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California State Reptile

California Desert Tortoise Gopherus agassizii Adopted:August 10, 1972
California State Gopherus agassizii
California Desert Tortoise: California State Gopherus agassizii
Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Adoption of the California State Reptile

Assembly Bill No. 1089 (AB 1089) was read for the first time in the California State Assembly on March 14, 1972.

The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Richard D. Hayden of Sunnyvale. He related that the idea was proposed to him by students at the Benjamin Bubb School in Mountain View.

The students had been studying the state's bear flag and other California symbols and were interested in ecology. During their studies, the students found that the state had no official reptile and a project was born.

The students, from kindergarten through sixth grade, studied a number of prospects and settled on the desert tortoise because it was native to only California and was on the endangered species list.

"Reptiles are often misunderstood," wrote Student Council President Phil Greenwood to Hayden. "Too frequently they are characterized as ugly, worthless, and dangerous, while in truth they constitute a vital component in the scheme of all living things.

The tortoise is not native to Sunnyvale but about 200 children at Benjamin Bubb School there took a liking to one named Henrietta and decided she would make a good state symbol. And, of course, the 10-pound Henrietta was properly introduced to Assemblyman Haydon.

"Didn't anyone speak up for the diamondback rattler or the horny toad?" asked Assemblyman William Ketchum in floor debate.

"The California desert tortoise is the best known and, they concluded, the best choice. It is friendly, sturdy and wholesome, and it is on the endangered species list, something like the people of the state of California," Hayden replied.

He added that the tortoise was a native Californian present at the time of the now extinct wooly rhinoceros and the mammoth and that a tortoise can live to be 100 years old.

AB 1089 passed unanimously in the Assembly on May 23, 1972 and unanimously in the Senate on July 23, 1972.

On August 10, 1972, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the legislation provided by Assembly Bill No. 1089 and the California desert tortoise (Gopherus agasizzi) was designated the "official state reptile" of the State of California.

California Law

The following information was excerpted from the California Government Code, Title 1, Division 2, Chapter 2.

Source: California State Legislature, California Law, February 22, 2008.
Source: California State Assembly and Senate, Final History - 1972 Session, Assembly Final History Regular Session, Page 441.
Source: The Fresno Bee, Assembly votes for tortoise, Wednesday, May 24, 1972, Page A6.
Source: The Reno Evening Gazette, Desert tortoise advances as California state reptile California desert, Thursday, June 1, 1972, Page 24.
Source: The Modesto Bee, Tortoise Moves Slowly Into State's Official Lineup, Sunday, August 6, 1972, Page C1.
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols: A Historical Guide Third Edition, Revised and Expanded by Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer. Greenwood Press; 3 Sub edition (October 30, 2001).

Additional Information

California State Gopherus agassizii
California Desert Tortoise: California State Gopherus agassizii
Prints and Photographs

Gopherus agassizii: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web.

The Desert Tortoise: Desert tortoise wildlife information from

Wildlife species: Gopherus agassizii: Index of Species Information from the U.S. Forest Service.

Tortoise information: Web site of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee.

California Reptiles & Amphibians: A collection of photographs of the California desert tortoise.

State reptiles: Complete list of official state reptiles from



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