With the cooler weather of autumn finally upon us, the Red Rock Canyon Desert Tortoises are getting ready for brumation. Unlike hibernation in mammals, brumation in reptiles is not considered true sleep. Instead, their metabolisms, or body processes, slow down dramatically and they are mostly inactive during the winter. Sometimes desert tortoises will come out of their burrows on particularly warm winter days, or to have a drink if it rains, but otherwise they don’t move much in cold weather. If you want to learn more about the differences between brumation and hibernation, this blog is a great resource.
To prepare for brumation, desert tortoises begin eating less as the weather gets cooler. When we think of mammals hibernating, we often imagine bears or squirrels gorging themselves to put on weight for the long winter months. Because desert tortoises’ bodies get so cool during cold weather, however, they cannot digest food during that time. It’s important that their digestive tracts are mostly empty before they begin brumation, or they could become ill. Going to bed on an empty stomach is a good thing for a tortoise!
Friends of Red Rock Canyon volunteers will continue with feeding and soaking days through the end of September. The remaining feeding days will be at 8 a.m. on September 14th, 18th, 21st, 25th, and 28th. Soaking days will be at the same time (or later if the torts are sluggish in the mornings) on September 16th and 23rd. Come out and visit for your last chance to see some tort activity before next spring!
Max is the only tortoise in the enclosures behind the Visitor Center at Red Rock Canyon whose age is known. He was hatched at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in 1989. The rest of our tortoises are rescues so we can only make educated guesses as to their ages. With that in mind, we decided to have a party for Max’s 30th birthday on Saturday, April 27th, 2019.
Our human guests were treated to coffee and some adorable tortoise cupcakes from Daisy Cakes. The tortoises dined on tortoise chow and had kale for “dessert.”
As the star of the show, Max naturally decided to sleep in a bit. Everyone else was awake bright and early, and they eagerly dug into their breakfasts. Lucie and a couple of the other girls were already finished with the tort chow and had moved onto their kale by the time Max woke up at 9 a.m. Tortoises should never eat sweets, but we couldn’t help getting a quick shot of Max and a tort cupcake. He seemed interested!
Maybe the sweet smell of cupcake whetted his appetite,
because Max finished his chow in record time. Then he demolished the fresh
kale, stem and all.
Each spring the Red Rock Stars emerge from brumation (like hibernation for reptiles) on different days, depending on how warm the weather has been. This year Hugo was the first to come out, on March 1!
A couple weeks after emergence, Friends of Red Rock Canyon volunteers begin feeding the tortoises each Wednesday and Saturday at 8 a.m. When the weather is cooler the torts’ metabolisms are slower, so they don’t eat as much or as quickly as when the weather is hot. Because of this, in the spring and fall they might slowly eat their breakfasts over the course of a couple hours. During the summer, however, they are often waiting for volunteers right at 8, and gobble up their food quickly!
As with feeding, soaking days – or “spa days” as we call them – begin a couple weeks after emergence from brumation. On Mondays volunteers soak the torts for about 20 minutes in a couple inches of water. Soaking helps to keep the torts hydrated, and to clean their shells so volunteers can more easily identify them. The soaking schedule alternates so that Hugo gets soaked one Monday, then Max and the girls get soaked the following Monday.
The 13-mile Scenic Drive at Red Rock Canyon will be open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting March 1. This change happens yearly as days become longer and sunset is later in the day. The Visitor Center will continue to be open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Red Rock Canyon was designated as Nevada’s first national conservation area. It is located 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip on Charleston Boulevard/State Route 159. The area includes a LEED-certified visitor center, 13-Mile Scenic Drive, miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, rock climbing, horseback riding, mountain biking, road biking and nature observing. More information about the NCA is available at https://www.blm.gov/red-rock-canyon-nca.
Friends of Red Rock Canyon 1000 Scenic Drive Las Vegas, NV 89161