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How Do Desert Turtles Adapt to Their Land?

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Desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) are terrestrial turtles that live in both the United States and Mexico. In the U.S., they roam throughout Nevada, Arizona, California and Utah. Like many other varieties of animals, desert tortoises have a handful of convenient adaptations that help make their lives easier.

Basic Information

Desert tortoises are of the family Testudinidae. They have deep brown, green or gray upper shells and lighter lower ones, usually yellow, that are usually between 9 and 15 inches long. Desert tortoises generally weigh between 8 and 15 pounds, with heights of 4 to 6 inches. The herbivores feed mostly on flowers, stems, forbs, foliage, shrubs, grass and herbs. Cacti are desert tortoise dining favorites. Since fully mature individuals of this species have such dense and sturdy shells, predation isn't often a massive worry for them. However, mountain lions do indeed have the ability to get through their shells. Sandy dirt is a must for them.

Temperature Adaptation

Since desert tortoises are often desert inhabitants, they are all too familiar with dry and hot climates. They try to minimize temperature discomfort by heightening their movement during monsoon weather, which is a period of milder temperatures and more easily available H20. They further attempt to adapt to their surroundings by being the busiest during the morning and evening hours of the day.

Water Adaptation

Mature desert tortoises have the ability to manage for a minimum of a year without taking in any water. This is courtesy of their water-stashing abilities, as they are capable for setting the stuff aside within their urinary bladders. Desert tortoises frequently retrieve water out of their meals, which is extremely handy for life in the middle of arid and harsh desert lands. When they do gain access to water, however, they tend to take in lots of it at once.

Burrowing Adaptation

In unpleasant and seemingly unrelenting times of excessive heat, desert tortoises typically aim to gain relief through burrowing. Burrowing is how they manage amidst soil temperatures that are sometimes even higher than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. They use their front limbs to dig out these relaxation spots. Their limbs are simultaneously sturdy, flat and robust -- all major pluses for digging. They're equipped with long and pointy claws, another big advantage. Desert tortoises also frequently use burrows when it simply is too cold to search for food. Their burrows are often anywhere between 3 and 6 feet in depth.

Shell Shape Adaptation

Desert tortoises possess carapaces that are dome-like in form. The outline of their shells not only offers their lungs ample room, it also helps desert tortoises maintain their body temperatures.