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Dora the Desert Tortoise

Dora the Desert TortoiseHi, I'm Dora - a female Desert Tortoise

I live in the Sonoran Desert in Southern Arizona, on the slope of a rocky hill in Palo Verde. My Cousin, the Californian Desert Tortoise lives in the Mojave Desert.

We’re similar in some ways - we can both live in temperatures up to 140 degrees F (60 C) on the ground and our shells grow to about 9 to 15 inches (22.9 – 38.1 cm) long. But in other ways we’re different. My shell is flatter and more pear-shaped, and his is rounder. I’m very active in summer, and lie under rocks and boulders to keep cool. He’s more active in spring and digs a burrow underground where it’s cooler.

We both go into a state of torpor in winter – called brumation. I find a rock crevice and my cousin stays in his burrow. We become lethargic and don’t move very much because it’s so cold. We hardly eat anything during this time, and our bodies store water from the grasses and flowers we ate in spring.

When it’s warmer I move around more and start eating again. I browse on herbs, grasses and shrubs – and I like the new growth on cacti and their flowers as well. To catch water I scoop out small hollows in the ground, to collect rain. When I’m moving around eating, I can find these small reservoirs when I need them.

In late summer or early autumn (fall) I find a mate. I make a nest on the ground, hidden under shrubs and I lay 4 – 8 hard-shelled eggs. Then I leave the nest and the eggs are kept warm by the soil, which heats up every day in the sun. The eggs incubate for 90 to 120 days, and then the hatchlings break the egg shells open with their beaks. They are about 2 – 3 inches (5.1 – 7.6 cms) long and their shells are thin and delicate.

Some years, if I’ve had plenty of food to eat, I might lay up to three clutches of eggs. That’s a lot of hatchlings, but it takes 15 – 20 years for a Desert Tortoise to become an adult and ravens and other predators try to take them.

If you are out driving in the desert and you see me, please be careful. It’s against the law to touch me, harm me or try to collect me. The numbers of Desert Tortoises are falling and we need all the help we can get to survive.

See you in the desert


Facts about the Tortoise Facts about the Tortoise