Desert Tortoise – Housing, Basic Requirements & Hibernation


Desert tortoise pets are scientifically known as Xerobates agassizii. Desert tortoise is a medium-sized tortoise and grows up to the size of 9-15 inches. Desert tortoises are known to live a long life of about 60 to 80 years


Desert Tortoise housing

  • A large glass aquarium will do for housing the hatchling
  • The floor should be covered with newspaper, paper towels rabbit or guinea pig pellets or garden dirt
  • Hatchlings should not be placed with adults to prevent any injury

Outdoor housing for tortoises

  • Outdoor housing is preferred over the indoor one. Many keepers construct an artificial burrow for their desert tortoise pets to mimic their natural environment
  • It should be predator proof and should be considered as an option during warm weather
  • They like to burrow and hence the perimeter should have sides extending well below the soil surface

Indoor housing for tortoises

  • This is mostly done for hatchlings
  • Desert tortoises are not available outside its natural habitat legally hence it can be kept in the available natural environment
  • The indoor enclosure is necessary only in the case where outdoor housings are not predator-free or environmentally unsuitable
  • Turtle table of 2 feet by 4 feet can be used as indoor housing for the desert tortoise
  • Holes can be made at the bottom to allow sinking of food
  • Water area should allow the tortoise to soak itself without the danger of drowning

Heat and light requirements

  • A spot lamp of 100 aw should be placed in the tortoise housing for basking purpose
  • It should be able to provide a basking temperature of 90F
  • The housing should also have a full spectrum fluorescent light to provide for UVB source that facilitates the synthesis of Vit D3
  • The housing should not have cold weather with wet conditions as it will result in respiratory distress


  • Desert tortoises hibernate during late October as the days become cooler
  • It will eat less, bask less and appear sluggish. These are the signs of hibernation
  • You will have to provide your pet tortoise with a suitable hibernation place
  • It should be well fed and look plump with nice stout legs and shoulders before hibernating or else it may not survive the winter
  • You should regularly check by touching the feet of your pet during hibernation
  • During March or April, your pet should waken and resume its normal activity of eating, exercising and sunbathing


  • The dry portion of the housing should have grass hay or orchard grass hay as a substrate
  • Desert tortoises are very sensitive to excess humidity and hay protects it as it does not hold humidity
  • Grass also provides supplementary food when it is nibbled
  • Wet or spoiled hay should be removed immediately

Tortoise food

  • Tortoise food should have high fiber content, low protein and should be calcium-rich
  • It should include:
  • Cacti
  • Grasses
  • Assorted weeds
  • Leafy greens like dandelions, endive, and grape leaves
  • Calcium supplementation is also important and food can be sprinkled with calcium powder
  • Cuttlefish bone can be given to nibble
  • Regular supplementation of vitamins and minerals is also encouraged

You should check the laws before having a desert tortoise pet. You can have a hatchling from a breeding captive animal. This article on desert tortoise pet informs you about the tortoise housing, tortoise food, and other tortoise care.


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