RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas — What native South Texas creature can live for more than 100 years and thrives on eating thorny cactus? Richard Moore takes us out with the centenarians of the chaparral.
The only place in the United States where you can find a Texas tortoise is in the arid brush country of South Texas. They range southward in Mexico to the northern part of San Luis Potosi, but in Texas they occur south of a line connecting Laredo to San Antonio and Rockport.
The iconic Texas tortoise is truly an amazing animal that is remarkably adapted to the brush country of deep South Texas and northeastern Mexico. The hardy tortoises can survive with just the moisture they get from what they eat, and they don’t have to have water to drink.
One of their favorite foods is the thorny pads and fruit of the prickly pear cactus, and this time of year the countenances of the terrestrial turtles are often stained with the glistening purple juice of the ripe tunas.
A mature Texas tortoise measures more than eight inches in length and weighs six pounds plus. No one knows for sure how long Texas tortoises can live, but they have been documented to exceed 70 years, and it is likely they are able surpass 100.
They grow rapidly for the first three years or so and then begin to slow. They actually never stop growing, but as they get older their growth rate slows considerably.
Habitat loss, exploitation by the pet trade and other factors have led to severe population declines throughout their South Texas range, and tortoises are a protected species making it unlawful to harm or possess them.
While Texas tortoises may move slowly, their ability to survive for decades in the harsh wildlands of southernmost Texas is unsurpassed by these centenarians of the chaparral.