The high regard Nevada places on tortoise lost in the media circus- In 1989, the State of Nevada made the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) the official state reptile. See This is ironic because of hostility to the tortoise shown by many Cliven Bundy-we-recognize-only-Nevada-supporters.

The most critical time of the year for the tortoise is March through May when the precipitation from the desert winter supports the growth of what is usually just a sparse cover of grass. That’s when the wildflowers bloom and cacti flesh out their annual growth. The tortoise often gets much of its water from this vegetation, but they do use rainwater pools when they form. There has been a drought in the southern Nevada desert for some time. Cattle eat the same things as the tortoise and are on the range most prolifically at the same time as the tortoise –springtime.

In the heat of the Mojave desert summer, with 110 to 130° F air temperature, the tortoise is well underground in its burrow.  Seemingly at odds with successful natural selection, desert tortoise react to harassment or to touching by emptying their bladder. It is illegal to touch or chase them, and, of course, to pick them up and take them home.

About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan's Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of "Hiking Idaho." He also wrote "Beyond the Tetons" and "Backpacking Wyoming's Teton and Washakie Wilderness." He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

17 Responses to Desert tortoise is the Nevada state reptile

  1. Leslie says:

    When I was growing up in L.A., we had a desert tortoise that roamed our 3/4 acre property. He’d show up about every 3 months or so, then disappear back into the bowels of the garden. They are really cool critters. I sure hope they survive.

  2. Yvette says:

    It would be nice if the media talking heads would at least learn the difference between a tortoise and a turtle. How many times have heard the endangered desert tortoise referred to as a turtle in this fiasco?

  3. Larry says:

    Hey, Rand Paul and Hannity, bone up a little on the desert tortoise. Amazing what you can learn. I propose the wolf as Idaho’s state mammal 🙂

  4. Ida Lupine says:

    How do we keep the desert tortoise in the mitigation area and not return to their place of birth? Anyone who has handled ‘turtles’ such as in picking them up from roads and moving them out of harm’s way knows that they go where they want to even if you try to move them, and seem to ‘know’ where they are going with almost a purpose in mind. What’s the solution, more fences? Great. I think the massive solar farms are going to be even more harmful than a relatively small ranch. I wouldn’t want to mess with solar panels in river beds either. Someday they may return to their former glory once unneeded dams are removed!

    I know I made the mistake of typing ‘turtle’ instead of ‘tortoise’ by accident (but don’t assume we didn’t know the difference, all you smug know-it-alls!). I wish we still had that edit button!

    • Ida Lupine says:

      I don’t know why we refuse to consider putting solar in parking lots and on large industrial and residential roofs. It would provide even more energy savings by providing shade, and with continued future development, would seem an ideal solution instead of eating up more and more undeveloped land.

      I believe it is because the heart of the matter is that preserving endangered species isn’t really the driving force behind large-scale solar and wind – it’s creating a new industry for J-O-B-S and P-R-O-F-I-T. Anything and everything will take a back seat to that, including people’s livelihoods (and people who can’t afford designer duds and equipment to go out ‘re-creating’ the West), and the government won’t give a damn about endangered animals. Wolves, wild horses, and sage grouse are all being systematically removed for something.

      The New West, where once it had character, is in danger of becoming just one of another indistinguishable places like all the rest. Colorado has the nickname “LA East” now, I have read.

      • Louise Kane says:

        Ida I have not read much about the issue of placing large solar panels. You are indicating that proposals to place then in parking lots are rejected. I’m curious now, whois rejected this. It seems like a great idea. Using parking lots and large industrial roof area does seem a better idea than using undeveloped land. Is it a question of causing some kind of nuisance, economics, or fear of harming wildlife if the panels create a hot point area? What are you reading about this? would like to hear more.

        • Ida Lupines says:

          I don’t know if they have, but I don’t hear as much about them as we do the mega solar plants.

          I drove by one of our small solar farms this morning, and now that they are just about finished with construction, they’ve erected a chain link fence around it, and replaced all the trees that had to be removed permanently with a few small specimens and spindly bushes, much like what one would have listed on their mortgage. We’re kinda solar challenged here in the Northeast with less sunlight in winter and snowcover, also. What an eyesore!

          This one borders a lake that is a water supply, but of course we were assured that the runoff and erosion during construction wouldn’t have ‘much’ of an effect on the water.

      • Gary Humbard says:

        Ida, I agree with 90% of your comments however, without the Endangered Species Act, many species and habitat would not have been protected. Ninety-nine percent of the species listed have not gone extinct and although there needs to be many more listed, at least the federal government is taking action.

        Lawsuits will continue to force more species onto the list but the biggest problem is the private landowners who care only about the all mighty dollar now. If they only knew that managing the land for biodiversity would provide the optimum income.

    • Ida Lupine says:

      And certainly constantly disturbing their breeding spots habitat can’t be good for an endangered species. Does this apply to land tortoises as well?

  5. Nancy says:

    An interesting read re: tortoise/dung theory:

    So it begs the question, were tortoises forced to change their eating habits because of overgrazing?

    • Ida Lupine says:

      Thank you.

      It’s interesting that both our deserts and oceans are becoming garbage dumps from human activity. Deserts are not appreciated for the real environments they are, just thought of as empty space – so we dump our nuclear waste, fracking, drilling, garbage there. But we can keep remote areas in Alask from having a 10-mile gravel road and tell ourselves we’re protecting the environment! At least the poor tortoises have seemed to adapt to cattle – but I don’t know about the latest assault on them and other animals by green energy development.

      • Jay says:

        This paragraph indicates the tortoise is being harmed by the presence of cattle, and has not adapted to them:

        The status of the desert tortoise and its critical habitat has been impacted by decades of human activities. In their 1991 report, the GAO found that livestock grazing practices of the late 1880s and early 1990s badly damaged desert lands in the southwest. Domestic livestock grazing on BLM’s hot desert allotments continue to pose the greatest risk of long-term environmental damage to a highly fragile resource. The GAO offered several options for consideration by Congress including the discontinuation of livestock grazing in hot desert areas. They concluded that BLM did not have the resources to properly
        manage the intensity of livestock grazing in hot deserts. Without sufficient monitoring data, BLM will not have the necessary data to change active preference levels and overgrazing may occur (GAO 1991).

    • ramses09 says:

      Interesting article, I ask that same question.
      Thanks Nancy.

  6. James Hanson says:

    Interesting article. I spent a bit of time in the Sonoran desert a couple of years ago and seen a few while there.


April 2014


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey