Tag Archives: keystone species

Gopher Tortoise

I came across this Gopher Tortoise while riding my bicycle on Sanibel Island along the Sanibel-Captiva Rd.  The Gopher Tortoise was slowly crawling along a grassy area and eating grass. This reptile is a land dwelling animal and lives in a burrow that it digs for itself with its’ strong claws.

The burrow that it digs averages 6.5 feet deep and 15 feet long. The burrow provides refuge or habitat for up to 350 other species. The Gopher Tortoise is called a keystone species for this reason because of its importance for helping to insure the survival of other species in its ecosystem.  The animals that typically live in the Gopher’s burrow include burrowing owls, rattlesnakes, crickets and many others.

The habitats that this reptile lives in include dry uplands, sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, dry prairies, xeric hammocks, pine mixed hardwoods and coastal dunes. They depend on natural fires to burn away the brush, dead leaves and shrubs so that new plants and grasses can grow. The Gopher Tortoise has been around for a long time and its estimated to date back  60 milliion years. The Gopher Tortoises’ life time averages 40-60- years.

The Gopher Tortoise itself is as a threatened species in Florida and is protected by the laws of the state against poaching or hunting.  No land clearing or development can take place in an area where a tortoise lives unless it is relocated to a similar environment and permits are issued for its relocation. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has additional information about this animal. http://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/gopher-tortoise/

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Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise, Bunche Beach, Ft. Myers, Fla

Gopher Tortoise at Bunche Beach in Ft. Myers

Gopher Tortoise, Bunche Beach, Ft. Myers, Fla.

Gopher Tortoise at Bunche Beach in Ft. Myers, Fla

Gopher Tortoise – (Gopherus polyphemus)  is a cold blooded reptile that can live up to 40-60 years. It digs deep burrows in sandy soils for shelter which also provides home for up to 350 other species of animals and insects.  Mice, snakes, opossums, rabbits, frogs and crickets are just a few of the other species that share the tortoises burrow.   It is called a Keystone Species because there are so many other animals that depend on the tortoise for its survival.  I saw this tortoise on a sandy dune on Bunche Beach but it can also be found  further inland and upland areas including  forests, pastures and yards. The tortoise feeds on vegetation including different kinds of grasses, blackberries and fruits that grow on shrubs.   It has very strong legs and a hard outer shell which protects it from predators.  The website of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission contains some additional information about the Gopher Tortoise.

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