Tortoises (family Testudinidae
) live on land. They are medium to large, with a large, heavy shell and stumpy feet. Gopher tortoises are the only tortoises native to the United States, and the only tortoise found in Florida.
Gopher tortoise photographs
** PROTECTED **
The Gopher Turtle or Tortoise
, Gopherus polypnemus
, is found in areas with dry ground in north and central Florida. Juveniles have bright tan and brown shells while the shells of adults are darker. The front legs are flat and heavily scaled. They reach a length of 12".
Gopher Tortoises create burrows up to 30 feet long with dens at the ends. The burrows are used by over 300 species of animals who use them for protection against bad weather, predators, and fire. They browse on low growing vegetation including wiregrass, broadleaf grasses, legumes
, and fruit such as gopher apples
, prickly pears
, and saw palmetto berries
Gopher Tortoises usually mate during April and May. Several weeks later the female lays 4-7 eggs in a sand mound near her burrow. The eggs hatch about 80 days later. The young either move into the mother's burrow or dig a small burrow nearby. However, many nests are lost to predators and it may be up to 10 years before she has a successful clutch.
The Gopher Tortoise Council
works to protect the Gopher Tortoise and its habitat.
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