Why do tortoises pee, you may ask? Besides the usual elimination of body wastes, tortoises use urination as a method of defense. When a predator grabs hold of a tortoise, she has two defenses.
First, she can pull her limbs and tail up against her hard shell so there’s nothing to grab. The outer skin of the limbs is thick and tough, resistant to bites.
The second defensive action is peeing. The tortoise stores water in her bladder. When she is picked up, she will empty her bladder, leaving the foul liquid on the predator. The intent is for the predator to release the tortoise so she can make her escape.
This defensive urination is common throughout the tortoise family and it works well for those that live in areas with access to water. However, for the Desert Tortoise, losing the water in their bladders can be a death sentence. Tortoises need water to survive like the rest of us. During the rainy seasons, they drink and fill up the bladders enough to last them during the dry times.
Unfortunately, if a Desert Tortoise uses its stored water when threatened, it may die of dehydration before the rains return. So, please, never harass or pick up a desert tortoise unless absolutely necessary to save its life. Then release it as fast as you can.
Remember the danger for the Desert Tortoise: Save a life. Don’t cause strife.
Elaine A. Powers is the author of Don’t Call Me Turtle! It is a fun-facts book about the differences between tortoises and turtles. The book is written in rhyme so kids–young and old alike–have a lot of fun reading it.
Don’t Call Me Turtle is part of the “Don’t” Series, which includes Don’t Make Me Fly and Don’t Make Me Rattle, all three wonderfully illustrated.