Wild Tortoises Gear Up

A released tortoise basks in the spring sunshine.

A tortoise will extend its limbs and head to increase surface area when basking.

The desert tortoises we have been tracking via radio telemetry since May 2013 at a site just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, have started emerging from hibernaculum. Warm temperatures in the afternoons have been drawing the tortoises out to bask. They have not started foraging but are gearing up to start eating those delicious annuals that add some color to the Mojave desert landscape every spring.

Globe mallow

Globe mallow

A tortoise’s immune system can take up to six weeks to become fully active once it emerges from its winter burrow. After hibernaculum, the tortoise slowly eases back into foraging and finding a mate. Depending on what is available, tortoises will eat a variety of desert plants throughout their active season (April through September).

This year at our site, we are seeing desert globemallow, beavertail, Indian rice grass, Mediterranean grass, and a few annual forbs sprouting up and blooming, ready for tortoises to have a bite.

Jeanette Perry is a research assistant at San Diego Zoo Global’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Read her previous post, White Christmas for Juvenile Desert Tortoises.

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