The Texas tortoise is the smallest of four species of gopher tortoises found in the United States, and the smallest tortoise species in the U.S. overall. It has yellowish-orange, "horned" scutes, or plates, on its shell and cylindrical hind legs like those of an elephant. Its legs end in small claws used for scraping around when needed.
The Texas tortoise is one of the few tortoise species endemic to North America. As a North American tortoise, the species is well-adapted to living outdoors in places with a dry, temperate climate. There are 30 recognized species of turtles in Texas, but only the Texas tortoise is considered native. Unlike other species of gopher tortoises, the this species doesn’t burrow much. Instead, it takes shelter under the scrubby vegetation of southern grasslands.
If you come across a this animal in the wild, make sure you never pick it up. Handling a wild tortoise is neither safe for you nor the tortoise. Stress can cause an individual to expel all the contents of its bladder as a last-resort defense mechanism. Doing this results in the loss of its water reserves and can cause the tortoise to slowly die of dehydration. In addition, all reptiles carry the bacteria Salmonella, which has no effect on them, but can make people very sick.
Texas tortoises are classified as a threatened species by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have been on the list since 1977, as a low reproductive rate, historic heavy exploitation by pet suppliers, and other factors have led to a severe population decline of the species. There is a $10,000 fine if a person is found in possession of a Texas tortoise.
Where are they?
You can visit the Texas tortoise at the Children’s Animal Center.
As a reptile, the best time to visit the tortoise is on days with a pleasant temperature.
Species Survival Plan
Dry scrub and grasslands
Fox, bobcat, coyote and eagle
Grasses, weeds, flowers, prickly pear cactus and occasional grubs
Originally Native To
Southern Texas down through northeastern Mexico
6 - 8 inches
Male 7 - 9 lb.
Rather small with yellowish-orange plates on its shell and small spurs on its legs
Up to 7 eggs
April - September
Fairly solitary, males will fight when they come into contact; hibernate in winter