Testudinidae, the tortoise family
West of the Colorado river in southeastern California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona
The desert tortoise is a relatively large (25 to 36 cm long) land-dwelling tortoise with a domed shell or carapace. It can grow up to 15 cm height and has unmistakable, elephant-like legs. The desert tortoise is long-lived (50 years in the wild) and requires 13 to 20 years to reach sexual maturity.
Habitat & Behavior
The land-dwelling desert tortoise occurs in a variety of vegetation types in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. Their diet consists primarily of annual wildflowers, grasses, and cacti. The desert tortoise spends most of its life in burrows or rock shelters to regulate body temperature and reduce water loss.
Current threats to the desert tortoise include loss of habitat due to urbanization, large-scale renewable energy projects, development of roads and highways, military training, and off-highway vehicle activity. Increasing development in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts has significantly increased populations of crows, which regularly feed on immature desert tortoises. Non-native plant species are also increasing in the Mohave and Sonora deserts, which reduces the density of the native species that are used by the desert tortoise.
Federal and state agencies have identified 12 Critical Habitat Units to protect prime desert tortoise habitat. As of 2019, a comprehensive recovery plan has been developed for the desert tortoise.
Where can you spot it?
Desert tortoise occurs in the Mojave Desert.
What is critical habitat?
Critical habitat refers to an area that is believed to be essential to the conservation of a federally endangered or threatened species. The designated area does not necessarily include the species entire range.
Data source: Critical habitat from US Fish and Wildlife Service, accessed via ECOS (Environmental Conservation Online System)
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2019). “Status of the Desert Tortoise – 20190322.” [link]