One of the non-traditional residents here is a gopher tortoise who has a burrow on the back end of the property. It is not often seen and, because of its threatened status as a species, is not widely pointed out to short-term visitors for fear of human harassment or interference with its territory.
The gopher tortoise (gopherus polyphemus) is one of the oldest living species on earth today. It belongs to a group of land tortoises that originated in North America 60 million years ago.
Gopher tortoises can be found throughout the state of Florida, in the southern regions of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and in the tip of Eastern Louisiana. Except in Florida, where it is listed as a Species of Special Concern, the gopher tortoise is federally protected as a threatened species. They grow, on average, to be slightly less than a foot long and can weigh as much as 30 pounds. They are extremely long-lived animals with life spans of 40 – 60 years in the wild.
As with most tortoise species, the gopher tortoise is a land-dweller, but is unique in that it is one of the few to make large burrows for shelter. They have chiseled front flappers and elephant like hind legs allowing them the strength to create very large burrows. The average burrow here in central Florida is 15 ft. long and 6 ft. deep. Each tortoise will dig several burrows within its home range, which can be surprisingly large in size. Male tortoises have an average home range of 4.7 acres, while female home ranges average a smaller area of 1.6 acres.
Their diets are primarily plants and berries, although they have been known to eat the bones of dead animals presumably to obtain calcium. Some of their favorite foods are gopher apples and saw palmetto berries. One of their important roles in the ecosystem is spreading the seeds of the plants and berries they eat in their droppings.
Because tortoises do not require a large intake of food, it is rare to see one out of its burrow on a regular basis. But even if we don't see our local resident often, it's still cool to know that a species that has walked the earth for so long is in the area.
Until next time, Happy Trails.
Copyright 2009-2010 Lane A Geyer