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A slow-moving reptile, the desert tortoise copes with desert heat by becoming active only during the cooler morning hours or early evening. In the hottest part of the summer, the tortoise "estivates," by going into its burrow and living off stored fat. These tortoises are herbivorous and eat cactus, grasses and other low-growing plants. They get most of their water from the plants they eat, but will drink from temporary rain pools. The desert tortoise is an excellent digger. Their burrows are often found at the base of bushes and can be up to 35 feet long. Their pale shell helps reflect the sunlight. When the head and neck are drawn in, the forelimbs, which are covered with large conical scales, seal the opening of the shell.
Our Animal's Story
Five desert tortoises live in the Great Southwest Building and are exhibited in the Desert Garden. In the summer time, we try to get the tortoises outside for some sun and grazing. Their ages range from 17 to 71 years old. Three out of the five tortoises hatched here at ZooAmerica.