California Desert Tortoise

Order: Chelonia; Family: Testudinidae; Species: Gopherus agassizii californiae
Range: South-West coast of North America; from the tip of Baja to southern California, and the desert areas of Nevada and Arizona. 
Habitat: They inhabit semi-arid grasslands, thorn scrub, gravelly desert washes, canyon bottoms and rocky hillsides below 3,530 ft. 
Diet: Herbivorous. Diet composition varies throughout the tortoise's range. if winter rainfall has been sufficient to result in germination of annuals, these are used heavily when the tortoises emerge from winter torpor (brumation). Other herbs, grasses, some shrubs and the new growth of cacti and their flowers comprise a major portion of the diet. If there is no summer rain, tortoises will utilize dry forage.
Lifespan: 80-100 years.

Turtle Bay California Desert Tortoise.jpg


We do not know his exact history; however, most likely someone captured him and kept him as a pet. He was malnourished and his shell became deformed, most likely due to a lack of calcium. It is hardened now, but the plastron is still not shaped correctly. He also had a respiratory disease common to captive desert tortoises and he cannot be released into the wild.


Interested in the Adopt-An-Anamal program? Click link below. 

Fun Facts

  • The desert tortoise is able to live where ground temperature may exceed 140 degrees F, by burrowing into the sand. 

  • 95% of a desert tortoise's life is spent in underground burrows.

  • Ravens have caused more than 50% of juvenile desert tortoise deaths in some areas of the Mojave Desert. 

  • Desert tortoise populations have declined by 90% since the 1980s. 

  • Both sexes have a gular horn--an anterior extension of the plastron (lower shell). The horn is longer in males and often upturned. Males use these in fighting other males, attempting to insert the horn under the anterior edge of the carapace and, by twisting to the side, flip the other male on its back. The opponent attempts to stand as high as possible to prevent this from happening. 

  • The male plastron is concave; females' is flat or slightly convex. 

  • Desert tortoises hibernate (brumate) during the winter months. 

  • Desert tortoises can go an entire year without water. 

  • There is a virus affecting the captive population of desert tortoises that causes respiratory illness. Because of this, Mojave and other captive tortoises cannot be released into the wild, so they don't pass it on to the wild population.