STATUS IN THE WILD: Vulnerable
RANGE: Southeastern United States
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Gopher tortoises are small terrestrial reptiles that have scoop-like front feet that are adapted for burrowing. They can weigh from four to thirteen pounds and have a normally flat and dark shell.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
The gopher tortoise is a keystone species, meaning that other animals in the ecosystem depend on the existence of the tortoise. Gopher tortoises dig and live in tunnels most of their life, and any tunnels that are abandoned are used by other animals. The tunnels provide protection and homes for the gopher tortoises and many other species.
The gopher tortoises have a breeding season that lasts from April to November. This time includes breeding until the hatching of their eggs. The female tortoise reaches maturity around nine to twenty-one years old at which point she will produce one clutch a year. Each clutch is around five to nine eggs buried in a mound near the front of the burrow. The sex of the eggs will be determined by the temperature they incubate at—cooler temperatures produce males, warmer temperatures produce females. Predation of the eggs and hatchlings is incredibly common and only about nine percent of hatchlings make it to adulthood.
Gopher tortoises are the only tortoises that live in the Eastern part of the US. They still live in protected areas of Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida. Florida has the largest population.
They live in dry, sandy portions of the southeast, such as pine flat woods, coastal dunes, and oak sand hills.
Gopher tortoises eat native grasses, fruits, and legumes.