The Mojave Desert Tortoise

Last post I discussed the forthcoming solar power projects that appear to be certain to be approved and the possible effects that they are going to have on the California desert locations on which they will be constructed. I mentioned the relocation of the Mojave Desert Tortoise and the fact that it was an endangered species.

I thought I would take a bit of a closer look at the Mojave Desert Tortoise and the habitat that sustains it. According to Wikipedia the desert tortoise is a species of tortoise that is native to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.

These tortoises are able to survive in temperatures exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit, doing so by burrowing into the ground where they spend the majority of their life. They are dormant in the months from November through to March.

The diet of the desert tortoise is dependent on the plant species found in the desert region. Plants such as creosote bush, Mojave yucca, burrobush and blackbush are generally the species that define the desert tortoise habitat. They emerge from their burrows around mid-March to feed on a variety of plants. They will feed on fresh green grass and spring wildflowers for around six weeks when they are available, turning to dry stems of grass and cactus pads when it is dryer. The encroachment of non-native plants can degrade the existing natural ecosystem which has an effect on the desert tortoise’s ability to find enough food.

The life span of a desert tortoise is well over 50 years but the mortality rate of juvenile tortoises is very high. In fact it is around 99% due to the slow growth rate and the soft shells that provide little protection against predators during this stage of their lives. To add to the problem is that the desert tortoise only lays clutches of between 3 – 12 eggs at a time.

The main reasons why the populations of desert tortoises have declined recently can be attributed to two human related reasons: the direct loss of individuals and a degradation of the habitat in which they live. Thanks to poaching, running them over with cars, introducing livestock to the area and other increased movement through their habitat the desert tortoise numbers are being severely affected.

It is no wonder that a lot of care must be taken by the solar energy developers who will be building their power plants in the desert, effectively introducing yet another threat to their survival.

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