The desert tortoise, also known as the desert Gopher tortoise, is actually the native species of the Mojave and Sonoran Desert areas of the southwest United States and northern Mexico and northern Sinaloan Sahara. It is a nocturnal predator. G. agrestis is distributed throughout desert areas throughout the country, including the states of Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and Utah. G. atherrea is distributed east of the Mississippi River and west of the Snake River in south-central Texas. G. haemorrhoidalis is distributed throughout desert areas in north-central Arizona.
Life occurs in the desert tortoise through a complex process of the life cycle called molting. Molt is completed from spring through fall, when the animals are sexually mature. There are four stages during this process: egg laying, hatching, continuing molting, and burying. This process is completed multiple times over the year for most desert tortoise. A new baby desert tortoise emerges from its shell during early August through early September.
The food source for the desert tortoise consists mainly of vegetation such as cacti and desert shrubs. Feeding is usually seasonal, with soil being available all year around. Herbivores eat cactus, algae, sage, oasis grasses, dune grasses, rushes, desert berries, alfalfa, and spiders, while carnivores eat snakes, lizards, salamanders, and ticks. Other foods that the tortoise may eat include berries, grasshoppers, crickets, earthworms, aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, locusts, snails, ticks, and mice. Tortoises enjoy water and spend a majority of their day basking in it, basking mostly in the sun. They also spend some time drinking or eating saliva produced by glands in their throats.
Due to their large size and slow movements, desert tortoise are rarely seen by humans. They avoid human contact and become somewhat shy or inactive around humans. Some individuals even develop an intense fear of humans if they are introduced into their own enclosure. Their extremely slow movements make them difficult to find.
The average lifespan of this tortoise is three to five years. Occasionally, a female desert turtle may live up to eight years. During mating, they raise their babies, called fry. Female turtles reach sexual maturity at age three. Sexual maturity is reached at age four.
The natural prey of these species includes hare, rodents, lizards, insects, spiders, millipedes, bugs, and other reptiles. When threatened, they retreat to a safe cover of sand or underbrush. They are seldom seen because they slumber under rocks, logs, or dune regions. Desert tortoises are considered to be one of the few reptiles that grow no wings, and hence they take up flight only during mating and incubation.