Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finally, The Tortoise Post

{Look Carefully. Under That Rock}

Some facts we should know about the desert tortoise:
1. They live to be 80 to 100 years old
2. They survive in places where the ground temperature reaches 140 degrees F
3. The bottom shell of a tortoise is called a plastron, a word we should all be using more often
4. They spend 95% of their lives in subterranean burrows
5. The she-tortoise lays a clutch of 3-5 hard-shelled eggs the color and shape of ping-pong balls

I know, the picture doesn't really give us a whole lot to go on, but you can't blame an endangered she-tortoise for being shy. Judging from the scuff marks on her back she's been busy romancing some nearby he-tortoise, which is miraculous considering there's been a 90% decline in desert tortoise populations in this part of the Mojave since the 1980s, mostly due to habitat loss, car wheels, dogs and the influx of ravens which prey on tiny soft-shelled baby tortoises. So I shot a few quick pictures of her hindquarters and whisked the dogs away, hoping we didn't disturb the dinner plate-sized reptile that could be as old as my grandmother.

P.S. thanks for all the advice about wacky uploading problems; Flickr seems to be the solution.


  1. She's amazing. I can't stand that there has been a 90% decline! Do you know about what conservation efforts are being made to help the desert tortoise?

  2. Gigi: Most people out here revere them like deities and know to leave them alone or how to move them off the road carefully, etc. There are tons of conservation groups working hard to educate the public, but surprisingly, it's the Marine Corps base out here that has the most sophisticated hatchery program to help increase the population. There's also an adoption program, and I know a lot of people who actually have breeding pairs as pets. They LOVE strawberries.

    Julia: I was hiking through a sandy wash and thought, hmm, this seems like prime tortoise real estate, and sure enough my pointer-mutt stopped dead in her tracks and pointed straight at the rock. Such luck!

  3. My boss has a pair that live in his yard/the tortoise mansion he built for them in his yard and there's always major excitement in the office on "waking up day" when they come out of hibernation each year. Sadly, they've declined to breed. I guess they're just friends.

  4. We had one when I was little, Wilbur. He showed up on our driveway one day and we kept him in our backyard. In the winter, he'd hibernate in a box in our garage, and you knew it was spring when he started rustling around. He liked to eat hibiscus flowers . . .

  5. She is so awesome! Lucky you with your desert finds! xo

  6. scuff marks: i'm going with tires vs. overenthusiastic he tortii.

    plastron plastron plastron plastron, plastron plastron plastron plastron?

    p.s. but would they like ALBINO strawberries? DUTCH ALBINO strawberries? just asking.

  7. So, the he-tortises plastron made the marks on her back? Nauughtyyy.


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