Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Agassiz's Desert Tortoise

Gopherus agassizii
Today's animal gets its name from 19th century Swiss-American naturalist Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, and it can be found in the desert areas of the Southwest United States (they are even the state reptiles of both California and Nevada). They can actually live in incredibly hot areas that reach over 140 degrees F, due to their ability to burrow underground to escape the extreme heat.

Agassiz's Desert Tortoises measure about 14in long, and males are slightly larger than females. Interestingly,t he two sexes also have slightly different shell shapes. Males have inward curved at the rear of the carapace, while females have outward curves. This is so that the males can stand upright against the female in order to successfully mate. Males will also fight each other during each breeding season in order to establish reproductive rights, and the Tortoises will have numerous different mates over their 30 to 50 years of life.

Sadly, these Tortoises are listed as Vulnerable (partially) because of decline caused by human activities. Military, agricultural, and urban development have all caused a loss in habitat. Development has not just taken up their habitat, but it has introduced excess predators. Ravens are major predators of Desert Tortoise eggs and hatchlings, and there are more of these birds around due to human land development.

There area number of illnesses that have also affected these Tortoises. Upper respiratory tract disease has been plaguing the population since the 1970s, and  is a chronic, infectious condition. Furthermore, a shell disease called Cutaneous dyskeratosis is also found in the population.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Southwest United States
Size : Length up to 14in (36cm)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Sauropsida -- Order : Testudines
Family : Testudinidae -- Genus : Gopherus -- Species : G. agassizii

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