Mukit Hossain

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What Do Desert Tortoises Eat? A Complete Guide

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Desert tortoises are well-adapted to living in hot desert conditions. They spend most of their time in burrows underground, where it is cooler and more humid. Tortoises emerge from their burrows during the morning and evening to forage for food. So, what do desert tortoises eat? I will discuss it more later.

Desert tortoises are mostly herbivorous, feeding on various plants, including cacti, shrubs, and grasses. Fruit and flowers are also part of their diet. Occasionally they may eat insects or other small animals. Tortoises get most of the water they need from the plants they eat. They will also drink watering holes when they are available. They live in caves to escape the day’s heat and conserve body moisture.

Desert tortoises are long-lived animals, with a lifespan of 50 to 80 years in the wild. They grow slowly, reaching adult size after 20 to 30 years. Females lay eggs in underground nests, producing 2 to 12 eggs per clutch. Eggs hatch after 90 to 120 days. Hatchlings are about the size of a quarter and weigh less than an ounce. They are independent of birth, finding their food and shelter.

What Do Desert Tortoises Eat?

Desert tortoises are herbivores, meaning they primarily eat plants and vegetation. In the wild, their diet consists of grasses, cacti, herbs, flowers, and fruits. They also occasionally consume insects or carrion if it is available. In captivity, you can feed desert tortoises a diet of commercially-available greens and vegetables that closely mimic what they would eat in the wild. It’s important to note that desert tortoises do not have specific feeding times; instead, they graze throughout the day as food becomes available. As such, it’s important to provide continuous access to nutritious plant matter for these animals in both the wild and captivity. Here is some food that desert tortoises usually eat:

what do desert tortoises eat
A desert turtle eating it’s food.


These clever creatures have evolved to survive and thrive in harsh desert environments by eating grasses and other plants. Desert tortoises eat grasses like Indian ricegrass, dropseeds, and button grasses, as well as shrubs and cacti. This diverse diet helps them regulate their body temperature and meet their nutritional needs in an environment where food can be scarce.


Cacti are an important part of the desert tortoise diet. Not only do they provide essential moisture, but they also offer a wide range of nutrients that these animals need to stay healthy. Common cacti eaten by desert tortoises include the beavertail cactus, cholla cactus, and barrel cactus.

3.Fruits and vegetables:

In addition to grasses and cacti, desert tortoises eat various fruits and vegetables. Common fruits and vegetables these animals consume include carrots, squash, apples, melons, and berries. This varied diet helps them obtain the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients they need to stay healthy in their arid environment.


Herbivores mainly eat grasses and forbs (herbaceous plants), which are high in fiber and help keep their digestive system functioning properly. Some common herbs they consume include alfalfa, dandelion, and clover.


Desert tortoises are known to eat a wide variety of flowers. The common ones include desert marigold, gaillardia (blanket flower), and evening primrose. While flowers don’t make up a large part of their diet, they are an important source of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.


Desert tortoises are opportunistic eaters and take advantage of any available food sources, including insects caught while foraging for plants or intentionally seeking them out. Interestingly, studies have shown that desert tortoises prefer certain insect species, including grasshoppers and beetles, and may actively search for these specific types of prey. In addition to providing essential nutrients, eating insects can also aid the desert tortoise’s digestion by helping break down plant fibers in their diet.


While they don’t actively seek out carrion, desert tortoises will eat the carcasses of dead animals if they come across them. This behavior likely helps them obtain essential nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable in their arid environment.

As you can see, desert tortoises have a varied diet that helps them meet their nutritional needs in an environment where food can be scarce. If you are considering keeping a desert tortoise as a pet, it’s important to feed them a diet that closely resembles its natural diet in the wild. You can accomplish this by offering a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, as well as commercially-available greens and vegetables designed specifically for desert tortoises.

What Eats Desert Tortoises? 

The desert tortoise is a herbivorous reptile typically found in the southwestern United States arid regions. While it has a protective shell can still prey on natural predators, including coyotes, foxes, badgers, and ravens. However, the biggest threat to their survival comes from humans. Habitat destruction caused by development and off-road vehicles leaves tortoises vulnerable to predation and collisions.

what do desert tortoises eat
A desert turtle looking for it’s food.

Human-introduced species, such as domestic cats and dogs, can also hunt and kill these vulnerable animals. In addition, people may unwittingly harm desert tortoises by feeding them inappropriate foods or accidentally spreading diseases through interactions with pet tortoises. Preserving desert tortoise populations requires protecting their habitats and educating the public about responsible interactions with these creatures. Only then can we ensure that they have the chance to thrive in their natural environment without being threatened by human actions.

How Does Desert Tortoise Help Our Ecosystem?

The desert tortoise plays a vital role in the ecosystem of the American Southwest. Herbivores help keep plant populations balanced and maintain diversity by consuming various species. The tortoises also disperse seeds through their droppings, promoting plant growth and reproduction. In turn, these plants provide food and shelter for various animals. 

In addition to maintaining vegetation, the desert tortoise is an important prey species for predators such as coyotes and hawks. By controlling the tortoise population, these predators ensure that they do not deplete the food supply and throw off the ecosystem’s delicate balance. 

The burrows dug by desert tortoises also provide homes for smaller animals, such as lizards and rodents. Thus, their presence helps support a thriving, diverse community of wildlife. Conservation efforts for this endangered species are crucial in preserving the delicate desert ecosystem in which they play a crucial role.

Wrapping Up

It’s important to remember that desert tortoises are wild animals, and their diet should reflect that. In captivity, you should feed these animals a diet of commercially-available greens and vegetables that closely mimic what they would eat in the wild. A variety of nutritious plant matter should be available to them at all times. Overall, desert tortoises are true herbivores with a diet consisting mostly of plants and vegetation.

You can also read

What Do Neon Tetras Eat? 5 Foods They Like

What Do Softshell Turtles eat?

What Do Poison Dart Frogs Eat?

What Do Yellowfin Tuna Eat? 6 Foods They Like

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