Gopher Tortoise

Donna Adamski

Joined August 2008

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Wall Art


Artist's Description

Spruce Bluff Pioneer Trail, Port Saint Lucie, FL

The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a tortoise species native to the coastal plains of the United States. They are most common to the state of Florida, but their range also extends to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as the extreme southeastern corner of South Carolina.

Gopher tortoises are medium-sized, with an average adult length of 10 inches (250 mm) and weight of 9 lb (4.1 kg). Their carapace is primarily a solid chocolate brown, gray, or black, and their plastron is generally a yellow or tan. Hatchlings are lighter in color. Males are distinguished from females by their concave plastron and longer tail.

Gopher tortoises is one of only four species of tortoise in the genus Gopherus, the only genus of tortoises native to North America.

Gopher tortoise males have two rounded scent glands under the chin to mark territory.

The Gopher Tortoise, like other tortoises of the genus Gopherus, is known for its digging ability. Gopher Tortoises often dig burrows several feet deep into the ground, where they spend the majority of their time. The burrows are generally located in dry places such as sandhills, flatwoods, prairies, and coastal dunes. Except during breeding season, gopher tortoises are solitairy animals, inhabiting a small-home range. Within their range they dig several burrows.

The Florida gopher tortoise is considered a threatened species in the United States. It is particularly common in longleaf pine forests. Because of the destruction of longleaf pine forests and their replacement with loblolly pine forests, its numbers have dwindled in these areas. Captive breeding programs exist at several zoos.

Gopher tortoises are herbivores. The bulk of their diet consists of grasses, such as wiregrass, but they also consume berries, other fruit, and even scavenge carrion.

Gopher tortoises typically mate in late spring, during the months of April and May. The female lays between 3 and 15 eggs in a sandy mound somewhere near her burrow. The eggs incubate and hatch in around 70 to 100 days. Hatchlings initially will spend time sheltering in their mother’s burrow but soon wander off on their own. Maturity is not reached until 10-15 years of age.

Conversion of gopher tortoise habitat to urban areas, croplands, and pasturelands along with adverse forest management practices has drastically reduced historic range of the gopher tortoise. Taking gopher tortoises for sale or use as food or pets has also had a serious effect on some populations. The seriousness of the loss of adult tortoises is magnified by the length of time required for tortoises to reach maturity and their low reproductive rate. Current estimates of human predation and road mortality alone are at levels that could offset any annual addition to the population. Sightings of gopher tortoises have become rare in many areas and the ones sighted are much smaller than in the past (Diemer 1984). A number of other species also prey upon gopher tortoises including the raccoon, who is the primary egg and hatchling predator; gray foxes; striped skunks; armadillos; dogs; snakes; and raptors. Imported fire ants also have been known to prey on hatchlings. Reported clutch and hatchling losses often approach 90 percent (Landers et al., 1980). Many Gopher tortoises (Florida) have been destroyed as developers have had carte blanche to bulldose over them alive. This has changed as of 07/30/07 with new legislation enacted in Florida. This legislation is to end the Incidental Take Permit (IT).

Gopher tortoises are what is referred to as a keystone species. Many other species rely on the gopher tortoise’s burrows for their own shelter, including gopher frogs (Rana capito), several species of snake, such as the eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon couperi), and several species of small mammals, like the cotton mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus).

As the gopher tortoise numbers decrease, the populations of the species which are dependent on them also dwindle. Accordingly, gopher tortoises are listed as an endangered species. Wikipedia.

Nikon D70s
F8, 1/400
4/8/09 – 485/93

Artwork Comments

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