Scientific Name: Gopherus rafinesque
Gopher Tortoises range between 6 and 15 inches in length. They are not fully mature until between 16 and 21 years of age and usually continue growing until they die. The Gopher Tortoise has a life span of up to forty years or more. Male Gopher Tortoises can be distinguished from females by the presence of a concave plastron. The top of the shell, or carapace, is unmarked and usually a grayish-brown color. The underside of the shell, or plastron, is golden-yellow, as are its neck, head, and legs.
Gopher Tortoises are not sexually mature until between 16 and 21 years of age. They mate between April and June. Female tortoises only nest once a year, in a cavity they dig near the mouth of their burrow. They lay a clutch containing about six eggs. The eggs hatch after between 80 and 110 days. Snakes and mammals eat many of the eggs before they can hatch.
The Gopher Tortoise has few requirements for surviving in the wild - they need well-drained, sandy soil, lots of sun, and low plant growth.
The Gopher Tortoises are moderately sized animals. The Gopher Tortoise, while often living on private land, is rarely kept as a pet.
The Gopher Tortoise is one of the pivotal members of the sand hill ecosystems of Florida. They live in large burrows, which they dig. These burrows can be 10 feet deep and between 25 and 35 feet long and provide homes not only for the tortoise but also for a variety of other creatures that live in this habitat. Some of the other animals that reside in the Gopher Tortoise's burrows include frogs, snakes, and even the dung beetle. A variety of small mammals and some birds often reside in abandoned burrows. Gopher Tortoises feed primarily on succulent plants, legumes, and grasses. They are grazing animals and spend most of their waking hours grazing or basking in the sun
Gopher Tortoises are threatened because their habitats are being destroyed for development. They are also hunted for food and killed by motor vehicles.
Considered a "Species of Special Concern" in Florida, the Gopher Tortoise is a Keystone Species. That means that the species' destruction will result in obvious changes in the ecosystem. These changes will likely be in the form of other species, such as the Gopher Frog, dying out because they can only live in the Gopher Tortoise's burrows. The Gopher Tortoise can be found on private land and sometimes in federal or military reserves in Florida and southern Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and Mississippi. In South Carolina and Mississippi, they are listed as an endangered species, and they are listed as protected in Georgia. In Alabama and Louisiana, they are considered a federally threatened species.
When food is scarce, Gopher Tortoises will scavenge and feed on carrion or excrement.