Gopher Tortoise

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CLASSIFICATION: The Florida gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a reptile whose lifespan can exceed 100 years. And like all turtles, has a bulky shell on its back for its primary defense. The genus Gopherus consists of tortoises in North America that are adapt at digging and burrow. The species name polyhemus given in 1802 by the French scientist Francois-Marie Daudin who gave this name to the burrow dwelling tortoise after the cave-dwelling Polyphemus, the legendary Cyclops of the Iliad. The gopher tortoise in currently considered a threatened species and is protected everywhere except Florida, where it is a listed as a Species of Special Interest by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

APPEARANCE The gopher tortoise is a land turtle, usually between 6 and 15 inches long and weighs an average of 9 pounds. It is gray or dark brown on the top of its shell with a yellowish plastron (undershell). The tortoise’s claw-tipped front legs are strong and shovel-like, great for digging burrows. They also help the tortoise carry its heavy shell.

When determining the sex of a tortoise, the most noticeable difference is that the male's plastron is concave (above right), whereas, the female's is perfectly flat (above left).

RANGE: Gopher Tortoises generally live in the Southeastern U.S. They primarily live in Georgia and North and Central Florida, but can be found any where from Southeastern Louisiana to Southeastern South Carolina and all throughout Florida.

HABITAT: They like to live in dry sandy places near woods or grass. The gopher tortoise digs burrows that are 10 to 50 feet long, and often have more than one tunnel. They will generally spend 60-70% of their adult life in their burrows. When the tortoise is not underground at home, it might be warming up in the sun or looking for food.

FOOD: Gopher Tortoises eat grasses and weeds,…...

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