Utah Field Guide: Desert tortoise

The desert tortoise is one of several native Utah reptiles found only in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Like many other desert reptiles, it spend most of it’s time underground only emerging for short periods of time to feed and to mate.

It’s capable of digging extensive, underground burrows where it lies protected from the scorching heat of summer and the freezing cold of winter.

Desert tortoise are herbivores and feed heavily on the green vegetation found on the desert floor in the spring time. They will drink water when they get a chance, but those chances are rare. They can store water in their bladders which can make up to about 40% of their body weight at times. This water is available for the tortoise to use when there is no other source available.

A desert tortoise can live to be over 90 years old and may go up to a year without drinking water. However, they will often void their bladder if disturbed leaving them vulnerable to dehydration. The best thing to do, if you’re fortunate enough to see one, is to keep your distance and take photographs with a telephoto lense.

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