Gopher Madness | Environment

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Gopher Madness
Gopher Madness

Florida is Famous for many  things.

There is one unusual thing that brings people to Florida and that is the REPTILES!

Most people see the reptiles that are native to Florida in Zoo's and Animal Farms, but there is that rare occasion where you catch them in their natural habitat.

One native Florida reptile has been catching my attention in it's natural habitat more than any other in particular this spring and summer.

The Florida Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoises are hard to spot in their natural habitat because they dig deep, long burrows in the ground in the dunes and forrest.

A Gopher Tortoise can easily be identified by it's appearance. They have large heads, long front legs with big claws for burrowing, and their skin can range in color from light grey to dark brown. Their back legs are shorter but also have large sharp claws. Their shell can be up to 12 inches tall and 14-15 inches long.

Gopher Tortoises are scavenger herbivores, grazing on a variety of over 300 species of plants but mainly eat  a variety of grasses, mushrooms, flowers, as well as fruits and berries.

Gopher Tortoises normally get water from the foliage they consume, but will occasionally drink from standing water in times of extreme drought.

The threat of being hunted and land development threaten their numbers and natural habitats, along with their low reproductive rate. Gophers only lay nests of 1-25 eggs, and many do not incubate due to predators such as snakes, alligators, foxes, and many others. Only 6-10 % of hatchlings grow to full maturity.

Another threat to the Gopher Tortoise here in Florida is the danger of crossing the road. Most people who stop to help think that the best thing to do is take the Tortoise to the nearest body of water. This is a wide spread misconception. Gopher Tortoises are LAND turtles, more equip for digging than swimming. They may be able to float and bobble, but stand a better chance of surviving if you just help them across the road in the direction it was heading.

I have had the rare opportunity of seeing some Gopher Tortoises lately in their TRUE natural habitat.

The first video on the top of this page was taken August 27, 2011 on the dunes on Matanzas Beach south of St. Augustine. This was a large Gopher and he seemed not to care that I was video taping him and continued grazing on fresh foliage after Hurricane Irene dumped heavy rain over this area in the previous days.

The link below will take you to a video of this same Gopher Tortoise heading to his burrow.

Gopher Tortise on Matanzas Beach Heading for the Hill

The next link was taken just a little north on A1A at Devils Elbow. This Tortoise was seeking some shade and came running across the parking lot from between a truck and the boat trailer while they were waiting to launch their boat. With temperatures well in the 90's, he was moving pretty quick and seeking a cool place to hang out. He ran under a cooler because he was weary of my presence but ended up crawling into a utility shed where it was nice and shady.

Turtle @ Devils Elbow

The last video I have to share with you was taken during the fires earlier this year in the Ocala National Forest. I ran across this Gopher near lake Delancy crossing the road back to it's burrow. He was cautious of going in, but took one last look back and disappeared into the ground.

Turtle Slide

 

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