Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortise

COMMON NAME: Desert Tortoise
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Gopherus agassizii

Our state reptile, the Desert Tortoise is mostly restricted to deserts and arid lands. North American tortoises have several adaptations for digging and terrestrial life: forelimbs that are flattened and covered with thick scales; columnar hind limbs; and short heavy toes with thick nails. Their head, tail and limbs that partially retractable into the shell. The carapace (top shell) is attached to the plastron (bottom shell). Tortoise cannot come out of their shell. These tortoise are long-lived, slow to reach sexual maturity, and moderate to large in body size.

These reptiles burrow in the winter and hibernate until spring. They are harmless herbivores and are an endangered species in California’s Mojave Desert. These reptiles represent a link to the distant past because their characteristic shell separated this line from all other reptiles and other animals in the age of dinosaurs.

Life Span: to 80 years in captivity and sometimes longer; 30-50 years in the wild (only 17% of adults live longer than 25 years).

Mating Season: March to June (beginning at approximately 13-15 years of age).

Clutch size: Average 1 – 8 soft-shelled eggs laid in a whole then covered to incubate in the warm summer ground.

Clutches: 1 – 3 per year.

Niche: Tortoises are vegetarians eating flowers, fruits, leaves and stems of low-growing plants including cactus. Tortoises can go for long periods of time without drinking water; they are able to metabolize water from their foods.

Habitat: Mojave Desert and Sonoran Desert. It is limited to sandy soils where it digs extensive burrows for protection and also for nesting. Tortoises are important to their communities since their burrows provide shelter for other species.

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