The Durable Desert Tortoise

The Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii).

The weather is extreme in the Nevada desert, but it’s nothing the sturdy Mojave desert tortoise can’t handle! They’re perfectly suited for the harsh, dry environment and have adaptations that allow them to survive for over a year without access to fresh water.

The desert tortoise is a plant-eating herbivore, browsing on grasses, wildflowers, herbs, and new growth cacti, getting most of its water from its food. Desert tortoises will also occasionally eat rocks and soil to help digest the amount of plant material in their stomachs; birds are known to do this as well.

The Mojave desert can get as hot as 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so these animals will spend more than 95% of their lives burrowed in holes to stay protected from the heat (and cold, when it drops to 20 degrees during a Mojave winter). Unfortunately, in some areas the population of Mojave desert tortoises has dropped by 90% within the past 40 years, and they are now listed as a threatened species.

If you want to spot a glimpse of this disappearing species, the best time is in the spring when they are out foraging for food before the dry summer. If you see one, look but don’t touch, as they are a protected species and it is illegal to touch or take one for any reason. Now that you’re a Mojave desert tortoise expert, try to spot one on your next hike in southwestern Nevada!


Alexia Neal



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