What’s Your Hurry?
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I sp0tted a Desert Tortoise the other day when Sam Angevine and I were exploring in the Tucson Mountains. I found the animal only a few minutes after Sam had almost stepped on a Tiger Rattlesnake. We were bushwhacking a relatively steep and rocky slope, off trail. Sam was about 25 yards above me and we were each poking around in the rocks, looking for additional rattlers. Suddenly, I saw the tortoise, lumbering exquisitely slowly uphill, inching along in my direction. “Sam, Sam,” I yelled, “get over here!” Sam must have thought that I’d stepped on or at least found another rattlesnake because he came barreling downhill at top speed. Meanwhile, the tortoise, which is not exactly known for its top speed, had moved forward perhaps 1/2 inch. Sam came running up to me and said: “you asked me to hurry for that???” He had a point — the tortoise wasn’t exactly exiting the stage as I yelled for Sam to come.
Of course, my excitement was prompted by the fact that I don’t see Desert Tortoises very often. I average about one sighting of these creatures per year and my enthusiasm got the better of me.
No creature is better adapted for living under hot and dry conditions than is the Desert Tortoise. These large and bulky reptiles — about 15 inches long and weighing several pounds — have evolved into world class desert dwellers.
A Desert Tortoise is a herbivore that can survive on the toughest plants. It needs to drink rarely or never. It absorbs moisture from the plants that it eats and it stores it as urine. In extreme drought it will reabsorb and recycle its urine. A Desert Tortoise is a burrow dweller that spends much of its life underground. In the hottest and driest weather it beats the heat by staying beneath the surface.
The tortoise’s forelegs and feet are adapted for digging. It can use those feet like spades to break down tough soil and to push it away in order to create a burrow. This species is also known for its longevity. One of these animals can survive for decades in the desert.
This tortoise acted almost as if it had never seen a human. Perhaps it hadn’t. I sat on a rock for about 20 minutes while the tortoise sat on the ground only a couple of feet from me, placidly grazing on plant matter. It never showed the slightest concern about my presence. After a while it very slowly moved away and I watched as it disappeared among the rocks.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting. The first image was shot at ISO 100, f13 @ 1/160, the second at ISO 320, f16 @ 1/160.