Dietary Preferences: Desert Tortoises

Gopherus agassizii and Gopherus morafkai

There are numerous references as to the dietary needs of Desert Tortoises (Gopherus agassizii and G. morafkai) Some of these references are incorrect, others are outdated. 

Please research before offering food items to your Desert Tortoise, they are a very sensitive species, with highly specialized dietary needs.  

Desert Tortoises live in the incredibly harsh Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  We reside in the Mojave Desert and have been tracking this species for more than 20 years, conducting continual field research into their unique dietary needs and preferences.  We also keep up to date on emerging information from published scientific field research into tortoise dietary preferences, conducted by biologists

In the spring upon waking from hibernation, offer fresh sprouting grasses, native forbs and wildflowers.  As the heat of summer approaches, allow offered items to dry in the enclosure, at this time of year a desert tortoise requires far less moisture in the diet, and may prefer drier, coarser items to maintain proper gut function until fall, as hibernation time approaches.  A good way to get started on a healthy diet is to grow 
Tortoise Forage Grazing Seed Mix.

Desert tortoises do not need to eat daily. In the wild, they often don't eat for extended periods of time when the weather is too hot for them to emerge from their burrows.  Desert tortoises spend approximately 90% of their lives in a burrow.  Please feed thoroughly but sparingly

Turning on a sprinkler once weekly to simulate "rain"  should kick a desert tortoise's drinking instincts  into gear.  Allow them to drink from puddles which form. This is the healthiest way to trigger them to void old stores of fluids, replacing it with fresh.  Enclosures need to be kept at as low a humidity as possible.  A flat saucer, sunk into the ground, provides water if they want it.  Water needs to be changed daily.  Note: Burrows naturally have a higher humidity level.  It is important that burrows are protected from flooding at all times.


Last updated 2015