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Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Turtles Around Las Vegas, Wildlife Around Las Vegas
Desert Tortoise
Mojave Max, Sr., coming out of his muddy burrow

General Description: A turtle in the desert with a moderately domed, brownish shell. This is the only "land turtle" in the desert around Las Vegas.

Taxonomy: Tortoise Family (Testudinidae).

Technical Description: A terrestrial "turtle." Carapace moderately domed, brownish; can exceed 14-inches long. Hind legs stumpy, round, and elephant-like. Front legs broadly flattened with leathery skin and large scales. Male with indented plastron; female with flat plastron.

Desert tortoises drink water through their nose, and eat cactus from time to time.

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Tortoise in Creosote-Bursage Flat habitat

Diet: Primarily eats annual forbs and grasses that germinate after winter rains. Also eats cactus and other low-growing plants. Drinks standing water when available. When food is unavailable, can stay in underground burrow for more than 6 months.

Habitat: Most common in Mojave Desert Scrub habitat type, especially desert scrub and wash habitats dominated by creosote bush. Found in valleys and on bajadas and hills below 4,500 ft elevation. Less common in the lower-elevation Creosote-Bursage Flat habitat type. An important habitat requirement is the presence of annual wildflowers and native grasses that are eaten during spring.

Desert Tortoise
Desert tortoise (© Bill Phifer 2006)

Range: Southeastern California, southern Nevada, and southwestern Utah, southward across western Arizona and into western Mexico.

Breeding: Mate in the spring, lay 1-15 eggs per clutch during spring through mid-summer, hatchlings emerge in the fall shortly before going into hibernation.

Similar Species: This is the only species of tortoise in Nevada.

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in burrow
Tortoise in burrow

Comments: Tortoises dig dome-shaped burrows, usually in the sides of washes or at the base of shrubs. If you look into burrows to try to find them, expect to also see creatures such as rattlesnakes that use the burrows. Tortoises can live longer than 50 years.

Special Remarks: Tortoises west and north of the Colorado River are listed and protected as Federally Threatened under the Endangered Species Act; individuals may not be taken from the wild. Pet tortoises can be obtained from the Desert Tortoise Program.

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoises rarely bite, but they have quite a beak that they use to tear up plants for food.
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoises have spade-like front foot and leg
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoises have elephant-like (elephantine) hind foot
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise males have a concave plastron; females have a flat plastron.
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise males have chin glands that become enlarged (like this) during the breeding season. This is a good way to determine gender in tortoises without picking them up to feel the plastron.
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise females have a short, little tail.
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

Typical tortoise burrow: notice the dome-shaped roof (inward sloping walls), flat floor, and straight tunnel. Compare this shape with the shape of Kit Fox burrows, which have vertical sides and a tunnel that usually curves to the side.

We can tell this big buck is a male from the chin glands without pulling him out of his burrow.

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise male in burrow.
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise going down a burrow.
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise yearling about 2-inches long (notice the size of the tortoise relative to dry grass stems on the ground).
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
You need to watch for rocks on dirt roads!
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise juvenile blends in with background
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise juvenile
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise juvenile
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert Tortoise juvenile
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Tortoises are hard to find, even when out in the open.
Can you see this one?
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert tortoise drinking water from a spring (more photos)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Desert tortoise sometime eat cactus (more photos)
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
That is a little girl-tail
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Tortoise scat
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Tortoise scat
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Tortoise tracks
Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Tortoise tracks in dry mud

Note: All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
© 2014 Jim Boone; Last updated 120910

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