Arizona Wildlife

Desert turtles in Arizona – difference between male and female tortoises

ARIZONA TORTOISE | Turtles – Do NOT pick up the Desert Tortoise unless it is in harms way. The Tortoise will get scared and release the water in its bladder and most likely die during the dry season.

turtles in the desert

Arizona Desert Tortoise, Gopherus agassizii

It is also illegal and detrimental to the desert tortoise populations to collect tortoises from the wild.

Arizona turtle tortoise

desert tortoise have tails

Removing any of the six species of Arizona’s native turtle / tortoise can severely affect local populations because they reproduce very slowly in natural conditions.

  • Desert Tortoises
  • Ornate Box Turtles
  • Mud Turtles
  • Painted Turtles

What is the difference between Male and Female Tortoises?

It can take up to 20 years before the Desert Tortoise starts showing physical characteristics that are typical of the 2 sexes.  The sex of a tortoise is based on the temperature of the nest and NOT genetics.

Phoenix Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise in Sonoran Desert, AZ

One way to tell the difference between the female and male tortoise is by the TAIL.  A male tortoise has a larger tail than the female.   The female’s is very short.  Also, male tortoises have 2 chin glands that are enlarged during mating season.  Sometimes a white gooey liquid comes out of the male’s chin glands.

dinosaurs in Arizona

Desert Tortoise at Colossal Cave, AZ

The Desert Tortoise is called – “A LIVING DINOSAUR”

Facts:

Dinosaurs became extinct but turtles & tortoises have thrived in their present form for approximately 150 million years.

This Tortoise is one of four species that have remained unchanged since the Oligocene Epoch  27-37 million years ago.

Arizona Tortoise photos

Desert Tortoise eating cactus

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.   It can live to be 100 years old.

Gopherus agassizii

Desert Tortoise back elephant like legs

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 Mojave Tortoise 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.

Arizona tortoise turtle

Desert Tortoise eating dark greens

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 and some shrubs.

tortoise in Arizona eat prickly pear cactus

Desert Tortoise ate cactus fruit

** 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.

male female Arizona Tortoise Turtle

male and female desert Tortoise in Arizona

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.

Tortoise Den in Arizona

Male Desert Tortoise in the den

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 this approximate six week period: fresh green grass and spring wildflowers are their primary nutritional source.

Arizona Tortoise, Tucson Turtle

Gopherus agassizi, Desert Tortoise eat grass

In the Sonoran Desert of Arizona,  tortoises tend to live on steep, rocky hillside slopes in Palo Verde trees/shrubs and Saguaro Cactus areas.

Sonoran Desert Tortoise Turtle

Desert Tortoise in Tucson, Arizona

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.

Desert tortoise turtle

Female Desert Tortoise in Arizona

Desert Tortoise in Arizona

Desert Tortoise Shell

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, it will die.

female and male tortoise difference

male on the left and female tortoise on the right

The turtle shell is a highly complicated shield for the tortoise;, completely enclosing all the vital organs and in some tortoise/turtle species even the head.

Arizona Desert Tortoise turtle

The Shell of a Desert Tortoise

Helping to make 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 monsoon; 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 their main predators.  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.

tucson tortoise turtle

Desert tortoise eating

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.

Arizona male Tortoise copulating

Desert Tortoise, Turtles mating

 

Females store sperm and their egg laying occurs in May, June and July.

desert turtle young tortoise

small baby desert tortoise

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 tortoise eggs out of every hundred actually make it to adulthood.

arizona young tortoise hatchling

baby desert tortoise

After laying her eggs, the female tortoise leaves the nest.  The soil temperatures support growth of the embryos.  The incubation period is 90 to 120 days.

Tucson baby desert tortoise turtle

Tiny baby desert tortoise

Unfortunately, slow growth and soft shells make baby tortoises particularly vulnerable to predators.

 

Advertisements

We love your comments and questions!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s