Desert Tortoise

The Desert Tortoise is a medium-sized tortoise found throughout the Mojave Desert. They have thick, trunk-like legs that help carry them around, as well as a hard domed shell. They look unlike any other tortoise or turtle you might find in the Mojave. However, you may have a hard time spotting one as they spend 95% of their time in their burrows.
SCIENTIFIC NAME
Gopherus agassizii
CLASSIFICATION
Reptile
LIFE SPAN
50-80 Years
SIZE
9-15 ” | 8-15 lbs
STATE CONSERVATION STATUS
  • Priority Species
  • Threatened
FEDERAL CONSERVATION STATUS
Vulnerable
GAME STATUS
Non-Game
  1. Washoe
  2. Humboldt
  3. Pershing
  4. Churchill
  5. Mineral
  6. Lyon
  7. Douglas
  8. Carson City
  9. Storey
  1. Elko
  2. Lander
  3. Eureka
  4. White Pine
  1. Esmeralda
  2. Nye
  3. Lincoln
  4. Clark

Habitat & Range

Desert Tortoise spend most of their lives in their burrows. Soils in their habitats need to be firm enough to hold their burrow shape. They can find these soils in many different types of habitats found in the Mojave Desert, such as washes, canyons, sandy flats, or rocky foothills.

  • Desert Washes
  • Mojave desert
  • Warm desert riparian

Threats

  • Disease
  • Habitat Degradation
  • Habitat Loss

Natural History

The Desert Tortoise was made for the desert, but that doesn’t mean surviving in the Mojave Desert is easy. To survive the dry conditions, they have a special bladder that can store water they can then absorb. This amazing adaptation allows the tortoise to survive without a drink of water for up to a year! In addition to the dry conditions, tortoises can be targets of several different kinds of predators. Lucky for them they can completely pull their head, arms, and legs into their hard protective shell. Tortoises roam around the desert in search of grasses, flowers, cacti, and other desert vegetation to eat when they leave their burrows. They are a slow-growing species and do not reach sexual maturity until they are 13-20 years old. In addition to slow sexual maturity, they also have very high mortality rates in young hatchlings. This makes them very susceptible to changes in their population. Young hatchlings’ shells remain very soft and flexible for several weeks after hatching. Their undeveloped shells leave the hatchlings very vulnerable to predation. The most common predators of hatchlings are Common Ravens and Coyotes.

Fun Facts

Desert Tortoises share burrows with various mammals, reptiles, birds, and invertebrates. One of the Desert Tortoise’s forms of defense is to evacuate their bladder when handled. Because of their unique ability to store water in their bladder, it is advised not to handle wild Desert Tortoises.