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Desert Diary

Reptiles/Bolsón Tortoise


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We usually think of turtles as inhabiting lakes, streams, even the oceans, but we sometimes forget that some have abandoned the water. Even in our Chihuahuan Desert, several turtles—under the pseudonym of tortoises—have become landlubbers.

However, not all have done well during the explosion of human populations. The Mexican Bolsón Tortoise was unknown to the scientific world until 1958, when researchers found a shell of this species being used as a chicken feeder. Later surveys found that this tortoise was in trouble. Limited to the Bolsón de Mapimí, its habitat was under attack, and it was being hunted locally for food. Reacting to the information, the Mexican government established a Biosphere Reserve, and the Instituto de Ecología erected a research station and began study of the tortoises' life history. Researchers found that few eggs were laid and many fewer survived predation.

By enlisting local people, creating a survival plan, and caring for station-incubated young during the critical first 3 to 5 years, actions are paying off big—the Bolsón Tortoise may yet be around for coming millennia. pen and ink



Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

shell of Bolson Tortoise

Carapace of a Bolsón Tortoise. Most of the scutes (dark brown) have been lost. It was a shell much like this that—turned upside down—served as the chicken feeder. Photograph by A.H. Harris. Specimen from Laboratory for Environmental Biology Herpetological Collection.



Web Resources

Turtles and Global Climate Change. Scroll down to the sixth paragraph for a picture of the living tortoise.