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Mojave Desert - California Desert Tortoise Pictures

Thursday, April 21, 2011

 Mojave Desert - California Desert Tortoise

Just returned from a California Desert Tortoise hunt in the Mojave Desert outside Barstow. That’s right Barstow, not exactly on my top photo destination list either but did prove to be an interesting trip. It involved a couple days of driving miles of backcountry dirt roads and many miles of hiking in what at first glance appears quite desolate desert terrain. Creosote bushes with the occasional stand of Joshua Trees mixed in dominate the landscape. But once you leave your vehicle and walk out into the open desert, you begin to experience a much more rich and complex environment. Especially this time of year, there are many species of wildflowers and other annuals as well as cactus varieties to be seen. Almost immediately you begin to see holes of varied sizes, the burrow homes of numerous desert animals. Lizards dart from one bush to the next and a close eye around your feet must be kept for the Mojave Green Rattlesnake which is common in the Mojave.

We had come to find a Desert Tortoise a threatened native of this desert environment. Finding one is an increasingly difficult task. In the last 30 to 40 years it has declined as much as 90% or more in many areas that its known to inhabit. Habitat destruction, urbanization, off-roading, illegal collection and disease have all combined to severely impact its numbers. In addition tortoises live the majority of their lives underground in burrows which they dig to escape the extreme desert temperatures. During summer months ground temperatures can exceed 140 degrees during the day and in winter it often falls well below freezing.

In two days of looking, we found many burrows both active and abandoned and three tortoises out foraging, two males and a female. This one is a big mature male. He would have likely weighed in at 12 to 14 pounds. Individuals can live to 80 years or more. Watching this healthy male, it was amazing to consider the years he has thrived in this challenging and changing environment.

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 Mojave Desert - California Desert Tortoise Picture
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ID# MOJ-007
California Desert Tortoise
species: Gopherus agassizii
picture-id: MOJ-007 request pricing

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