White Christmas for Juvenile Desert Tortoises

A tortoise burrow can be seen the morning after a nightfall of light snow. desert.

A tortoise burrow can be seen the morning after a nightfall of light snow. desert.

Juvenile desert tortoises released in September 2012 at the Nevada National Security Site are making their way through their first winter in the wild. The tortoises were snug tight in their burrows over the holidays when temperatures dropped below freezing and a light snow fell.

As ectotherms (cold-blooded animals), desert tortoises must utilize their surroundings to regulate their body temperature since they can’t warm their bodies on their own. Only a few inches of soil are enough to buffer air temperatures to allow the tortoises to hibernate through the winter without freezing. In a few more months, when the air temperatures begin to rise here in the desert, all of our translocated tortoises should emerge to heat themselves in the sun.

Jeanette Perry is a research assistant at San Diego Zoo Global’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Read her previous post, Wandering Males, Jealous Boyfriends.

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