Desert tortoises are surprisingly sociable and cheerful pets.


Phoenix — They’re Not Fluffy They don’t play fetch. And of course they won’t roll over. But there is such a lap turtle.

Moreover Pet turtles can also wag their tails. and will pop up to greet you And some even remember their own names. The surprising warmth of these ancient, cold-blooded creatures made them popular pets for families with pet dander allergies and for retirees.

After many years of living without pets (Except for one ferocious betta) My family and I decided to adopt a captive desert turtle. It was a slow and steady process.

In the state of Arizona where we live The state operates a desert tortoise adoption program. Adoption is free. but must have an application Including photos and plans of Tao’s new home. We spent hours setting up his habitat in our backyard, digging rocks, building burrows and planting turtle-friendly flowers.

Building a home takes time. But turtles themselves are relatively low-maintenance pets.

Turtles sleep through the winter. This is a process known as brumation in the reptile world. They need a warm cave to keep them safe and warm. In the forest they dug it themselves. Man-made burrows can be built from large PVC pipes, plastic trash cans, and more. or cinder block with WonderBoard as roof

Lynda Misiak, who oversees the desert tortoise permit process in California, said: For families with children, there is an added benefit of the beast removal process.

“Turtle is awake. they play with it They got tired of it and went to bed. She woke up in the spring and they had a new pet,” she said.

Desert tortoises are herbivores and graze on Bermuda grass, weeds and many native plants. They don’t need water every day as they adapt well to desert homes. And you don’t need a second turtle to take care of your pet.

Sherri Graves of the non-profit Tortoise Group said: “The funny thing about turtles is that they love people. But they don’t love each other,” says Sherri Graves of the nonprofit Tortoise Group.

Why does the Arizona Department of Fish and Game have an adoption program? Because of too many breeding problems. It is not safe to leave captive turtles in captivity. Because they can spread disease to dwindling native populations. and backyard breeding, which is now illegal in Arizona. This resulted in more baby turtles than adoptive families, adding 50-plus years of life expectancy, and as a result hundreds of turtles surrendered to the state every year.

The pet reptile trade can be fraught with concerns, especially some turtles. Therefore it is important to find a reputable group to adopt.

Tegan Wolf, who oversees the Arizona adoption program, says there are about 200 turtles at her center, and about 150 of them are babies.

“People still breed them in captivity. They start out very small. Then people didn’t know how big they could grow,” she said. “Then they had 15 of them roaming the backyard.”

We met Wolf on a hot sunny day in Arizona recently when we picked up our desert tortoise. Now named Dotty after the light brown spots on its carapace, Dotty was about a foot (30 cm) long, with scrappy legs for digging. Her neck can stretch several inches. And she has a pinkish-pink tongue that sticks out when she chews her food.

First observation about her behavior: she is very curious. Few minutes drive home She pulled herself up next to the cardboard box she was in and raised her head to see what was going on.

Other Unexpected Behaviors: She’s a lot more cheerful than we thought. Explore the lawn quickly. She was surprisingly friendly, jogging and greeting us when we went out to visit her. Or even climb into our laps when we sit cross-legged in her dwelling. And when sleeping she won’t hide in her shell like we believe in the cartoon. But she spread her legs out. bow your head to the side often

One thing to be aware of: like most other reptiles, Turtles can carry Salmonella. Therefore, people, especially children, should wash their hands after touching or interacting with them.


Dotty is a native of Arizona. This meant that it was relatively easy to arrange a habitat that suited her needs in the Sonoran Desert. Most of her diet consists of our lawn. which she happily grazes The rest came from a tree in our garden or from our daughter’s pocket that picked bright yellow trumpet flowers from the schoolyard to feed her.

But there are other types of turtles that people keep as pets. One popular species is the African Sulcata Tortoise. which is the largest land turtle They can weigh up to 100 pounds and grow to 2 ½ feet (76 centimeters) long. Their size and longevity can be overwhelming for pet owners. And they are always looking for new homes.

Misiak said, “Sulcatas are a huge problem in California. “People understand them and they don’t know what they’re doing.”

For those living in the Southwest, Wolf says the native desert tortoise is a better fit.

“These people are better suited to backyards. They don’t dig big holes. They don’t rearrange backyard furniture” like Salcatus can, she said. Adult desert tortoises are much smaller. Slightly over a foot in length and weighs about 8 to 12 pounds.

There are other varieties For those who live in cold climates, such as the small Russian tortoise. They can live in indoor, heated cages.

One important thing to keep in mind when taking the plunge is that turtles can easily outlive their owners.

“This is a long-term commitment,” Miziak said.

A mean desert tortoise climbs into Seyda Robertson’s lap in Scottsdale, Arizona, on May 7, 2023. The surprising warmth of these ancient, cold-blooded animals has made them popular family pets. (AP photo/Alina Hartounian)


A sleepy desert tortoise chews on an evening primrose in Scottsdale, Arizona, on May 11, 2023. The surprising warmth of these ancient, cold-blooded animals has made them a popular pet for families in the United States. Allergic to pet dander and pensioners. (AP Photo/Alina Hartounian)


Dotty’s desert tortoise pops out for a road trip in Phoenix as she makes her way to her new home on April 29, 2023. The surprising warmth of these ancient cold-blooded creatures makes them such a popular pet. For families allergic to pet dander and for retirees. (AP Photo/Alina Hartounian)

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