Getting Muddle out of hibernation

It doesn't take Muddle long to start plodding around
It doesn’t take Muddle long to start plodding around (Photo: Bruce Smeath)

From about the beginning of December to the February half-term Muddle lives in a box in the loft. This is because, as a Greek spur-thighed tortoise, he needs to hibernate for 8-10 weeks during the worst of winter. I know what you’re thinking: I wish I could hibernate for 8-10 weeks during the worst of winter.

But then you’d miss Christmas, so you wouldn’t really want that. Or maybe you would.

Getting a tortoise out of hibernation can be a concern. Tortoises can die in hibernation from either running out of energy reserves, or of dehydration. They can also freeze to death. But at the start of half-term, I was heartened to hear Muddle scratching the sides of his box, so I was confident things were okay. If you’re wondering how I could have heard him from downstairs, my drum kit is in the loft so I wasn’t that far away from him. And it’s an electronic kit, so don’t think I disturbed his slumber.

I retrieve his box and there he is, head half-poking out of his shell, looking like a bleary-eyed teenager. Which is exactly what he is. I carry the box down to the landing and lift him out carefully. He needs sunshine to warm up properly, but I can’t offer him any today. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take him long to start plodding around. My son and I take some photos to preserve the moment for posterity (see main photo).

I pick him up, carry him downstairs and put him on the floor of the utility room. He considers his options. For about 15 minutes. Then he sets off. This early after coming out of hibernation Muddle doesn’t move fast. You may say he never moves fast, he’s a tortoise. Clearly you have never seen a tortoise in the sunshine after a smorgasbord of broccoli leaves, strawberries, tomatoes and blueberries. I’m not saying he can outrun the cat, mind.

At the moment, though, he’s just taking things easy. I offer him a piece of tomato. He starts to munch. This is fairly unusual. In previous years he hasn’t eaten anything until a couple of weeks after coming out of hibernation. But after a few bites of the tomato he turns away to gaze at the box containing the carpet cleaner for 10 minutes. He’d be so excellent at staring contests. To be fair, the cleaner wasn’t there when he went into hibernation, so he is entitled to take his time checking it out.

He moves into the kitchen. He’s not a big fan of the wooden floor we put down a couple of years ago. There’s nothing to grip, so sometimes his legs just splay out in front of him. It’s undignified but Muddle is never embarrassed. Thus, progress around the kitchen is more cumbersome than usual, particularly as this is his first perambulation of 2021. He heads into the lounge, which is carpeted, so his progress is more confident. In the coming weeks, as the weather warms and he wakes up properly, we will endeavour to prevent him going into the lounge because you don’t want him doing his business on the carpet, if you catch my drift.


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He noses around for about 45 minutes making his way sedately to the TV. Not because he wanted to watch the snooker, but because behind the TV is a cosy place for hunkering down. And hunker down he does. For the next few days. But sunshine and relatively mild temperatures are forecast for the weekend, so there’s a good chance he might venture outside. Muddle’s shell is like a solar panel. Once those rays get on it and warm him up, he will be stomping around everywhere. But we’re a little way off that yet.

It’s now Saturday morning and the weather is already up to 11 degrees. This appears to be warm enough for Muddle to emerge from behind the TV, batter his way past two boxes of tissues, and stare at me with an expression that I imagine says, “Okay, what you got for me?”

Muddle munching
Muddle munching (Photo: Bruce Smeath)

I pick him up and take him into the kitchen. Sunshine is streaming in and I put him in it. Then I give him some lettuce, more tomato, and some blueberries. I leave Muddle to munch.

I check on him about 15 minutes later. The lettuce has entirely gone and he’s taken a few bites of the tomato. I feed him a blueberry, which he devours. If you’ve never seen a tortoise devour a blueberry, take it from me, it’s a delight.

I watch Muddle for a little while longer and come to the happy conclusion that this has been an unremarkable yet successful emergence from hibernation.

Which is, of course, the best kind of emergence from hibernation there can be.

Muddle in his favourite place to sleep during the summer.
Muddle in his favourite place to sleep during the summer (Photo: Bruce Smeath)
Muddle in his second favourite place to sleep during the summer.
Muddle in his second favourite place to sleep during the summer (Photo: Bruce Smeath)

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