A tortoise is a lot like a turtle, except that it lives on dry land instead of in the water. No tortoise lives on drier land than the desert tortoise. They are found --- though not easily --- in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California, Nevada and Utah. Desert tortoises, which typically are about a foot long and weigh between 3.63 and 6.8kg., can live for 80 years.
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Desert tortoises survive the heat of deserts, where temperatures can hit more than 140 degrees on the ground, by digging holes. They dig 3 to 6 feet under the ground and stay there for most of the year, which is why it is hard to find a desert tortoise. Deserts tend to be cold in winter as well as hot in summer, so the tortoises come out the most in springtime, when they eat and drink as much as possible.
Any creature that survives in the desert must have the ability to find and store water. Tortoises get most of their water from the plants they eat in the spring, but they will also dig shallow holes to catch rainwater in. They seem able to tell when it's about to rain and are sometimes seen waiting next to their water holes. Their bodies are made to store water for a long time; they can even draw the liquid in their bladders back out and use it when they need it.
Since the 1950s, the number of desert tortoises has dropped by 90 per cent. They are protected by law now, but tortoises are still considered threatened. One reason so many tortoises have died off is because of building in the deserts. Sometimes new kinds of plants will begin to grow in the desert that tortoises can't eat, and some fatal diseases have spread and killed many of them. You should never take a tortoise out of the wild, and you should never leave a pet tortoise in the wild, as both might die.
Desert tortoises have a very high green or black shell and armoured front legs for digging. If you pick a tortoise up, it may try to defend itself by emptying its bladder all over you. That's dangerous for the tortoise because its bladder holds a lot of its water supply and it could end up dying from dehydration. The desert tortoise is the official reptile of California and Nevada.
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