Desert Tortoises Love Thunderstorms

Desert Tortoises spend the vast majority of their lives underground in the coolness of their burrows.  In the cool hours of the morning or evening they may come out to browse the vegetation.  They will also be lured outside during thunderstorms to visit spots where they know the water will form puddles.  These are the times to exercise the most caution when you're on the road.

This adult tortoise was spotted in the middle of the road in the Mojave National Preserve about an hour after a thunderstorm passed through.  It was moved safely to the shoulder of the road.  It's difficult to spot tortoises when speeding along, especially since their low profile and color blends in with the road.
This female desert tortoise was sunning herself on a dirt road in the Mojave National Preserve near Kelso Dunes.  She later found refuge in the shade of a desert plant.

If you come across a tortoise, do not disturb it.  But if you find it in the middle of a well traveled road where it is in jeopardy, follow these instructions from the tortoise experts:
Carefully pick up the tortoise using both hands and hold it upright in its normal walking position. Carry it carefully across the road in the same direction it was heading, and take it no more than a few hundred yards into the desert. Place the tortoise in the shade.
Tortoises play a vital role in the desert ecosystem. Their burrows give shelter to other animals that are less capable of doing the digging on their own, such as snakes and burrowing owls.  The burrows also increase percolation of the deserts limited rainfall into the soil to benefit desert plants and wildflowers, which in turn generate meals and shelter for a host of other desert species.

For me, tortoises are therapeutic.  How can one not admire an animal that can go years without a drink of water, endure sweltering temperatures, and enjoys rare meals of wildflowers?  In our age of smart phones, OHV lanes, food courts, and vending machines, we could all take a step back and appreciate the strength and beauty of a tortoise.


  1. Thanks for this great post. I'm a big fan of desert tortoises, and it's a little sad that they are so rare. We like to explore desert byways, and haven't seen a tortoise in years :-(


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