Kelly Vaughn

Everything seemingly slows down during summer in Arizona, but super slow is the baseline speed for desert tortoises. In Arizona, you’ll find two native species of the gentle giants: the Sonoran desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai, pictured) and the Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Both species are protected in the state. These interesting creatures are purely terrestrial and don’t cruise into and out of water like many of their turtle counterparts. They do, however, use their shells as both protection and a cooling system. Desert tortoises spend approximately 95 percent of their lifetimes in their burrows or shelters, emerging during the summer monsoon to eat and breed. A unique adaptation enables the tortoises to eat many desert plants that are inedible to other animals, and they consume all of their water through those plants. That plant-based diet may help desert tortoises live, on average, between 30 and 50 years in the wild. If you’re interested in caring for a desert tortoise, the Arizona Game and Fish Department offers an adoption program for captive tortoises that have been surrendered to Game and Fish and cannot be returned to the wild. For more information, visit