A few things you probably didn't know about the humble Gopher Tortoise!
The Gopher Tortoise is a fascinating local inhabitant of the Upland areas of Florida and the Southeastern US. They love dry, sandy soils and areas with lots of shrubby, low vegetation. They can live 40-60 years in the wild and are actually descendants of a large North American land Tortoise dating back some 60 million years!
Gopher Tortoises create deep burrows where they reside and these burrows help create space and habitat for around 350 other species of animals. This makes them truly a "keystone" species meaning that without them, many other members of a given ecosystem would lack protection from temperature fluctuations, predators, drought, and refuge from fire.
A typical Gopher Tortoise burrow in a Pine upland forest. Photo source- Creative Commons
Gopher Tortoises are, like the habitats in which they dwell, dependent upon periodic fires. When fire is suppressed, small trees, shrubs, and brambles begin to grow making it difficult for the gopher tortoise to move around and eventually shade out the low growing plants that gopher tortoises eat.
The biggest threat to these amazing animals is development. Humans also love building their homes on the high, dry soils of the uplands areas. Tortoises lose their habitat, food sources, and burrows when an area gets covered with houses, roads, businesses, and infrastructure.
They are slow to reach sexual maturity with females not ready to reproduce for 9-21 years. Breeding happens in April-November and nests are built May-June usually within their burrows.
In competing for mates, male gopher tortoises have been known to ram and push each other, and do a lot of head bobbing and pooping; they may even try to flip each other over. Even females may threaten each other with head bobbing. Females have been known to compete for space and will even run off another Tortoise that it feels is too close to its burrow.
Check out this video of Gopher Tortoises doing battle with each other, most likely in a conflict over a mate!
Learn more about Gopher Tortoises: http://myfwc.com/GopherTortoise
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