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What is a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise on Rainbow Rock Trail at the Valley of Fire – October 2018.

What is a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

It only took me 10 years of living in the desert to finally see a Desert Tortoise in the wild!

The one below was photographed on Rainbow Rock Trail at the Valley of Fire State Park from a good distance away so we didn’t scare him.

DO NOT DISTURB THIS ANIMAL IF ENCOUNTERED IN THE WILD. A defense mechanism of this harmless reptile is to empty its bladder on whoever picks it up. The desert-dwelling tortoise cannot afford to lose this liquid.

Related Article >> Snakes in Nevada


Desert Tortoise – Gopherus agassizii

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Testudines
  • Suborder: Cryptodira
  • Superfamily: Testudinoidea
  • Family: Testudinidae
  • Genus: Gopherus
  • Species: G. agassizii

Related Article >> Reptiles

Size and Body Description

Size/Description: high domed shelf; stumpy elephantine hind legs.

Front legs: flattened and armored for digging.

Color: light tan to brown.


9 to 14 inches (8.5 to 25 cm.)


What do Desert Tortoise eat?  They mainly eat Grasses, cacti, and flowers of succulent plants.

Most of its eating is done in the spring when flowering annuals bloom, and in the fall when later summer rains produce green plants.


The Desert Tortoise grows slowly and generally has a low reproductive rate. They will mate in the spring and produce a clutch of up to ~15 eggs with the hatchlings emerging in the fall just in time to hibernate for the winter months.


Habitat: Sandy or gravelly washes and blow sand deposits in Creosote Bush Scrub.

Range: Southeastern California and southern Nevada, southeast into Mexico.

How Long do Desert Tortoise Live

The desert tortoise lives about 50 to 80 years

Water Sources

Adaptation for Survival: Obtains most moisture it needs from food, but will drink if water is available.




Can dig horizontal burrow up to 30 feet (10 m.) long.

Hibernates in winter, emerges at time of blooming of bright annual flowers.

Officially listed as a Threatened Species throughout part of its range, where habitat disappearing because of urban spread.

Major program now in place in southern Nevada to preserve this species.

Additional Photos

What is a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

Photo courtesy of Nikki Zahn Miller of Nevada Lovers Group

Baby Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise
Desert Tortoise on Rainbow Rock Trail at the Valley of Fire – October 2018. Desert Tortoise

Desert Tortoise

The image above is from the Valley of Fire Visitor Center and the content is transcribed and placed below in the appropriate area and in italics.

What is a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)
Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)

Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) at burrow

Related Content

  • Reptiles

References Used

What is a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii)