Most species of toads are known to hibernate in the wild. They hibernate at different times of the year depending on the seasons. That should tell you a little bit about why they do what they do. As for toads in captivity, hibernation is a different matter altogether.
Do toads hibernate in captivity? They can, but they don’t have to. Furthermore, there is really no need for it. The general consensus among experienced toad keepers is that hibernation in captivity really isn’t necessary unless you intend to breed. It might even be dangerous in some cases.
Why Toads Hibernate
It might be helpful to understand why toads hibernate to begin with. Hibernation is a natural tool of preservation [source]. It is a way for animals to survive the winter months when food sources are scarce. Remember that toads are carnivores and feed primarily on insects and other small amphibians. Their menu choices are generally limited when temperatures start to drop.
Hibernation keeps toads alive without requiring them to eat a whole lot. In fact, a toad in the wild can hibernate for months on end without consuming a single meal. This is accomplished by slowing the metabolism. With a slower metabolism comes a slower heart rate and less respiration. It all adds up to a toad’s body needing fewer resources to stay alive.
Hibernation and Temperature Changes
So how do toads know it is time to hibernate? Temperature changes tell them. Toads are cold-blooded creatures, which means that their body temperature acclimates to the natural surroundings. A toad has no internal mechanisms for regulating body temperature.
When temperatures begin to drop, so does a toad’s body temperature. A few weeks of sustained cooler weather tells the toad it is time to hibernate. It will sense its own slowing metabolism and start looking for a place to hibernate. There it will spend the next several months until warmer temperatures return.
Hibernating in Captivity
Hibernation is not something a toad forces itself to do. It only hibernates in response to temperature changes. So to get your toad to hibernate in captivity, you would have to reduce the temperature of its enclosure. That also means either reducing the ambient temperature in your home or insulating the enclosure. Either way, enclosure air has to be cool enough to slow down the animal’s metabolism.
Some toad owners facilitate hibernation to encourage breeding. However, your average pet owner is not looking to create more toads, so there really is no need to induce hibernation. Hibernation in captivity will not extend a toad’s life. Again, it could be dangerous. How so?
A toad needs enough insulation to protect itself against cooler temperatures. The enclosure you have set up might not protect well enough. If that is the case, you could actually kill your pet by encouraging it to hibernate. So unless you know what you’re doing and you have a good reason for doing so, forget about inducing hibernation in captivity.
If You Want to Encourage Hibernation
Should you decide you want to encourage hibernation in order to promote breeding, just remember a couple of key things. First, your toad will need quite a bit more food in the weeks leading up to hibernation. Feed it as much as it is willing to eat. Next, make sure you keep enough water in the enclosure. Hibernating toads still need to keep their skin moist and may rise long enough to drink.
Finally, do not disturb a hibernating toad. Toads in hibernation are not just sleeping. Their bodies are undergoing physiological changes that can be interrupted if the animal is disturbed.
Do toads hibernate in captivity? Generally, no. There is no need for it. Hibernation is a means of survival in the wild, preserving toads who do not have access to adequate food supplies over the winter months.
Mexican Burrowing Toad: Pstevendactylus – CC BY-SA 3.0