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Common Name:  Desert Tortoise

Scientific Name: Gopherus agassizii


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata 

Class: Reptilia  

Order: Testudines 

Family: Testudinidae

Genus: Gopherus

Species: G. agassizii


Despite its extreme temperatures, the Desert is full of various animals. These animals have adapted to this climate. The Desert Tortoise is one of these animals.


The Desert Tortoise can reach the length of 8 to 14 inches (25 cm to 36 cm), males slightly being larger then females. They can grow to 4 to 6 inches in height and weigh up to 8 to 15 pounds when fully grown. Ranging colors from tan, brown, grayish brown, and black the Desert Tortoise blends in with its surroundings. They also live in under ground burrows, which the Tortoise digs with its front limbs; these limbs have heavy claw-like scales. Being under ground allows them to escape freezing and hot temperatures. Male Tortoises have a longer lower shell then females. Their shells are high doomed and have stumpy back legs. The Tortoise reaches its sexual maturity between the ages of 15 to 20 years. Their mating season lasts up to 3 months from August to October.



The Desert Tortoise ranges from the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of South Eastern California, Southern Nevada, South through Arizona and to Mexico. They tend to live on alluvial fans, gravely desert washes, canyon bottoms and rocky hillsides below 3530 ft. These Tortoises rarely move more then 2 miles from their nest in their entire lives. Because of their ability to dig, 95% of their lives are spent in underground burrows. These burrows dug by the Desert Tortoises acts like a subterranean environment that can be a benefit to other animals.


The Desert Tortoise is an herbivore; it eats grasses, herbs, wildflowers, shrubs and cacti. They may also eat rocks and soils to maintain intestinal digestive bacteria, which is a source of calcium. The Desert Tortoise can last over a year without drinking water. Most of its water intake comes from moisture in grass and wildflowers. It can store up to 40% of it body weight in water because of it large urinary bladder. If this animal is threatened it will empty its bladder as a defense mechanism.


The Desert Tortoises has been listed as endangered or threatened. In some areas the Desert Tortoise population has declined by as much as 90% since the 1980’s. It is unlawful to touch, harass or collect wild Tortoises. Through the Tortoise adoption program and Nevada Bureau of Land Management people can now adopt captive Tortoises as a contribution to the change of the declining of the species.

Ravens, Gila Monsters, Kit Foxes, Badgers, Road Runners, Coyotes and Fire Ants hunt desert Tortoises. These predators may also prey on eggs and juveniles with thin delicate shells.  The major threat is habitat destruction, illegal collection and vandalism by humans.


Interesting Facts


  • The Desert Tortoise can live where ground temperatures exceeds to 140 degrees

  • They can survive a whole year without drinking water.

  • Their primary predator is the Raven.

  • 95% of it life is spent in the underground burrows that withstand extreme temperatures.

  • When in distress they will make hissing and popping noises.


Works Cited

"Desert Tortoise -." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 05 Feb. 2009 <>.


"Desert Tortoise wildlife information - DesertUSA." Desert Biomes by DesertUSA. 05 Feb. 2009 <>.


"Mojave Desert Tortoise, California Desert District." DOI: BLM: National Home Page. 05 Feb. 2009 <>.


Welcome to the National Zoo| FONZ website - National Zoo| FONZ. 05 Feb. 2009 <>.     

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