SciSun: It’s all in the Shell   Leave a comment

This is a Desert Tortoise:  

Desert Tortoise Sonoran morafkai

Life's mighty slow in the Sonora...





This is also a Desert Tortoise:

Desert Tortoise Agassizii

...But in California it's always time to PAR-TAY!


Do they look more-or-less the same to you? Us, too. But actually they’re two different species! The Tortoises that live east of the Colorado River, in the Sonoran desert of Arizona and Mexico, are Morafka’s desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai); and those that live west of the Colorado River, mostly in the California and Nevada Mojave Desert, are Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Just calling them Sonoran Tortoises and Mojave Tortoises seems more simple to me, but I’m we’re not the one making the names.

For over 150 years all Desert Tortoises were considered one species, G. agassizii. Recently scientists have noticed not all tortoises are alike, and after additional study, including DNA research, found the two are different enough to be considered two distinct species. For a plant or animal to be name as a different species, all organisms the individual plants and animals – within the species group must live and behave very much alike; while the organisms in another species group must live and behave differently than other groups. For example, the eastern Tortoise enjoys team sports while the western prefers individual activities like skiing and surfing. No, that can’t be right. In fact, the differences between the behavior and appearance of both types have more to do with shape of the shell, and egg laying, and where each type chooses to live – Morafkai’s prefer to live on rocky hillsides, and Agassiziis’ like the valley (how California!) – however you have to be very observant, and very patient, to see what makes each species unique.

Today the Desert Tortoise could be endangered due to more and more human activity in the desert. The Tortoises have no where else to go, and scientists are studying them carefully to try and learn how to protect them. This just shows that there’s something new to learn about nature every day! Even scientists who study for years and become experts can find things they didn’t know before, and with this added knowledge it will help everyone better understand nature. No one can ever know everything, and maybe one day you will be the person who uncovers a hidden fact about our natural world!

Get out of your shell (couldn’t help myself) and learn more about Tortoises, and their desert homes!:

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