Find these ancient, gentle munchers-of-foliage throughout Nature’s Place to Play.
A keystone species, their burrows can be shared with more than 350 other types of wildlife. Here are some fun facts about Florida’s Gopher tortoise.
Gopher tortoises and their burrows are listed as Threatened and are protected under state law.
Gopher tortoises are reptiles whose thick, oblong adult shell is typically around nine to eleven inches in length.
Well-camouflaged, their gray-tan coloration blends well with their habitat which is often sandhill, pine and scrub areas. Their hind feet look similar to those of an elephant and their forelegs are wide and strong for digging.
With its round entrance, sometimes visible because of a characteristic mound of loose sand, called the “apron”, Gopher tortoise burrows can be up to forty feet in length and ten feet in depth.
The burrows maintain a fairly constant temperature and humidity level throughout the year, protecting the tortoise – and some snakes, burrowing owls, gopher frogs, opossums and many others who may use the burrow – from heat, cold and predators, even fires.
Gopher tortoises have life spans of forty to sixty years, with females able to lay their once-yearly clutch of eggs after age nine to twenty-one.
Hatchlings and young Gopher tortoises are vulnerable to predation until their shell hardens at about six or seven years of age.
Adult tortoises have few enemies other than humans, with habitat loss, development and roadways posing the most serious threats.
When driving around Florida’s Adventure Coast, scan the road for Gopher tortoises and other wildlife.
If you spot one of these gentle, slow-moving creatures making their way across a road, give them time to cross. If you want to help it across, without putting yourself in danger, place it out of harm’s way in the same direction it was going. Do not put the tortoise in your vehicle or move it to another area.
Become a Citizen Scientist by downloading the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Florida Gopher Tortoise smartphone app to record observations and sitings.