If you are very lucky, you might have a chance meeting with Patches ambling down a garden path when you visit the Desert Botanical Garden. There are several free-roaming Sonoran desert tortoises (Gopherus morafkai) on the grounds, as well as a few adopted pet tortoises kept in an enclosure in the education center. I met Patches wondering on the paved Desert Discovery trail.

Despite having a given name, Patches is a wild tortoise, released in the garden after sustaining an injury to her/his/hir carapace. In the bottom photo you can see the fiberglass mesh used to repair damage to the tortoise’s scutes - the horny keratin cover for the bony plates that form its shell. Living in the garden provides a safe and familiar home for this rescued animal, as well as access to veterinary care and future body work, as needed. 

As the genus name suggests, Patches is a type of gopher tortoise, so named for their burrowing habits. 

Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) with scute anomaly

Congenital scute anomalies are fairly common in desert tortoises, but incidence may vary significantly by locality. Factors influencing the development of scute anomalies may be environmental (temperature, moisture levels, oxygen content, presence of chemical pollutants/radiation at the nest site), genetic, or both (see Grover and DeFalco 1995 for summary).

©Zachary A. Cava