About Arizona Turtles, Tortoise - Do NOT pick up the Desert Tortoise unless it is in harms way. The Tortoise will get scared, release the water in its bladder and most likely die during the dry season. It is also illegal and detrimental to desert tortoise populations to collect tortoises from the wild.
I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to pick up a desert Tortoise thinking I would be saving it and could provide it a better life. Removing any of the Six species of Arizona’s native turtle/tortoise can severely affect local populations because they reproduce slowly in natural conditions. Keep wild tortoises wild.
While driving home I saw one of the 3 local desert Tortoises that live in our neighborhood. The road has virtually no traffic so the Tortoises are in no danger. I hope you enjoy the Tortoise photos, after all the desert Tortoise is called – a living dinosaur. Continue scrolling down for more facts, pictures and information on the Desert Tortoise…
TURTLES & TORTOISE facts: Dinosaurs became extinct but turtles have thrived in their present form for approximately 150 million years. The Desert Tortoise is one of four species that have remained unchanged since the Oligocene Epoch 27-37 million years ago.
Arizona Game and Fish Department’s TURTLE PROJECT works to manage and conserve all six species of turtles/tortoises. They receive hundreds of young and adult Tortoises that have been displaced due to construction or raised in captivity. The TURTLE PROJECT has Tortoises available for adoption.
A captive tortoise has to be raised in captivity for the rest of its life. A desert Tortoise can live up to a 100 years old.
If a captured tortoise is released in the wild it can introduce diseases and jeopardize the wild populations. URTD (an upper respiratory infection) has caused catastrophic die-offs in the Mojave tortoise population, resulting in them being placed on the federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.
If you are interested in Tortoises but are not in the position to adopt, you can still participate in the Sponsor-a-Turtle program. By donating to the Turtles Project, you will help project biologists purchase specialized gear so that they may continue to plan and implement conservation and management. Click here to download the Sponsor-a-Turtle program brochure.
A tortoise is a high-domed turtle, with “columnar” legs, or elephant-like. It is more terrestrial ( an animal that lives on land as opposed to water) than the turtle is, Arizona Tortoises go to water only to drink or bathe. They are NOT designed for swimming.
When the tortoise/turtle species emerges from winter torpor, brumation it will eat new growth cacti and their flowers, grasses, some shrubs. If there is no summer rain, tortoises will utilize dry forage, as you can see in the photos of the tortoise on this page.
** What is Brumation - it is different than hibernation; when mammals hibernate, they actually sleep; when reptiles brumate, their metabolism slows down making them less active, and so they just barely need to eat.
Reptiles can often go through the whole winter without eating. Brumation is triggered by lack of heat and the decrease in daylight hours.
A single tortoise may have a dozen or more burrows distributed over its home range. These burrows may be used by different tortoises at different times. Some of their burrows just extend beyond the shell of the tortoise inside. Others extend for several feet.
The tortoise is able to live where ground temperatures may exceed 140 degrees F, because of its ability to dig underground burrows and escape the heat.
Image courtesy of AZ Game and Fish Dept. http://www.azgfd.gov/
Desert tortoises generally emerge from their burrows mid-March to feed. During a roughly six week period fresh green grass and spring wildflowers are their primary nutritional source.
In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, the tortoises tend to live on steep, rocky hillside slopes in Palo Verde trees/shrubs and Saguaro Cactus areas.
The tortoise’s forelimbs are flattened with well-developed muscles for digging burrows and the hind limbs are elephantine in which the female tortoise uses to dig her nests.
Fighting may occur any time male tortoises encounter each-other. When fighting the desert tortoise/turtle will use the gular scutes to ram and flip other males. A flipped male will usually right itself after the defeat, but if it cannot, the turtles or tortoise will die.
The turtle shell is a highly complicated shield of the tortoise, completely enclosing all the vital organs and in some tortoise/turtle species even the head.
To maximize infrequent rainfall, tortoises dig catchment basins in the soil, they remember where these basins are, and may be found waiting by them when rain is approaching.
Another adaption that makes the desert tortoise suited for desert-life is the ability to acquire almost all of its water from the plants that it eats. Because desert tortoises live in an arid climate where most of the rainfall occurs during the monsoons, the Tortoise is able to store water in its bladder for use during drought.
Adult tortoises have very few natural predators because of its thick, scaly skin and hard shell. In the Sonoran desert, mountain lions are the main predators of adult desert tortoises. Worse than predation, however, is the pressure the species is under from development, the construction of roads, and other human activities that degrade its habitat and cause mortality.
Adult desert tortoises are generally solitary animals.
Courting, mating and copulation may occur any time that tortoises are above ground; however, there seems to be more of this behavior in late summer and early fall when the testosterone levels peak in male tortoises. Females store sperm and egg laying occurs in May, June and July.
A mature female tortoise might lay 4-8 white, hard-shelled eggs in a clutch and produce 2, sometimes 3 clutches in a season. Only a few eggs out of every hundred -Tortoise hatchlings actually make it to adulthood.
Tortoise nests are often dug near the burrow opening early in the season, and farther inside late in the season. After laying, the female tortoise leaves the nest and the soil temperatures support growth of the embryos. Incubation periods of 90 to 120 days are typical. Data from experiments using controlled incubation temperatures show that cooler temperatures, 79-87 degrees F. produce all males; at 88-91 degrees F. all females.
Desert tortoises have delayed maturity (14-20 years) and long life spans. Their reproduction / generation cycle is 25 years, with individuals having lifespans well over 50 years. However, the desert tortoises reproductive potential is low, laying relatively few eggs (3-14) in each clutch, and having a high mortality rate for tortoise hatchlings is approaching 99%. Slow growth (~2.5 cm / year) and soft / flexible shells make them particularly vulnerable to predators at this stage of life.
what to feed tortoise Hatchlings…
A tortoise hatchling needs about twice the protein and half the fiber content as an adult until their third year. A tortoise hatchling that lacks adequate protein will develop a thin shell, become stunted, and have a greatly reduced life expectancy. Good sources of protein for young tortoises include natural forages like mallows, primrose, and rock hibiscus. Cultivated plants like clover, alfalfa, and dichondra, and produce including kale, collards, turnip greens, beet greens, mustard greens, spinach, bok choy, dandelion greens, parsley and cilantro are also good alternatives. It is recommended that a variety of these foods is offered at each feeding. Course, dry alfalfa hay should be AVOIDED. Tortoise Hatchlings eat frequently and should be provided food several times a day.