Turtles are one of the cuter and friendlier species of reptiles, and several varieties make great pets; but sometimes they exhibit behavior that leaves their owners scratching their heads. Box turtles and other types of land turtles like to bury themselves under layers of dirt, sometimes for weeks or even months at a time. Even aquatic fresh-water turtles will sometimes bury themselves in mud. Although this behavior might seem puzzling, turtles have a good reason for it.
In the winter, turtles enter a state of dormancy called brumation, which is similar to hybernation in mammals. Cold temperatures cause a turtle's metabolism to slow, causing him to become lethargic, lose his appetite, and fall into a deep sleep. In the wild, turtles who experience this will bury themselves deep underground to protect themselves from the elements and from extreme temperatures prior to falling asleep. Domestic turtles may also enter this state if they're kept outside, or if their habitats are kept in a cold room.
Aestivation is similar to brumation, but it happens in hot climates during the summer. Turtles are cold-blooded reptiles whose bodies can't handle prolonged exposure to intense heat. During the hottest months, outdoor turtles will aestivate and burrow down into cool earth to wait out the blazing temperatures. During aestivation, the turtle's metabolism slows and he enters a deep sleep, but not as deep as with brumation.
It's not necessary for a turtle to enter either brumation or aestivation to bury himself for temperature control. Sometimes, a turtle just wants to be comfortable, and will retreat underground if his environment becomes too hot or too cold for comfort. In the winter, this act is the equivalent of covering up with a blanket, and in the summer, it's the turtle's form of air conditioning. Turtles may sleep while underground, but it's a normal state of sleep.
Turtles sometimes bury themselves to feel safe and secure. Turtles like to hide under things, and if their environment doesn't offer any suitable hiding places, they'll simply hide underground to protect themselves from the elements and from predators. Even indoor domestic turtles will sometimes bury themselves in their substrate to feel protected while they sleep.
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