signs:

  • It becomes less active
  • Its appetite decreases markedly
  • It stops going to the bathroom
  • It sleeps more
  • It burrows under its substrate or hides under something

Understand that some of these signs can also indicate a sick lizard. This is especially true if it stops eating or defecating. In the latter case, you can try soaking it in warm water and rubbing its stomach to stimulate a bowel movement.

When the lizard does eventually poop, have the vet check the stool sample for parasites. It’s a good idea to make sure your lizard defecates one last time before entering brumation, so it doesn’t develop an infection.


What is the Difference Between Hibernation and Brumation?

Both hibernation and brumation are long periods of dormancy characterized by reduced activity and body temperature. A hibernating animal will sleep straight through, while a brumating animal will occasionally wake up.

Furthermore, a hibernating animal doesn’t need to drink water, while a brumating animal needs to drink from time to time to avoid dehydration.

As discussed earlier, true hibernation, however, is seen only in mammals, while brumation is seen in cold-blooded animals like reptiles. While mammals prepare by eating more to build up fat reserves, reptiles eat more to build up reserves of fat and a sugar called glycogen.

Reptiles use the glycogen to fuel their muscles, while the fat reserves go towards mating and reproduction. Glycogen also helps reptiles better tolerate the low oxygen levels they might find in their hibernaculum, particularly if said hibernaculum is underwater or in the mud.

Why do lizards brumate?

Lizards are ectotherms. As such, they can’t generate their own body heat and thus depend on the environment to provide it. During cold weather, the lizard doesn’t get enough body heat to function. It becomes lethargic and slow and is thus vulnerable to predators, and it is also less able to forage for food.

Brumation is, therefore, a survival mechanism that helps a lizard survive long periods of cold and inclement weather. During brumation, the reptile enters a state that is sometimes described as suspended animation. The lizard’s respiration and heart rates slow, and it doesn’t digest or excrete food.

Brumation also affects reproduction in reptiles. In most reptiles, cooler temperatures trigger sperm production in male lizards. It also causes physiological processes that prepare females for ovulation in the spring.

When do lizards brumate?

Generally speaking, lizards brumate when it becomes too cold for them keep up their energy. The length of time a lizard spends in brumation depends on a number of factors, such as the climate.

Lizards that live in the tropics often do not brumate at all, for example. Generally speaking, though, lizards enter brumation sometime in the late fall and emerge in the spring. In both cases, the lizard is responding to such stimuli as temperature, changes in barometric pressure, and length of days.

Tropical lizards, however, usually do not brumate. If you have a tropical lizard like an iguana that seems to be trying to brumate, you need to have it checked out by a vet, for it could be ill.

Can this behavior be simulated in captivity?

Some pet lizards will enter brumation on their own. No matter how nice and warm their tank is, many still retain the instinct to do so.

If your lizard does go into this state, you will have to make sure it doesn’t become dehydrated during its long sleep. You should also watch for signs of excessive weight loss; a healthy lizard shouldn’t lose more than a few grams during brumation. (One ounce equals a little more than 28 grams.)

You can also simulate conditions that encourage brumation by gradually reducing the heat and light in your lizard’s tank. At the same time, you should decrease the amount of food you give your lizard. You should not stimulate brumation in sick lizards or lizards that are under two years old.

Do lizards actually sleep?

Yes, lizards do sleep. Over the years, scientists have found that virtually all animals go through some form of sleep. In 2016, the journal “Science” published a study in which researchers determined that a species of bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) had sleep patterns surprisingly similar to that of humans.

The scientists placed electrodes on the lizards’ heads and recorded their brainwave patterns while they were sleeping. The results demonstrated that bearded dragons, like humans, go through REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep and slow-wave sleep. As humans dream during REM sleep, it’s possible that lizards also dream.

During previous studies, scientists had found that REM and slow-wave sleep occurred in birds and mammals, but not fish or amphibians and thus speculated that it was a comparatively recent evolutionary development. The study’s results suggest that slow-wave sleep and REM sleep may have developed earlier than previously believed.

How do you prepare a lizard for brumation?

Pet lizards will sometimes go into brumation. The lizard will need a hibernaculum or hide where it can sleep.

When the lizard starts showing signs that it might be about to go into brumation, take it the vet for a check-up. A lizard about to brumate should be at a healthy weight and in good shape; a sick lizard could die while brumating.

Keep the light and heat on for another two weeks after the lizard’s last meal to give it a chance to defecate one last time. Then remove the heat and light and keep the lizard in its tank at room temperature for another week. Then move it to the brumation room which should have temperatures between 50 and 68 degrees. Make sure there is fresh water available, so the lizard can have a drink when it wakes up.

Can Lizards Survive Freezing?

Lizards cannot survive freezing temperatures as it would cause their bodily fluids to freeze and they would become completely inactive. Their internal organs need some amount of heat to function and their muscles might become atrophied as well.

What is the Coldest Weather They Can Survive?

For most lizards, temperatures below 50 degrees F become too cold and at temperatures below 40 degrees, they go into hibernation or ‘sleep’. This is because these temperatures are too cold and their muscles tend to go stiff. They slow down their metabolic activities and do not hunt any longer.

So, if you own a pet reptile, we recommend you never let the temperature go below 50 degrees and never below 30 degrees, otherwise they could freeze to death.

What is the ideal Temperature for a Lizard?

Reptiles need a certain temperature which is called the Reptile’s preferred body temperature. They generally require temperatures that are not too high or low. They cannot change their temperature through metabolic activities.

SO, they try to gain heat from external sources. Some lizards shiver to generate heat while others prefer to bask in the sun. The environmental temperature range varies for each species of lizard. However, most of them prefer temperatures ranging from 70-90 degrees F.

They can survive lower or higher temperatures as well, but this is the range in which they are found to be most active.

This is why if you own a lizard, you need to set up precise temperatures and basking devices in the terrarium. Research your particular species and find which temperatures are best for them to thrive.

Do lizards prefer hot countries?

Needless to say, lizards prefer hotter countries where temperatures are more tropical or sub-tropical. This ensures they can stay more active throughout the year and eliminates the need to hibernate completely.

However, lizards cannot survive in climates that are too hot for them. In deserts or dry, arid areas where temperatures during the day can easily exceed 50 degrees C, lizards often bury themselves in cool soil or under rocks where temperatures tend to be much colder.

The process of burying oneself in the soil to get away from accumulating excess heat is called aestivation. In such cases, the temperature of the lizard’s body may become too high which can cause dehydration.

Why Do Reptiles Need Heat?

All reptiles whether they are turtles or lizards are cold-blooded or ectothermic. As we already explained before, they rely on external heat to sustain their body’s temperature. If the temperature is too low, they become inactive and can even die.

Heat is important as it helps them regulate their temperature and perform many metabolic reactions. This is why you find many lizards often bask under the sun in the morning.

They do so to stabilize their body temperature and then go on to carry out their daytime activities. They spread their bodies in such a way that they receive maximum sunlight.

As the body temperature increases, their muscles become more loose and limber, allowing them better hunting skills. 

What are the Advantages of Being Cold Blooded?

You might think that being warm-blooded has more advantages than being cold blooded. However, this is far from the truth. Warm-blooded animals rely on their metabolic activities to generate heat inside the body.

This requires constant feeding as food serves as a fuel for these activities. This is why most mammals need to eat every day.

Cold Blooded animals like lizards do not need such metabolic activities to generate heat. They can easily survive by feeding once in 3-4 days. This is why you will find more reptiles in areas where there is scarcely any food or water such as deserts.

They can even slow down their metabolism during hibernation. A turtle can slow his heartbeat to about one heartbeat in a minute. This is a crucial element in survival and helps them survive longer.

Conclusion:

So, all in all, lizards need to hibernate to avoid dying. It is an ultimate survival move that helps them thrive. Their slower metabolisms ensure they do not need as much food as the mammals.

Now, you know where all these beautiful geckos go to. You might wonder, why you should know. As a gecko owner, you need to know every crucial detail about your pet. You should know why it requires all those basking lamps and what exactly will happen if you do not regulate the temperature properly!

We hope you found it interesting. If so, like, share and comment! We’d love to hear from you!

Wayne
 

Hi, this is me with my daughter and my Lizard friend. I hope you enjoy my research. Please feel free to check out my "About Me" page to find out more about me.

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