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Many Amphibians, Reptiles Celebrate Autumn By Going Dormant

horny toad
Stina Sieg/KJZZ
Many reptiles and amphibians at the Phoenix Zoo, including this horny toad, are about to slip into a months-long slumber of sorts called brumation. During the time, they'll move little and eat nothing, as they live off stored fat.

It might not feel like it, but it’s officially fall. The Autumn Equinox was at exactly 1:02 p.m. Friday. A group of Phoenicians is welcoming the change in season — without one bit of pumpkin spice.

For rattle snakes, frogs and most other amphibious and reptilian residents of the Phoenix Zoo, fall means one thing: a nice, long nap.

Officially it’s called brumation. The zoo’s reptile manager Steve Sharp said that during it the creatures hardly move and don’t eat, surviving off stored fat. Sharp said that every fall, the zoo gradually drops temperatures and reduces light in order to stimulate brumation.

And as he tried to catch an adorable baby lizard with a chubby tubby, he explained why.

“The adults that produced this baby chuckawalla here, they wouldn’t have bred without that cooling or that dormancy period,” he said. “So they have go through that dormancy period in order to get the females to ovulate, and in some cases to produce viable sperm," he said.

So while most of the zoo’s reptile exhibits are going to be quiet for the next few months, just remember this: Once it gets warmer, you’ll be hearing the pitter-patter of brand-new baby lizard feet.

News Science
Stina Sieg was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2013 to 2018.