As we were going through our archives today, we came across this photo of a beautiful Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) from the Mojave Desert. These tortoises have declined throughout their range where their habitat has been heavily degraded by a multitude of human activities.
This four minute short movie depicts the hatching of a Mojave Desert Tortoise. This is the continuation of a sixty million year process for this threatened species. One of the surprising moments in the movie is when the hatchling tumbles from its shell and is propped up by its yolk. This is an evolutionary adaptation where the young absorb the yolk over several hours and they then use that nutrition to sustain themselves during the first few months of their lives. This is an especially handy adaptation as the young tortoises hatch in late summer when temperatures can exceed 110 degrees making the search for food especially difficult.
The images shown here are part of a larger movie expected to be released by the USGS in November, 2009. That program will depict the USGS research program on the Desert Tortoise and the role of that research in managing desert environments to allow the species to recover and escape the threat of extinction.
This movie was produced by the USGS Western Ecological Research Center and USGS Western Region Office of Communications in cooperation with the Las Vegas based Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and the San Diego Zoo.