Serenity Born Sept. 4, 1928
Serenity Born Sept. 4, 1928

It's not the Destination, it's the Journey

DESERT TORTOISE (GOPHERUS AGASSIZII) DIETARY INFORMATION: NATIVE PLANTS VS. GROCERY PRODUCE
(Continously Evolving Data February 2015 )
Vegetables and fruits are the generally accepted tortoise foods even though excessive use of
many will provide an incomplete, unbalanced and often harmful diet.
http://www.tortoise.org/general/tntdiet.html Tortuga Gazette 25(7): 6-7, July 1989
http://home.earthlink.net/~rednine/nutrient.htm World Chelonian Trust 06/02/2004
http://www.turtlestuff.com/avoidthese.html
The above three tables ALL clearly indicate that most produce from stores do not meet nutrition
preferences/requirements of desert tortoises & are often harmful (especially in excess), in the
area of high protein, low fiber, reversed calcium to phosphorus ratios, high sugar content, as well
as probable ingestion of excessive pesticide residues.
Relying excessively on vegetables and fruits is implicated in various “ills” of captive desert torts,
i.e. Metabolic Bone Disease(s):
fibrous osteodystrophy (juvenile osteoporosis), “pyramiding” – high phosphorus/low calcium ;
osteomalacia (lumpy/sunken carapaces & soft shells) – severe calcium/Vitamin D3 deficiencies;
bladder stones, kidney stones, goiters ;
hyperparathyroidism and renal insufficiency (Bonjour and Tsang, 1997, Boyer, 1996, Ware,
1998).
Hatchlings and juveniles are more susceptible due shell growth demands, requiring particular
care in their nutrition, provision of proper UVB for Vitamin D3 synthesis, and allowing them to
follow their natural “life cycles” of brumation (“hibernation”) – yes, even first year!
SPECIAL CAUTIONS:
Oxalic Acid: beet greens, spinach, chard, and purslane can bind calcium into calcium oxalate, an
insoluble form unavailable for metabolism.
Goitrogenic compounds: Brassica family (collards, cabbage, kale and broccoli) in excess may
inhibit uptake of iodine, enlarging the thyroid , causing goiter. (As only a small part of a varied
diet, is often no problem, but should be very sparingly used).
Fruits, corn, excessive water foods, including “empty food” iceberg lettuce: High sugar/water
content can lead to diarrhea, digestive flora upset, excessive parasites (parasite “bloom”).
IF you have no choice, pending growth of healthier foods, some “acceptable” produce,
requiring addition of long fiber grasses (Bermuda, Orchard grass/grass hays are best):
Chicory, Dandelion, Endive, Grape leaves, Mulberry leaves, Kale, Prickly pear fruit and pads,
Turnip greens, Watercress – (at least meet minimum 2:1 Ca/p ratio). Add hibiscus, nasturtium,
rose petals as treats.
Avoid the following
All types of lettuce
Avocado
All fruit except cactus apple
Cabbage
Celery
Cucumber
Any protein-rich dog/cat foods
Canned and frozen vegetables
Starchy vegetables (including corn)
Chinaberry berries
Plants in the Nicotiana (tobacco) genus
Mushrooms
NATURAL DIET INFO
Diet, food preferences and nutrition of wild desert tortoises have been extensively studied by
research scientists, graduate students and wildlife biologists during the last 25+ years. In the
Mojave and Colorado deserts, most tortoises eat succulent, green herbaceous perennial or annual
plants, some cacti and, and lesser amounts of select grasses, indicating a requirement for a high
fiber, high calcium, low phosphorus (Ca/p ratio 2:1 – 6:1) diet for optimal health. Tortoises
generally prefer native forbs over exotic, alien plants when available (Jennings 1993, Avery
1998, cf. Esque 1994), often roaming 10-450 acres seeking specific plants.(Boarman, W.I. 2002.)
Two particular plant groups were important to the adult tortoises: the legumes (Fabaceae), which
comprised over 43% of the diet; and herbaceous perennial plants, which were 30% of the diet,
even though in many areas they comprise only a small percentage of the plant species available
(Kristin H. Berry, Notes from an October, 1998 CALEPPC Field Trip).
W. MOJAVE FORAGE:
Lotus humistratus (Hill Lotus)
Mirabilis bigelovii (Desert Wishbone Bush, Bigelows 4 o’clock)
Euphorbia albomarginata (Rattlesnake weed/spurge)
Astragalus layneae (Widow’s Milkvetch)
Lygodesmia exigua (Thorny Skeleton Plant/bright white)
Astragalus didymocarpus (Notched Leaved Locoweed/Dwarf White Milkvetch)
Camissionia boothii (Booth’s Evening Primrose)
Erodium cicutarium (Red-stem Filaree/Common Storks Bill –"naturalized")
E. MOJAVE FORAGE:
Cryptantha angustifolia (Popcorn Flower)
Rafinesquia neomexicana (Desert Chicory)
Stephanomeria exigua (Small Wirelettuce)
Opuntia basilaris (Beavertail Cactii)
Chorizanthe brevicornu (Brittle SpineFlower – Buckwheat family)
Phacelia tanacetifolia (Lacey phacelia)
Malacothrix glabrata (Desert Dandelion)
ARIZONA/UTAH FORAGE:
Sphaeralcea ambigua (Desert/Apricot Globemallow)
Aristida purpurea? (Three Awn)
Bouteloua trifida (Red Grama)
Muhlenbergia porteri (Bush Muhly)
Erodium cicutarium (Heron’s Bill)
Bromus rubens (Brome, foxtail
Plantago ovata (Desert Plantain))
Chilopsis linearis (Desert Willow Flowers)
A habitat of Bermuda grass, with weeds such as dandelion, common cheese mallow, Opuntia
Ficus-indica (for leaves and fruit) and a variety of native plants, always accessible cuttlebone
(with hard backing removed), will easily allow the successful rearing of healthy desert tortoises.
Easy to grow, even in container gardens, cheaper than groceries!!
Desert Tortoise seed mixes, edible wildflowers and tortoise safe plants may be obtained from
many “Native Plant” sources, including the following:
http://www.desertseedstore.com/category/Tortoise-Forage-Seed-Mixes-Edibles-76
http://www.aznps.com Arizona Native Plant Society website

ENJOY YOUR TORTOISE AND GIVE HIM/HER A CACTUS APPLE

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NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS OF THE MAJOR FOODS OF THE DESERT

TORTOISE IN ARIZONA AND UTAH *
Food % Protein % Fat % Fiber %CHO % Ca % P % Dry Matter
Threeawn 6.3 1.5 34.8 48.7 0.59 0.09
Globemallow 20.4 2.4 23.2 42.3 3.34 0.31
Triodia, slim 9.7 2.0 33.7 44.4 1.01 0.08
Brome, foxtail 8.5 31.6 0.28 0.23 35.9
Grama, red 7.6 2.3 33.0 48.4 0.61 0.10 56.9
Muhly, bush 7.3 1.8 36.9 48.1 0.27 0.09
Heronbill 13.5 2.8 21.2 47.0 1.95 0.33 16.4
Mean 10.5 2.1 30.6 47.0 1.15 0.18
overall Ca:P = 6.4:1 , much higher than the commonly recommended 2:1 ratio.
Notes from 1998 Study @ DTNA, Mojave Desert – Preferred Plants
Species % of bite counts
Lotus humistratus - 29.69
Mirabilis bigelovii - 10.79
Euphorbia albomarginata - 10.74
Astragalus layneae - 8.20
Lygodesmia exigua - 5.58
Astragalus didymocarpus - 4.58
Camissionia boothii - 3.86
Erodium cicutarium - 3.25
Chorizanthe brevicornu - 2.60
Phacelia tanacetifolia - 2.01
Oxalic Acid Table THESE ARE BAD FOR TORT, OXALIC ACID BINDS CALCIUM AND LEADS TO CALCIUM DEFIENCIES (see MBD info above) 
Vegetable Oxalic acid (g/100 g) Calcium (g/100g)
Parsley 1.70
0.138
Purslane 1.31
0.065
Amaranth 1.09
0.215
Spinach .97
0.099
Beet leaves .61
0.119
Carrot .50
0.027
Collards .45
0.029
Brussels sprouts .36
0.042
Watercress .31
0.120

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