Perhaps one of the strangest animals to come upon in the wilds of Arizona is the desert tortoise. Crawling along the ground and carrying a massive shell, these reptiles are some of the most impressive the state has to offer, and also some of the most elusive.
The reason they’re so hard to spot is that the desert tortoise spends much of its time underground. In fact, 98 percent of their life is spent underground. This is because the areas they inhabit can have ground temperatures as high as 140 degrees, meaning they must burrow down more than three feet below the desert’s surface to escape the heat. And in winter, they do the same to escape the cold. They come up to the surface to eat, and their diet is mostly made up of moisture-rich plants, like cacti and their flowers, so that they can store up water for their long rests below the surface.
One of the most unique traits of the tortoise is its ingenuity when it comes to rainwater. These animals dig basins and remember their locations so that, when it does occasionally rain, they can be waiting at the basin to drink the much-needed water.
While they only spend a bit of their lives on the surface, the good news is they have long lifespans. Most live anywhere from 50 to 80 years, with some living past 100. Not only that, but desert tortoises have been around for quite some time. Desert tortoise fossils dating back tens of thousands of years have been found, and it appears as though they made it to Arizona more than eight thousand years ago.
The good news is, even if you don’t get to see a tortoise while you’re here, the sheer amount of things to do in Phoenix and Scottsdale is incredible. When you visit you can hike, climb, ride ATVs or simply soak up the sun and enjoy our wonderful weather. There’s something for everyone to do in Arizona!