Life in the Slow Lane with the Desert Tortoise
The desert tortoise is a very well-adapted reptile. Tortoises thrive in extremely hot environments and require very little water to survive. The tortoise is one of the most hardy and fascinating desert creatures. It’s a true delight to spot the elusive desert tortoise in its natural habitat.
The defining characteristic of a tortoise is its thick shell. Adult tortoises range from 10 to 14 inches in length. Desert tortoises are green, but since they live in sandy environments they sometimes have a brown or reddish hue. Their legs are strong and thick with claws at the end for digging in the sand. Each tortoise has a small horn on the lower shell. During a fight for dominance, males use this horn to flip the opposing tortoise.
The Habitat of the Desert Tortoise
Desert tortoises live in warm arid climates. They live throughout the southwestern United States and in parts of Mexico. Most tortoises live in rocky washes where rainfall collects and vegetation grows. They live only near terrain suitable for digging as they spend most of their lives in burrows. They may dig their own burrow or steal one from another creature.
A Day in the Life of a Desert Tortoise
Desert tortoises are active during the warm season. Tortoises hibernate in their burrows from late fall to early spring. During the summer days, they emerge from their burrows to forage. A desert tortoise will eat any vegetation within its reach. Tortoises are especially fond of wildflowers and grasses. Generally, tortoises get their entire water supply from their food. Tortoises require little water, and adults can go over a year without any fresh water. After foraging for food, the desert tortoise returns to its burrow in the evening.
Mating and Offspring
The mating season for desert tortoises lasts from late summer to early fall. After mating, females can store sperm for months. Eggs are usually laid in early summer and take over 90 days to incubate. Females creates a special den for their eggs and leave the eggs as the temperature of the den is more than enough to provide heat for the eggs. Offspring that survive their first 20 years have a good chance to live another 30 to 60 years.
Decline and Federal Protection
The desert tortoise is a federally protected species in the United States due to significant population decline. It is against the law for people to pick up, harass or cause harm to a desert tortoise. The government has created federally protected zones for the desert tortoise, including the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve near St. George, Utah. The entire reserve is surrounded with a fence just high enough to keep the tortoises contained inside.
Human Threats to the Desert Tortoise
The habitat of the desert tortoise is dwindling due to human encroachment. Grazing cattle eat the grasses the tortoises depend on. Invasive non-native plants crowd out native species. In addition, urban growth increases the population of ravens, which are one of the tortoise’s primary predators.
Predators of the Desert Tortoise
Desert tortoise eggs and juveniles face more danger from predators than adults. Ravens, hawks, eagles and other large birds prey upon tortoise eggs. Other animals, including Gila monsters and some snakes, will also eat tortoise eggs. Many predators can also break through a juvenile’s shell to eat the tortoise. Adult tortoises are generally ignored by these predators as the adults are too large and tough for most predators to harm.
The desert tortoise shows how life adapts to even the harshest environments in the world.
This article was written by Jet Russell of StorageMart Chicago. In his spare time he likes to write articles that have to do with animals, family, and the occasional Internet Marketing post.