Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Lynn Chamberlain
Photo Copyright Lynn Chamberlain

Three groups of desert tortoise, Gopherus agassizii, exist: 1) the California type, which is found in California and southern Nevada; 2) the Sonoran type, which inhabits areas south of the Grand Canyon; and 3) the Beaver Dam Slope type, which occurs in extreme southwestern Utah. Utah's Beaver Dam Slope population of desert tortoise is listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Within its range, the desert tortoise can be found near water in deserts, semi-arid grasslands, canyon bottoms, and rocky hillsides. Desert tortoises often construct burrows in compacted sandy or gravelly soil. Females nest under a large shrub or at the mouth of a burrow, and lay one to three clutches of two to fourteen eggs from May to July; eggs hatch in late summer or fall. Burrows, which may contain many tortoises at once, are used for hibernation during cold winter months.

The typical diet of the desert tortoise consists of perennial grasses, cacti, shrubs, and other plant material.


  • Biotics Database. 2005. Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, NatureServe, and the network of Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers.

  • Stebbins, R. C. 1985. A field guide to western reptiles and amphibians. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. 336 pp.