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Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus


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Gopher Tortoise
credit: NASA

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Family: Testudinidae, Tortoises view all from this family

Description Large head. Grayish/dark brown skin. Long front legs for burrowing, unlike their behind legs which are shorter. Carapace yellowish brown. Plastron light yellow. Concave on males.

Dimensions 23.5-36.8cm. (9 1/4-14 1/2")

Endangered Status The Gopher Tortoise is on the U.S. Endangered Species List. It is classified as threatened wherever it is found west of the Mobile and Tombigbee Rivers in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The western population of the Gopher Tortoise is threatened mainly because of the destruction of its habitat, as well as misuse of its habitat (for example some of its habitat in national forest land is used for military operations). Tortoise populations are slow to recover from population losses because the females do not breed until they are 15 to 20 years old, and young tortoises are vulnerable to predators and other hazards.

Breeding Breeds in Spring, nests April-July. Digs a cavity 5" deep, sometimes at burrow mouth. Hatch in August/September.

Habitat Forests, grassland near sandy areas.

Range South Carolina to Florida coastal plain. Also Louisiana.

Discussion Herbivore scavengers. Terrestrial. Very good digger, burrows are abnormally longest. Longest was 47 1/2' with a large chamber at the end. Often shares the burrow with other animals including owls, snakes, gopher frogs and toads. Forage morning and evening, otherwise bask at the entrance of burrow.