Brumation is the reptile equivalent of mammalian hibernation in which reptiles over 1 year old experience a natural metabolic slowdown (usually during winter). For leopard geckos, this typically occurs during the coolest months of the year in their natural environment, from December to the end of February.
Brumation is a perfectly normal part of your gecko’s annual cycle, and some sources assert that providing a regular winter cooling period to captive reptiles results in healthier, more long-lived animals.
- Less active than usual
- Loss of appetite
- Hiding for weeks at a time
- Preferring the cool side of the enclosure
Brumation is definitely more of an advanced reptile keeping technique, so it’s a good idea to keep an experienced reptile veterinarian on hand for any complications (significant weight loss, not waking up from brumation, etc.). Artificial cooling should not be attempted for leopard geckos younger than ~1 year old.
If you wish to provide winter cooling for your leopard gecko during the winter, here’s what you need to do:
1) Make sure your gecko is healthy and fit for brumation. It should have a nice plump tail and have had a recent clear parasite check. If parasites were found, you must finish treatment at least 1 month before brumation begins.
2) Two weeks before the end of November, stop offering food. This gives the gecko a chance to clear out its digestive tract and start preparing for brumation. Otherwise, trapped food and fecal matter can rot and poison your pet while it sleeps.
3) At the beginning of December, turn off all heat sources so the gecko is now at room temperature (60-72°F, no higher than 72°F). Heatless light sources can continue to provide a day/night cycle. Continue to provide fresh water in case the gecko gets thirsty “in the middle of the night”.
4) Weigh the gecko weekly with a digital kitchen scale to track weight changes. Weight loss greater than 10% of the gecko’s original weight indicates that there’s a problem, and you need to stop brumation and bring your pet to a vet.
5) At the beginning of March, it’s time to start waking your gecko back up by turning the heat source back on. Do not offer food yet.
6) Two weeks later, you should be seeing your gecko drinking water and returning to normal activity. Now you can start offering food again per the usual schedule.