The Gopher Tortoise  By: Wes Tallyn

Stubborn and determined, the gopher tortoise begins its morning search for food.  The gopher tortoise is found throughout Florida living in dry sandy soils.  The tortoises are both a federal and state threatened species.

It is thought that they can live up to 60 years in the wild.

The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species due to their importance to many other species in their ecosystem.  The deep burrows that they dig into the sandy or clay soil provide shelter and even protection from wildfires for a documented 350 other organisms.  This makes them extremely important to the ecosystem and it’s imperative that they’re protected.  Their biggest threat is development of their habitat.   Upland areas are very desirable for development. Less fill dirt is needed and there’s less flood danger in the areas the tortoises inhabit.

What should you do if you see a gopher tortoise?  Always give the gopher tortoises a safe distance.  Do not take them down to a water source such as a pond or lake.  They live their entire life on land and will drown in water.

How to identify them:

Juvenile gopher tortoises are yellowish in color and don’t tend to stray very far from their burrows.  They typically scramble down the hole at any sign of a threat.  Adult gopher tortoises are green and then the color will fade to greenish/gray as they age.   If in doubt, refer to reptile books or field guides to assist with identification.  Let’s all do our part to take care to protect this valuable part of natural Florida!

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