Desert Tortoise

Category: Wildlife

Desert tortoises live in deserts, scrub forests, mountains and tropical deciduous forests in northwestern Mexico and southwestern US, particularly in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. They feed mainly on wood, leaves, fruits and flowers and drink from pools formed during the rainy season. These reptiles can live to be up to 80 years old in the wild.

Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Sauropsida

Order - Testudines

Suborder - Cryptodira

Superfamily - Testudinoidea

Family - Testudinidae

Genus - Gopherus

Species - G. agassizii

Common Name - Desert Tortoise


Desert tortoises have high-domed shells that range from tan or yellowish tones to brown, along with thick skin covering their bodies and scaly heads. They also have long claws that help them dig burrows in the sand for shelter. Adults generally weigh between 8 and 15 pounds and measure between 9 to 15 inches in length.


Desert tortoises typically breed in spring, summer and fall. Females lay between one to 14 eggs, which hatch after 90 to 135 days. They protect the eggs for a while, but leave the nest and let their young hatch on their own. Mothers do not take part in raising their young.


Desert tortoises hibernate during winter and remain active from spring through fall. They are usually out during the day, unless the heat is too extreme. Although this species is not generally social, up to 25 tortoises sometimes share burrows. They typically spend the majority of their time in burrows either hibernating or escaping from the heat.


Desert tortoises

 have been around for millions of years in their current range. Over the years, they have physically adapted to life in the desert. Some populations in parts of the western Mojave Desert have declined by up to 90 percent, and population declines have been considerable in certain areas compared to population numbers from the 1950s.

Present Status

The desert tortoise is listed as Vulnerable and is protected under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species. The main threats to this species include habitat loss, collection for the pet trade and upper respiratory disease. Desert tortoise hatchlings also have a high mortality rate, which contributes to the species decline as well.