Meet Nevada's state reptile
Red Rock Canyon is home to a wide variety of reptiles, but only one can claim the title of official state reptile of Nevada: the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). Desert tortoises live throughout the Mojave Desert along gravelly & sandy soils and feed on a variety of plants including grasses, wildflowers, and cacti. Look for their burrows along alluvial fans and washes.
At the Red Rock Canyon Visitor Center, you have a chance to explore the outdoor Desert Tortoise Habitat exhibit and potentially see desert tortoises. Established in 1995, several rescued pet desert tortoises live here and give you a chance to learn about and observe these creatures up-close. They emerge from brumation in the spring, and head back into their burrows in late fall.
Wild sightings at Red Rock Canyon are rare, so if you see one consider yourself lucky and observe from a safe distance. The desert tortoise is on the endangered species list and is considered a threatened species. Habitat loss and disease have negatively impacted their population numbers. There are federal and state laws in place to protect desert tortoises and encourage repopulation. Please do not touch, harass, collect, kill, feed, or move desert tortoises unless they are in imminent danger.
If you do find one crossing the Scenic Drive or highway, please follow these guidelines from the United States Fish & Wildlife Service:
1. Stop your car in a safe place along the roadside.
2. Quietly approach the tortoise.
3. Note the direction the tortoise was heading.
4. Carefully pick up the tortoise using both hands and hold it upright in its normal walking position.
5. Carry it carefully across the road in the same direction it was heading, and take it no more than a few hundred yards into the desert.
6. Place the tortoise in the shade.
7. Wash your hands thoroughly even when you have had only passing contact with a wild animal.
The desert tortoise is Nevada’s state reptile, and serves as an important reminder to respect, protect and enjoy all the animals and plants of the Mojave Desert.