Fun Desert Tortoise Facts For Kids | Kidadl


Fun Desert Tortoise Facts For Kids

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The desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii are mainly known for their long lives and survival techniques. Desert tortoises are classified in the class reptilia, and they are a member of the Testudinidae family. Desert tortoises are found in rocky terrains, deserts, canyons, and washes. Tortoises are very prominent for being slow, as they have a high domed shell, columnar legs with scales in the front. The desert tortoise, also known as Gopherus agassizii, can be found in the Mojave desert and the Sonoran desert of the southwestern United States. They are also found in the Sinaloan thornscrub of northwestern Mexico, southern Nevada, southeastern California, southwestern Utah and western Arizona.

On the basis of differences in characteristics, DNA, and geography, these were further classified in Agassiz's desert tortoise, also known as Gopherus agassizii, and Morafka's desert tortoise, also known as Gopherus morafkai. Both of these classifications of species occur on either side of the Colorado River. The Gopherus morafkai are found in the east of Colorado, and the Gopherus agassizii are seen on the west of the Colorado River, California. Desert tortoises may be referred to as a blend of two species and have now become very rare. So the next time you cross paths with desert tortoises, consider yourself lucky enough. To learn more about these adorable animals, we have gathered a set of interesting facts about them for you to read. 

Fun Desert Tortoise Facts For Kids

What do they prey on?

Cactus, grasses, fruits, herbs, and flowers

What do they eat?


Average litter size?


How much do they weigh?

8-15 lb (4-7 kg)

How long are they?

8-15 in (20-38cm)

How tall are they?

4–6 in (10-x15 cm)

What do they look like?

Brownish gray

Skin Type


What were their main threats?

Humans, Habitat Destruction, Ravens

What is their conservation status?


Where you'll find them?

Deserts, Flats, Rocky Terrains


South-western United States









Desert Tortoise Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a desert tortoise?

Desert tortoises are a member of the Testudinidae family. In scientific terms, they are known as Gopherus Agassizii.

What class of animal does a desert tortoise belong to?

Desert tortoises come under the classification or belong to the class of Reptiles or reptilia.

How many desert tortoises are there in the world?

According to some recent estimations and calculations, there are about 100,000 desert tortoises in the Mojave desert and Sonoran desert. But there is no transparent data or numbers known about their population, but they're getting extinct with time.

Where does a desert tortoise live?

A desert tortoise lives in the deserts and also in canyons, rocky terrains, and washes. They're usually found in or around the washes of the Mojave desert and the rocky canyons of the Sonoran desert, Arizona. They use their nails and forearms to dig underground burrows and live in them.

What is a desert tortoise's habitat?

Desert tortoises live in deserts that are really cold on winter nights and the extreme heat during summer days; therefore, in a nutshell, desert tortoises can sustain extreme temperatures. They dig burrows and hibernate in case of very high or low ground temperatures so as to maintain their body temperature. During winters, their metabolism rate slows as they don't get out of the burrows in search of food or to forage due to extreme cold. Desert tortoises have the ability to adjust and sustain in severe temperatures. Hence there are several variations in desert tortoise habitat, from rocky terrains to sandy flats and deserts.

Who do desert tortoises live with?

Desert tortoises are solitary, and so they love to live alone, but at times they share their burrows with some other mammals, reptiles, or birds. Sometimes they share burrows with other desert tortoises, too, but often there's a fight for dominance. Moreover, keeping two female and one male desert tortoises or more than two of the same sex is also suggested.

How long does a desert tortoise live?

The desert tortoise is known for its long life span, which ranges from 50-80 years. And a desert tortoise living in a zoo has a greater lifespan than that of a desert tortoise living in the wild as they do not have to face the predators or their no sort of threats. A desert tortoise living in the wild has to sustain the loss or destruction of habitat, which results in various reasons of their mortality like upper respiratory tract disease, and herpesvirus.

How do they reproduce?

Desert tortoises have a low rate of reproduction. They mate during the spring and autumn season and have an incubation period of about three to four months. Their mating season lasts from August to October. They generally lay eggs in the month of May and July and can lay up 2-14 eggs at a time. The number of eggs they lay is referred to as clutch size in desert tortoises. These hatchings often come out in Mid-August and October, and the mother doesn't need to protect her offsprings as they are born with basic sustainability skills, and they fend for themselves. A desert tortoise becomes mature at the age of 12-20 years.

What is their conservation status?

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, desert tortoises' conservation status was classed as Threatened in the early 1990s. In the last 20 years, the population of desert tortoises in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California and other places like Nevada and Arizona has reduced by 90%. The Mojave desert tortoise is classified as endangered species as it occupies the west and north of the Colorado River.

Desert Tortoise Fun Facts

What do desert tortoises look like?

These desert tortoises facts for kids will give a clear picture of their unique character traits.

In the US, desert tortoises are the largest terrestrial turtle; they have a high domed shell, their carapace or the top shell is brownish-gray in color with tan at the center of the shell. They have stumpy legs, which is apparently the main reason for being slow, and have flattened front limbs, which helps them dig burrows and sand to hibernate during extreme temperatures. Their domed shell helps them with thermoregulation as there is space for lungs, which ultimately helps them survive in such extreme temperatures. The male desert tortoises have a horn-like forward projection on their lower shell or plastron, and this projection is known as the gular shield.

How cute are they?

A desert tortoise is perceived as an adorable reptile, and its peaceful behavior makes them more fascinating.

How do they communicate?

A desert tortoise has a range of vocals from hisses to grunts which they use to actively respond and communicate. They even use some actions such as tapping on the lower shells of head bobs and some other set of visual clues and even smells to indicate or communicate.

How big is a desert tortoise?

Desert tortoises can grow up to four to six inches long in height, and generally, females grow more rapidly than males, but ultimately males grow larger than females. Desert tortoises take around 16 years to grow until eight inches as they grow slowly. Although, their growth depends on various factors such as climate, age, precipitation, gender, etc., they are around ten times smaller than sea turtles.

How fast can a desert tortoise move?

Desert tortoises are very slow, and they travel at a speed of 0.3 miles per hour.

How much does a desert tortoise weigh?

Desert tortoises' body weight ranges from 8-15 lb (4-7 kg).

What are their male and female names of the species?

Desert tortoises do not have any specific names of the species given on the basis of their gender. Therefore, they are both referred to as desert tortoises.

What would you call a baby desert tortoise?

A baby tortoise or the offsprings of desert tortoises are known as hatchlings.

What do they eat?

Desert tortoises are herbivores, so desert tortoises may prefer eating grasses, cacti, fruits, wildflowers, and even stones or pebbles to gain some minerals and stabilize intestinal functions. The Mojave desert tortoise and the California desert tortoise have an abundance of such annual plants, which makes it suitable for them to survive. An adult tortoise can sustain for a year without water as they have huge urinary bladders which store up to 40% of their weight in water. And in dry seasons, they depend on the moisture from some plants and annual wildflowers.

Are they poisonous?

They are not poisonous, but they do bite if bothered. They are peaceful and solitary animals.

Would they make a good pet?

They would make a good pet, but there are certain challenges in keeping them as a desert tortoise diet includes certain plants that may not be available, so providing the proper and sufficient nutrition is challenging. As a desert tortoise has a long life expectancy so keeping them needs commitment as leaving them back in the desert may be harmful to both the wild desert tortoises as well as themselves as the risk of upper respiratory disease increases. Therefore it is recommended to either visit a zoo and meet them or learn about them on the internet.

Did you know...

A desert tortoise named Jonathan has recorded a lifespan of 185 years.

In California, desert tortoises are known as their state reptiles.

Some desert tortoises have a longer life expectancy than humans.

Female desert tortoises have the ability to lay fertile eggs even after 15 years of mating.

The Desert Tortoise's Survival Skills

Desert tortoises have many such physical and behavioral characteristics that help them survive, with a major one being the ability to dig burrows and hibernate. Also, they can retain moisture up to a longer period of time, and in times of the dry season, they do not lose water during urination. Rather a white solid mass is generated and thrown out. All these characteristics are needed by a desert tortoise to survive and sustain in such extreme conditions.

Can You Keep Desert Tortoises As Pets?

It is legal to keep desert tortoises as pets, and they are good pets, but they require a long-term commitment as they have long lives. Apart from that, caring for and building the habitat for desert tortoises by growing wildflowers and suitable plants is absolutely necessary.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our shy turtle coloring pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our Desert Tortoise coloring page.

Written By
Moumita Dutta

Moumita is a multilingual content writer and editor. She has a PostGraduate Diploma in sports management, which enhanced her sports journalism skills, as well as a degree in journalism and mass communication. She's good at writing about sports and sporting heroes. Moumita has worked with many soccer teams and produced match reports, and sports is her primary passion.

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