Basic Facts About Gopher Tortoises
Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are so named because of their ability to dig large, deep burrows.
Gopher tortoises eat grasses, flowers such as asters and daisies, spurge, peas, beech and pines.
There are an estimated 1,674,000 gopher tortoises in the wild.
The range of the gopher tortoise is much smaller than it was in the past. Human activities have made the gopher tortoise’s historic range unlivable, forcing them into a greatly diminished continuous range that includes small parts of southern Alabama, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia and a larger area in north-central Florida.
Gopher tortoises are one of the few species of tortoise that dig burrows. These burrows can be up to ten feet deep and 40 feet long, and are as wide as the length of the tortoise that made it. In addition to providing the tortoise a home, the burrows are also used by a range of other species including the indigo snake, Florida mouse, gopher frog and burrowing owl.
Mating season: April through June.
Gestation: 80-100 days.
Clutch size: 3-15 eggs.
Hatchlings that survive predation by raccoons, skunks and other predators often spend the first winter in their mother's burrow, then go off to make a burrow of their own.
Gopher tortoises are threatened by habitat loss, logging, disease, and road mortality. When developers want to build on gopher tortoise habitat, they either have to protect the area around the tortoises' burrows or relocate them to another suitable habitat. The gopher tortoises that are relocated often don’t stay in their new location. They try to move elsewhere and can be run over by cars.
Length: Average of 10 inches.
Weight: 29 lbs.
Lifespan: 60 years.
The shell or "carapace" of the gopher tortoise is mostly brownish gray and the underside of the shell, or "plastron," is yellowish tan. Their front legs are shovel-like which helps them when digging their burrows. As with all turtles, males can be distinguished from females because males have concave plastrons. Male gopher tortoises also have longer tails than females.