Desert Tortoises

Jim Hatt

Desert Tortoises

Post by Jim Hatt » Sat Jul 25, 2009 3:17 pm

Yesterday 7-24-09, I was in the mountains with my hiking partner Sal, around the high cliffs behind Tortilla Flat.

On our way out, Sal noticed something I had walked right past, and called me back to see it. Right there in the entrance to a small cave I had walked right by a pair (He and She?) of Desert Tortoises. The first ones I have ever seen in the mountains. I had to be fast to get the photos of them, because they were quick (Quick as a Tortoises could possibly be anyway) to turn around, and crawl into another small area out of sight in the back of the cave)

Photo of Sal standing beside the cave. (after the Tortoises disappeared into the back of it)



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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Plays In The Dirt » Sat Jul 25, 2009 3:51 pm

Nice captures Jim. I've spotted them out in the desert myself but not very often.

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Iggy1 » Sat Jul 25, 2009 8:50 pm

WOW! Jim, great photos. I remember how excited Don & I were when we spotted our first tortoise. I assume the one in front is the female, am I correct?

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Desert Cruiser » Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:01 pm

Really hard to tell about male and female without seeing the under side of them, and that's a no no! Nice shots and a great capture too! I didn't think you'd see them up in the mountains, now I know. Pretty cute couple.

Don....

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Desert Cruiser » Sat Jul 25, 2009 9:02 pm

Oh yeh and they're probably guarding the treasure in the back of the cave.

Don....

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Jerry Feldner » Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:36 am

There seems to be a great deal of difference between Desert Tortoises (DTs) which live in CA and those which live in AZ. In AZ, DTs are frequently found in mountainous areas. Many animals have damaged shells from falling down steep, rocky slopes. In CA, DTs rarely climb and they are mostly found in desert flats. They frequently dig burrows in the sides of washes. That is another difference between DTs living in the two states. AZ Torts rarely burrow but are satisfied going under rocks and making their shelters there.
Brumation (hibernation is a word that mammalogists have claimed as their own) time is sometimes very exciting for researchers. Tortoises are frequently found brumating in the same shelter as Gila Monsters and Rattlesnakes or sealed up in a packrat nest. They are perfectly capable of forcing their way out of packrat nests when the weather warms.
Oh, yes. Scientists are beginning to note differences in the DNA of CA/NV/UT DTs and those from AZ and Sonora. Work is being done on this and some papers have been written but the major work is yet to be done.
BTW, from the limited views of the two DTs, I would say they are both males. From what I can see, they both have extended gular plates (the scales under the chin) which is a male characteristic. But Don is correct, the best way to tell gender in adult DTs is to check the bottom - males will have a concave belly and females will be flat.
Last edited by Jerry Feldner on Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Desert Cruiser » Sun Jul 26, 2009 3:39 pm

Thanks for the information Jerry. I didn't realize they lived in the mountains in Arizona as we've only seen
them in the low desert in CA. Here's a quick photo - a close up of a tortoise showing his extended gular plate
just below his head, which also lead me to believe that this was a male: Jerry may be able to tell better?

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Something else I found that a lot of people in the desert don't know is here. The Hog Nosed Turtle. These
live in and near water, so seeing them is restricted to lakes and rivers -- these being seen in the Colorado River:

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These are quite large Turtles. Maybe Jerry has some information on them also?

Don...

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Jerry Feldner » Sun Jul 26, 2009 6:59 pm

That DT is a male.

The so-called "Hognosed" turtles you showed are really softshell turtles
{ http://www.reptilesofaz.org/Turtle-Amph ... ifera.html } and they are an invasive species. I saw one in the Colorado some years back which measured at least 3 ft in length. A few years ago, AHA participated in a "turtle cleanup" and in one morning, we removed at least 50 softies from the Salt River west of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport.

Oh, yeah, these critters are capable of delivering a nasty bite.

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by Desert Cruiser » Sun Jul 26, 2009 7:24 pm

Thanks Jerry -- the clean up didn't do any good down here in the Yuma area as there are literally hundreds of them along the Colorado just below where the Gila joins it. And some are quite big!

Don....

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Re: Desert Tortoises

Post by mlv » Wed Jul 29, 2009 4:04 pm

Neat find !!

I have never had the luck to find a desert tortise in nature.

As for the DNA variations between AZ & CA, NV & UT.......the Colorado River probably forms a barrier that isolates the two DT populations, allowing for the variations to take hold.

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