The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) is a reptile found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. They are usually between six and fourteen inches long, weighing up to fifteen pounds. The population is estimated at 100,000 adult tortoises.
They are most commonly seen in:
- Southern California
- New Mexico
These reptiles live about 80 years on average, but some have been known to live up to 150 years old. Desert tortoises hibernate during winter months and mate seasonally from April through July, with females laying between one and four eggs at a time near water sources.
Desert tortoises are herbivorous reptiles that feed on grasses, wildflowers and cacti. They live in burrows, where they also spend time during hibernation periods of up to nine months at a time. They can carry water in their body to help them survive in dry conditions. During the rainy season, desert tortoises consume a lot of water. It is estimated they can consume up to 40% of their body weight.
The main predators of the desert tortoise include coyotes, foxes, hawks and ravens. They can also be killed on highways where they cross roads trying to get from one location into another. Occasionally, they are also threatened by poachers. Luckily, they are classified as a threatened species by The Endangered Species Act, meaning they cannot be hunted or collected without permits from authorities.
Desert tortoises are protected in the U.S. under both state and federal law. They also have protections against being taken out of their natural habitat for commercial purposes. If you see a desert tortoise while camping, it’s best to leave it alone as they will not attack you.