Types of Desert Tortoises in New Mexico

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Desert tortoises can survive for long periods of time without water.
Desert tortoises can survive for long periods of time without water. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

New Mexico is a state that consists mostly of desert but also has several mountainous ranges and rivers and lakes as well. The state has a wide range of indigenous animals and is home to several species of tortoise. Although there are several common tortoise species in New Mexico, there are also endangered species, such as the Bolson tortoise, which is the largest tortoise found in the United States.

River Cooters

River cooters are commonly found and kept as pets in New Mexico. Scientifically named Pseudemys concinna gorzugi, it's commonly referred to as the Rio Grande cooter. They have black and yellow concentric circles on their shells and webbed feet. Although river cooters are found in the New Mexico desert, they need to have water nearby for survival.

Desert Tortoises

Desert tortoises, also called Gopherus agassizii, are found in the deserts of New Mexico and the southern United States. They dig burrows underneath large rocks and have a large area of land that they forage for food. Unlike river cooters, desert tortoises derive their water from plants and dew. Up to 40 percent of their body weight is water, which allows them to survive for up to one year without drinking water.

Desert Box Turtle

The desert box turtle, known as Terrapene ornata luteola, is found throughout much of the Southwestern United States. This turtle is common in New Mexico and resides in the more arid areas of New Mexico. Yellow lines run across a black or green shell when the turtle is young, but the shell fades to a uniform yellow as it ages.

Western Spiny Softshell Tortoise

Although the Western spiny softshell tortoise, or Apalone spinifera hartwegi, lives near water, it is found in the deserts of New Mexico. This tortoise must have water nearby because it cannot store more than a few day's worth of water. In New Mexico this tortoise may be found close to ditches, arroyos, rivers, lakes and other areas that frequently have water or flooding.

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