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Tortoise Anatomy

1. Can tortoises hear?
Yes, very well. Their ears are covered by skin flaps. They sometimes follow your voice.

2. Can tortoises smell?
Yes, very well. They blow air from their noses and then smell. They love the smell of flowers.

3. Can tortoises see color?
Yes, very well. It’s their ability to see color that allows them to find bright flowers and blossoms.

4. Do tortoises bite?
No. They are not aggressive. If you are holding a tasty morsel, they may overreach and accidentally bite your finger. Be sure you have a long piece of food, like a flower with a stem, to offer.

5. What is that thing coming out of my tortoise’s rear?
It may be a penis. Sometimes the male displays briefly. Not to worry. He will retract the penis soon.

6. My tortoise’s pee had white clay stuff in it.
Normal. Its urate salts. Part is fluid and the white may even be crystalline. It’s good that it’s flushing out.

Feeding and Diet

7. Is it okay to give my tortoise dog or cat food?
No. tortoises are herbivores. They are vegetarian and eat no meat or animal products. Dog and cat food is made for carnivores (meat eaters). That food does not contain the proper amounts of fat, fiber, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals for tortoises. A complete, balanced diet for desert tortoises can be found in Tortoise Food sold by Tortoise Group.

8. What plants should I put in my habitat for my tortoise?
Please see the care section for which plants are recommended for desert tortoises.

9. My tortoise loves cantaloupe and strawberries. I give them to her along with the lettuce.
Fruit and lettuce are not healthy for a tortoise. Sugar disrupts their digestive system and lettuce lacks in nutrients. It needs tortoise food and plenty of grasses and plants for browsing.

10. My little tortoise’s shell is soft. What should I do?
Take it to a vet. You’ll probably need to change its diet and/or habitat.

11. I am giving my tortoise fresh spinach. Is that OK?
No. Spinach contains a lot of Oxalates, the salt of Oxalic Acid which is a naturally occurring chemical. Oxalates bind calcium in the system making calcium unavailable. Fast-growing hatchlings (and all tortoises) need lots of calcium.

12. What should I feed my tortoise?
Feed him a good Tortoise Food, and lots of grasses and native plants. No lettuce or fruits.

13. Where can I buy Desert Tortoise Food?
At Tortoise Group meetings and from Satellite Sellers all across the state.

General Questions

14. How long has the tortoise been around?
Tortoises evolved from aquatic pond turtles of the family Emydidae. Tortoise lineage began about 65 million years ago in tropical forests. The earliest known Gopherus fossils (G. laticunea and G. praextons) are from 45 million years ago, in rocks of the White River Formation in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

15. How do you pronounce gopherus agassizii?
go-FER-uhs ag-uh-SEE-zee-eye.

16. What’s the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?
They are all evolved from turtles. The one that walks on land is called a tortoise, and turtles swim in water.

17. How big do tortoises get?
Males are usually bigger than females. They can be a long as 12-15 inches and weight 15 or more pounds. They keep growing a little all their lives.

18. How long do tortoises live?
They live 80-100 years, about the same as humans.

Habitat and Burrow Questions

19. How do I to build a burrow above ground?
Check out the burrow building suggestions on

20. Will a tortoise eat fake grass?
We hear that tortoises try fake grass. Soon they will find it not worthwhile.

21. My male tortoise keeps bothering my female. What can I do?
Please separate the sexes to avoid breeding. She will be quite stressed and may become ill under those conditions. Please avoid breeding as there are many pet tortoises needing homes. Please contact us if you’re interested in having them sterilized. We may be able to help.

22. I just got two hatchlings. Now what?
See the section on hatchlings in desert tortoise care. Prepare an outdoor habitat for them. In the meantime, you can keep them indoors temporarily in something not slippery that has a small “burrow” and water. Have a place to take them outside where they can go in and out of the sunlight as needed. Email Tortoise Group for help.

23. I am using a dog igloo for a burrow. Is that okay?
No. A burrow needs to be snug with no air circulation and underground for insulation. Your tortoise can either overheat in the summer or freeze in the winter in an improper burrow.

24. I have 2″ of dirt on the board over cement blocks. Is that enough insulation?
No. You need at least 1-2 feet of earth on an aboveground burrow.

Tortoise Care

25. Where can I find answers to care questions?
Care information can be found in the Care section of the website in our monthly meeting videos. We have a hotline available for emergencies.

26. I need a vet for my pet tortoise.
See our page of Veterinarians with tortoise experience.

27. We’re going to do some traveling. What should we do with the tortoise?
Leave it at home. Have someone come by every few days to check to give it food. It will be fine browsing.

28. What temperature should the water be for soaking my tortoise?
Luke warm, in a pan large enough to sit in, and not deeper than the tortoise can easily lift the head out. Let them soak for 20-30 minutes.

29. My tortoise isn’t going into the burrow at night this spring.
That’s okay. The burrow is still colder than the outside air and he is trying to warm up. He probably is sleeping under a little cover.

30. My tortoise is sleeping outside at night this summer.
That’s normal. The nighttime air is cooler than the inside of the burrow.

31. Is my 2-year old tortoise big enough to live outside now?
Your tortoise MUST live outside. Its shell and organs will not develop properly living indoors even with lamps and indoor habitat. Wild tortoises live outside their entire lives. The sun provides nutrients that no lamp can replicate.

32. Is it okay if my bunnies share the tortoise burrow?
Yes, as long as your tortoise has free access and the bunnies don’t take up the best places.

33. It’s raining and my burrow is flooding!
Quick, dig it up! Do not call us first! Dig! Call us to advise you on building a new one. Refer to directions for resuscitation if your tortoise was under water long.

34. I just pulled my tortoise out of the pool and I’m afraid she’s dead.
Don’t give up hope! First, hold the tortoise upside-down, open the mouth, and press on the flanks. Next try mouth to mouth resuscitation.

35. It’s late July, very hot, and I’m worried because I haven’t seen my tortoise is days.
Your tortoise is probably waiting out the heat in the relative cool of the burrow (a period called estivation). If it’s a long hot spell, he may stay in the entire time. Look for him as soon as the weather cools.

36. I see bubbles coming out of my tortoise’s nose. What’s that?
Your tortoise is probably sick with Upper Respiratory Tract Disease. It needs to visit the vet.

37. How do I mark my tortoise so I don’t lose it?
Your phone number can be placed on a specific place on the shell. You or Tortoise Group can do it at one of our health assesment/microchipping clinics or you can have a tortoise veterinarian microchip the tortoise.

Tortoise Group Services

38. Will someone from TG come speak to our club?
Sure. Call the Hotline at 702-739-8043.

39. My tortoise isn’t out yet and I’m worried
We’ll come with the Snooper that will look deep into the burrow. Request our “snooper” service online now.

40. How can I adopt a tortoise?
Submit an Adoption Application online. We’ll arrange an Adoption visit to talk about creating a tortoise habitat in your yard BEFORE you make any changes. Only one tortoise is allowed per habitat to avoid the possibility of breeding.

41. Can I adopt a tortoise if I have a dog?
Sure. If you can control and trust your dog, it makes a good companion.

42. We have a pool, but we’re going to fence it. Can we adopt?
Yes, as long as the tortoise does not have access to hazards.

43. I have been given a desert tortoise. Now what do I do?
Read the care section of this website then request a yard consultation from Tortoise Group. In the meantime, make a temporary place for the tortoise to get out of the sun, provide water, and buy some Tortoise Food.

44. I found a tortoise. What do I do?
Most likely it is someone’s escaped pet if found in a neighborhood. Please read  “I Found/Lost a tortoise” and report the tortoise through our online form. You can see any vet to check for a microchip for free. Place flyers around the area you found it as well as knock on doors and leave flyers at the homes closest to where you found it. Post on Tortoise Group’s Facebook and other online lost and found animal sites.

45. I lost a tortoise. What do I do?
Visit “I Found/Lost a tortoise” to look for your tortoise and report their absence. Place flyers around your home and talk to neighbors. Post on Tortoise Group’s Facebook and other online lost and found animal sites.

46. I want to adopt a second tortoise. I think mine is lonely.
Adoption regulations permit only one tortoise per habitat to avoid the huge problem of tortoise breeding in southern Nevada. Tortoises are loners and do not need the company of another tortoise. As you know, they enjoy sniffing around in the habitat, and they love your company and that of your pets. As of May 1, 2013, NEW custodians are limited to one tortoise to avoid breeding by a Nevada State Regulation (Regulation R004-13).

47. I’m afraid to have Tortoise Group come to my house if I call for advice. They might not like my habitat, and I’ve heard that they could take my tortoise. Is it true?
Absolutely not: There is no reason to be afraid to call Tortoise Group. We want your tortoise to stay right where it is. We’ll make suggestions on creating a wonderful, safe habitat for your tortoise. Request a Yard Consultation.

The Law and the Tortoise

48. My neighbor has three tortoises and needs to get rid of two. Where do they take them?
At present there is no place to drop off unwanted tortoises. Please have them ask around for a person who wants them as pets. Tortoise Group will be happy to advise the new custodian on setting up a habitat.

49. I would like to adopt a female tortoise or a couple of hatchlings.
Tortoise Group is allowed to adopt only one tortoise per household to avoid breeding. Tortoise Group cannot adopt a tortoise under 4 inches shell length due to Federal Law.

50. I’ve been told that it’s illegal for me to have a tortoise. Is that true?
It is legal for you to be a tortoise custodian. It is illegal to take a tortoise from the wild. Register your tortoise online to become an official custodian.

51. If the desert tortoise is listed as a threatened species at both the federal and state levels, how can it be available for adoption?
When the Mojave Desert population of the desert tortoise was listed as endangered in August 1989, the wild tortoise populations received protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (amended). Those tortoises legally held in captivity prior to the listing date were considered pre-Act tortoises, and are not protected under the Act. However, tortoises hatched in captivity after the listing date are protected under the Act. They may be maintained in captivity without a federal or state permit, but we ask that you register on the Tortoise Group’s website. Tortoises may be adopted, but only through Tortoise Group.

52. I am moving out of Nevada. May I take my tortoise?
No. The tortoise must remain in Nevada.

53. I am moving to northern Nevada. May I take my tortoise?
Yes. Please look on our website at the care section titled “cold weather” or contact us. Special care is needed for tortoises kept in northern Nevada–outside the natural range of tortoises.

54. If I see a wild tortoise in the desert what may I do and what shouldn’t I do?
Watch wild tortoises from a distance. If you are too close, the tortoise will pull in and there will be nothing to watch. Do not touch.