As I write this post, my Sulcata tortoise, Cantata, is digging herself a den in my yard. She’s quite an impressive digger. This got me thinking about reptiles and the digging of dens. Why did she work so hard today?
I live in Southern Arizona, where the temperatures can be quite hot and the humidity quite low. It’s a dry heat! One reason she dug the den was to find a cooler area. As a reptile, an ectotherm, she depends on the environment to maintain her ideal body temperature. I have lots of vegetation, but their shade may not be enough to keep her cool. So she must dig into the ground.
Just as we build houses upwards for protection, reptiles also create domiciles. They, of course, can’t construct a dwelling, so they utilize what their environment offers. Instead of a roof for shade, they dig a hole.
Here Cantata is digging away underneath a bush.
She did pick a good place to dig. The ground in the Sonoran Desert is like cement, but the area by the bush is a bit softer because I water those plants, so the digging might have been easier for her. I know the ground squirrels like to dig in that area.
The finished product. One day’s work ends with a comfy den for a large tortoise.
However, this is rather shallow den. These tortoises can dig 10 feet down. I don’t mind her using the bush, as long as she doesn’t dig under the patio, foundation or wall. Being a summer den, this den will barely cover Cantata. For winter brumation, she would need a much deeper den.
Along with protection from excessive heat or lack of water, this den could provide protection from predators. However, I don’t think Cantata has to worry too much about other animals. She a big, well armored tortoise.
A few days after Cantata established her new home, my Sonoran Desert Tortoise, Zoe, discovered Cantata’s lovely den. She wanted it for her herself, but Cantata wouldn’t leave. I suggested Cantata go dig herself another den, but she won’t. She likes this one. She had dug it a bit deeper with time. Now every night, they both cram themselves into the same den. Fortunately, it’s big enough for both. A smaller tortoise, Flipper, hangs around the opening. I think she wants to join in, but she is too small to compete.
A well-dug den is, apparently, in high demand.
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