Our last day in the Rio Grande Valley was a memorable one. Carolina, Erin, James, and I spent the morning admiring wintering waterfowl in a shallow Resaca. During the heat of the afternoon we found ourselves among Lady Fingers and other spined succulents. In the evening we took a relaxing stroll to see what sort of wildlife might emerge from the dense thornscrub.
There were multiple times during the trip when the conversation between James and I turned to the Texas Tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri). This iconic South Texas species was high on both of our lists, but thus far the lumbering reptile had evaded us. But as the sun sank low on our final day, there it was, meandering along a line of brush foraging on just about anything it could fit in its mouth.
The Texas Tortoise occurs in southern Texas and northeastern Mexico. Here it can be found in a variety of habitats including desert scrub, Tamaulipan Thornscrub, and subtropical forests, grasslands and scrublands. They feed on a variety of foods, though seem to prefer soft vegetative matter. They are famous for gorging themselves on prickly pears. Though they remain common in many areas, they are listed as Threatened by the State of Texas and are protected accordingly. They face threats from habitat loss and collection for the pet trade.
We spent close to an hour watching the antics of our states only “true” tortoise. Armed with super telephoto lenses, we were able to observe the ancient reptile from a distance, and its behavior didn’t seem altered by our presence. At one point it managed to get a large branch stuck on its gular projection, and spent several minutes dragging it along until it finally was able to free itself. It then continued foraging until finally disappearing into dense grass under a canopy of mesquite. This special encounter was the perfect ending to an incredible trip with great company.