Desert Tortoise - Facts For Kids, Habitat, Diet, Information

The scientific name of the Desert Tortoise is Gopherus Agassizzi. It is a medium-sized animal mainly found in the desert areas of Northern America. The main feature of the Desert Tortoise is the high and patterned shell. In addition, it is known for living in the burrows underground. 
It was originated around 50 million years ago. In the being time, the evolution has adapted the animal to suit for the dry and harsh climate of the south-western desert of Utah, Arizona and Nevada. Adopting a Desert Tortoise is an illegal activity

Desert Tortoise Facts For Kids and Information

  • It is such a kind of tortoise which is adapted to suit the extreme desert conditions.
  • It is easily seen in Sonoran Desert of Mexico, Mojave Desert of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada.
  • Young ones are light coloured whereas the adult animals are usually dark coloured.
  • Around 95% of their life is spent in underground burrows.
  • They can even survive till 1 year without water.
  • Water is stored in the bladder of the Desert Tortoise.
  • These can survive in such conditions when temperature is over 60 degree Celsius.
  • They dig burrows in the soil for survival.
  • It is the state reptile of Nevada and California.


As these are herbivores animals, the main food is wild flowers, grasses and herbs.  They also eat a lot of varieties of vegetation available in their surroundings which include perennial shrubs, cactus and flowers.



This creature inhabits rocky foothills and sandy plains which are surrounded by the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. They are also commonly found in the Utah and Nevada regions of Arizona.


When the temperature of the surroundings is too high then, they simply dig the burrow in the sand to cool themselves and protect them from heat. They remain in this condition till the heat outside gets down. The biological adaptation of the Desert Tortoise enables this animal to live in such arid conditions.

The flattened and heavy shape of the front legs along with the claw like scale makes the desert tortoise an excellent digger. This quality helps in getting safe from the heat. They can dig up to 3- 6 feet to protect themselves from heat in the summer season and cold in the winter season. They just spend most of the time in their burrows.


During the hot summers when the environment is hot and dry, they usually remain inactive for conserving the water in their own body. When the winter approaches in November, they get entered into the torpid state and remain in this state till February. This state is somewhat like hibernation only. In this situation, they remain in burrows to get away from the cold chilled winters.

The water in their body comes from the wildflowers and grasses which they consume. In fact, they also dig some basins in the soil for the purpose of catching rainwater. They never forget the location of these soil basins.


During the breeding season, the males are aggressive to other males. The larger one will dominate the small ones. During this time, the male will show tumble and rough behaviour.


The ability to store water in the body aids in recycling it during the hot and arid summers. They also display the body movements like biting, circling, head-bobbing, chin gland sniffing and so on. These are some gestures which they used to display their emotions like friendly behaviour, exchanging pleasantries, courtship and much more.


The small size of the Desert Tortoise helps in protecting it from various natural predators. But, unfortunately, its hard outer shell fails to give him complete protection. Birds, reptiles, cats, feral and coyotes are the main predators which attack on the Desert Tortoise. They have danger from the man kind as their habitats are endangered for grazing and mining.


Copulation as well as courting generally occurs in the late summer & early fall. At this time, the level of testosterone is quite high in the males of these animals. Females have the habit of storing sperm and they start laying eggs in the months of May, June & July. However, the quantity of eggs is not certain and the number of eggs depends upon the size of the females.

When female reaches to the age of 13 years, they can reproduce successfully. Generally, a mature female may lay 4-8 eggs at a time in a clutch. In a season, they can produce 2-4 clutches. Hatchlings emerge from the eggs and they are approximately 2 inches in length. Approximately, 2 percentages of hatchlings become adult Desert Tortoise. They take 10-12 months as the Gestation period. It should be noted that when rainfall is low, then there are chances that female will not lay any eggs.


It is a medium sized animal. The colour of Desert Tortoise varies from the dark brown to light one along with yellowing and orange markings. This animal has a projection which is called as the gular horn, present in under shell or plastron. Males have the longer tails in comparison to the females. They also have the raised areas at the rear side of the plastron.

Life Span

The common lifespan of the Desert Tortoise is 50 years.

Health Issues

They suffer from diseases related to the upper respiratory tract. They are not well adapted for the increased moisture in the environment and dampness. The common symptoms of their illness are swollen eyes, runny eyes, swollen limbs, lethargy and inappetence.


They do not shed the skin like some lizards and snakes. Sometimes they just detach the skin from the leg region and neck region.

Desert Tortoise Characteristics

  • They are herbivores and attain a length of 9-15 inches.
  • To defend themselves when they are picked by hands, they just pee on the human hands
  • They live at extreme temperatures where ground temperature exceeds 140 0 F by digging underground burrows to escape the heat and gets protected while dormant in freezing temperatures
  • They spend 95% of their life in burrows only
  • Male tortoise grunt while mating
  • Female Desert Tortoise just copulates with many males and they store the sperms until they are ready to lay the eggs
  • Males generally help the females in digging the nests