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Ever wonder why there is such uproar when there is something that involves the Desert Tortoise (AKA gopher tortoise)? After all it’s just a turtle, you can buy them at the pet store, right? In this case, WRONG. There are significant differences between the two. Both reptiles are from the order of Testudines, but with different family classifications. The major difference between the two is that tortoises are land dwellers, whereas turtles live in or very near water at all times. The bodies of both tortoises and turtles are shielded by a shell, the upper part is called a carapace, the lower portion is called plastron. These two parts of the shell are attached by a bridge, meaning that the head and limbs of both the tortoises and turtles may be withdrawn from the shell; the whole body can never be detached from the shell.

Both tortoises and turtles lay eggs on the ground. The mothers will dig a burrow and lay two to twelve eggs. It takes from 90-120 days for the eggs to hatch. Once the hatchlings emerge from the shell, they dig their way to the surface. The annual death rate of adult tortoises is typically only a few percent, but it is much higher for the young. Only 2-5% of hatchlings are estimated to reach maturity. Estimates for the desert tortoise hatchlings to reach 1 year of age is 47-51%. And survival from 1-4 years of age is 71-81%. In a laboratory experiment, temperature influenced hatching rates and hatchling gender. Incubation Temperatures of 88 degrees or less resulted in all males. Temperatures above 91 degrees resulted in all females. No mortality rates were available for turtles.

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