Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are so named because of their ability to dig large, deep burrows. Every Florida cyclist runs across one sooner or later.

FAST FACTS

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.

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Gopher tortoises are threatened by habitat loss, logging, disease, and road mortality.When developers want to build on an area that is gopher tortoise habitat, they either have to relocate the tortoises or take out an incidental take permit and then bulldoze over them. 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.

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.

Reproduction
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.

  • Endangered Species Act (ESA): The gopher tortoise is listed as threatened in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, and eastern populations are listed as under review.
  • IUCN Red List: Vulnerable.
  • The gopher tortoise is state listed as endangered in South Carolina and state listed as threatened in Georgia and Florida.

…so the next time you are out riding your bike on the back roads of Florida and you come across a Gopher Tortoise, please take a few moments to make sure he crosses the road safely. The best way to protect imperiled animals is to take care of the environment we all share. Each and every one of us can do simple things in our daily lives to make this a better world for wildlife. Park the car and get on your bike… its that simple to start!



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