The omnivorous Berlandier’s tortoise feeds primarily on grasses and herbs (2), but when these are in short supply the red fruits, flowers and stems of Opuntia cacti (prickly pears) are often eaten (2) (5). Insects, snails, faecal matter and animal bones may also be consumed (2).
Unlike other species of Gopherus, such as the burrowing gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), Berlandier’s tortoise does not dig an extensive burrow. Instead, it uses its forelimbs and the sides of its shell to push away debris and soil to create a shallow resting place called a pallet (2). This pallet is generally located under a bush or cactus, and as the tortoise returns to use the pallet again and again, the pallet gradually deepens, reaching depths of 1.5 metres. Sometimes, Berlandier’s tortoise uses a suitably-sized mammal burrow and may excavate it further (2).
In Texas, the courtship and mating season of Berlandier’s tortoise extends from June until September. During courtship, the male follows the female, bobbing his head in her direction. Eventually catching up with the female, the male attempts to stop her by biting her head, forefeet and the back of her shell and by ramming her with his gular projection, a sturdy extension on the front of the lower shell, just below the chin (2). The female will often pivot around to avoid this, but eventually stops and withdraws her head, as the male continues to push her around. Finally, he will mount her from behind, with his forefeet resting on her shell, and mating takes place (2).
Nesting takes place between April and July, with the female laying a small clutch of eggs (usually two or three eggs) in a depression in the ground. One or two clutches are laid each year and the eggs hatch after 88 to 118 days of incubation (2). Berlandier’s tortoise is slow to mature and it is thought that females may not breed successfully until they are over a decade old (2) (5).