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Tortoises at the Living Coast


Animal Care Manager Lindsay Bradshaw

Writes About Some of Her “Colleagues”

Let me tell you about two of my colleagues:  One is in his 30’s and the other is in his 50’s (although they don’t look their age).  Their favorite food, and what they eat for lunch every day, is a leafy green salad, topped with a hibiscus flower, prepared daily especially for them.  After eating, they spend most of their day resting in the in the shade… of their burrows. 

Lindsay and Mr TWait, what?!  I never said I was talking about human colleagues;   I’m talking, of course, about our two male Sonoran desert tortoises!  Tank and Mr. T were both donated to us by the Turtle and Tortoise Society, a non-profit group that rescues unwanted pet turtles, injured wild turtles or other legally acquired turtles that need permanent homes.  In fact, most of the animals here at the Living Coast Discovery Center came to us after being rescued or rehabilitated and are unable to return to the wild for a variety of different reasons.  So what the Living Coast Discovery Center does is offer these animals a sort of “retirement home” to live out their days as true animal ambassadors, teaching kids and adults alike all about conservation, biology, and ecology.

Imagine living in the desert: scorching hot days, no water to be found, no shade, little food.  A human can last about three days without water and about three weeks without food, but no shelter from the burning sun may be the biggest problem of all for our delicate human skin.  Even the best survivors and outdoorsmen wouldn’t last long in the desert without having special supplies.  But this is no issue if you are a desert tortoise!   

Tank3Sonoran desert tortoises (Latin name Gopherus agassizii) are made to live in the desert.  They are a species among a group of tortoises called ‘gopher tortoises’ because they are particularly adapted for burrowing, much like a gopher.  Some desert tortoises spend as much as 95% of their life in a burrow.  That’s a long time!  They use these burrows to stay cool and out of the hot desert sun in the summer, and they use it to hibernate in the winter.  Desert landscapes are known for being extreme, so burrowing is just one adaptation they have to allow them to thrive in such a harsh environment. They also have thick, rough skin that doesn’t burn so the tortoises don’t have to worry about putting sunscreen on!

Mr tWater and food are the next problems a desert tortoise may face.  They eat mostly dried grasses until the spring plants grow and flowers bloom.  Then they gorge themselves on all the juicy plants.  The tortoises are specially adapted to extract most of their water from the food they eat.  They store the water in their bladders and can live off the reserves for many months after the fresh flowers are gone and the heat of the summer takes over.  Tank and Mr. T don’t have to store any water though – they are fed fresh organic greens, hay, hibiscus flowers (they eat better than I do!) and are given a bath every morning.  

Even though Tank and Mr. T don’t live in the desert, they are still excellent examples of an animal that is designed for a harsh landscape, like a desert. At the Living Coast Discovery Center, you can usually find them in their burrows on exhibit, having a snack, or just roaming their domain.  Come say hi to these amazing desert ambassadors on your next visit to the Living Coast!

LindsayLindsay Bradshaw is the Animal Care Manager at the Living Coast Discovery Center. She has worked for several animal-focused organizations, including Birch Aquarium at Scripps, Nature and Raptor Center of Pueblo, Maui Ocean Center, and the Vancouver Aquarium. When she’s not caring for our animals, she takes care of her own, including a dog and an African grey parrot, both of whom can play fetch.


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