Turtle on a rock

Desert tortoise

Good neighbors
Type
lizard

Reptiles

Area
North America

North America

Endangered Status

Threatened

facts

size
8 to 15 inches
adult length
A soccer ball is 9 inches wide
size of desert tortoise compared to a ball
food
plants
plants

Desert tortoises eat grasses, flowers, fruit, and cacti.

habitat
desert
desert

description

tortise walk

Ancient adaptations

Desert tortoises have not changed much over the past 200 million years. Like other tortoises, they depend on a domed shell for protection. While they are slow to grow to their adult size and live a long time (50 to 100 years in the expert care of wildlife specialists), desert tortoises are surprisingly quick on their feet!

Tortoise dig

Dig it

A desert tortoise’s front legs are built like shovels, with long, sturdy nails that are good for digging. They create burrows or dens in the dirt to hide from predators and cool off from the hot sun. DeDesertortoises spend about 95 percent of their life in a burrow. Other animals—like kangaroo rats, burrowing owls, and gopher snakes—also use tortoise dens for shelter.

Tortoise eat

Desert designers

Desert tortoises are a keystone species. This means that they play an important role in their hot and dry ecosystem. When they eat cacti, flowers, and other plants, the seeds from their meals spread across the desert as they poop. This helps native plants and grasses grow, providing more food and shelter for other animals.

tortoise walk

A little help

Desert tortoises are a vital part of the southwestern ecosystem, but they need our help. These amazing reptiles are threatened by habitat loss and disease. To study and protect desert tortoises, San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance scientists use technology to track and monitor their locations and body condition over time—critical knowledge that will help guide our conservation efforts.

Quiz

Yes or no? Desert tortoises are cold blooded.
Yes
No