In order for the Tortoise Survey to be done, we each had to spread out in a line a few feet away from each other and walk forward; locating any holes.
The gopher tortoise is moderate-sized, averaging 23–28 cm in length. It can be identified by its stumpy, hind feet and flattened forelimbs adapted for digging. The shell is oblong and generally tan, brown, or gray in coloration.
All gopher tortoises are herbivores. They mostly feed on grass, flowers, and leaves. This includes shrubs, daisies, clovers and even various fruits. Since most water comes from the plants they eat, they rarely drink water.
Gopher tortoises are one of the few species of tortoise that dig burrows for survival. These burrows can be up to ten feet deep and 40 feet long. They are big enough for the tortoise to move around in. It provides shelter from the sun and protection from predators. There are other species that are also known to use the burrows such as the eastern indigo snake, Florida mouse, gopher frog, burrowing owl and gopher cricket.
Breeding and Reproduction
In the spring, gopher tortoises engage in mating behavior. The male will visit the burrows of the females and communicate through head bobbing, shell nipping and the rubbing of pheromones from the scent glands. The female will then dig a nest in her burrow and bury ping-pong-ball-sized eggs that hatch about 3 months later. After hatching, the tortoises do not become reproductively mature until they are 10 to 25 years old.
- Mating season: April - June
- Clutch size: 3-15 eggs
The gopher tortoise has been fully protected since 1988. Despite the afforded protection, gopher tortoise populations throughout the state have declined throughout the years. There are 4 objectives to follow...
- Minimize the loss of gopher tortoises.
- Increase and improve gopher tortoise habitat.
- Enhance and restore gopher tortoise populations.
- Maintain the gopher tortoise’s function as a keystone species.
Human Predation and habitat loss
Human activities and habitat destruction has eliminated gopher tortoises from a significant portion of their historic range, but they still occur in Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi and Georgia, with the majority of the remaining population in Florida.
The gopher tortoise is a perfect example of a keystone mutualist, playing an immense role in their native community. Their burrows are widely used by other species throughout the ecosystem; providing a home for more than 350 different species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and even birds. The different species of animals depend on the burrows for survival and use them for shelter from predators. They also use them as a temporary hideout from fires.