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New website tracks Sonoran desert tortoise

A new interactive website allows Pima County residents to help scientists identify the habitat of the Sonoran desert tortoise.

The tortoise, native to Arizona and northern Mexico, is hardly ever seen, because it spends 95 percent of its life in burrows to maintain its body temperature. It emerges in late spring and during the summer monsoon season to feed and breed.

The Sonoran desert tortoise is usually found in mountainous terrain, but recent observations show that they are also located in low elevation areas, said Pima County Environmental Planning Manager Julia Fonseca in an interview on Tuesday.

Recently they have been seen around Tangerine Road and along the Pantano Wash, she said in press release.

"It's possible that submitted observations can help us understand their movement needs," Fonseca said.

Regardless, information will help us avoid impacting them, she said Tuesday

It is illegal to touch a tortoise without a state permit, because water stored in its bladder might empty if handled, which could hurt or kill a tortoise, the press release said.

If you see the tortoise dead or alive, take a picture, note your location, and report it on HerpCount.org, which was created by UA master’s degree candidate Dave Parizek, to record sightings of reptiles and amphibians.

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You can submit sightings of lizards, snakes, turtles and tortoises, along with frogs, toads and salamanders, to the website.

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A Sonoran desert tortoise photographed near California City in 2006.