Gopher tortoises, or “Gophers” as they are commonly called, live in extensive subterranean burrows in dry upland habitats of the southeastern United States. Gopher tortoises are found in longleaf pine sandhills, oak hammocks, scrub, pine flatwoods, dry prairies, and coastal dunes. Tortoises can also live in man-made environments, such as pastures, fields, and grassy roadsides. Habitat must have well-drained sandy soils for digging burrows, herbaceous food plants, and open sunny areas for nesting and basking.
Gopher tortoise life revolves around a tunnel-like burrow that is excavated using its shovel-like front feet. Burrows can be up to 40 feet in length and 10 feet in depth. Each burrow has a single opening and the width of the burrow is approximately equal to the length of the tortoise. Therefore, the Gopher is able to turn around at any point within the burrow. Gopher burrows are usually easy to spot because of the characteristic mound of loose sand at the burrow entrance.
Gopher tortoise burrows remain at a fairly constant temperature and humidity level year-round, thus providing shelter for the tortoise during periods of extreme temperatures, drought, and fire. Tortoise burrows are also a refuge to other animals like the indigo snake, pine snake, gopher frog, Florida mouse, opossum, armadillo, burrowing owl, gopher cricket, scarab beetles, and many others. Some, such as the Florida mouse, cannot exist without the tortoise burrow.
Natural fires played an important role in maintaining tortoise habitat by opening up the canopy and promoting growth of herbaceous food plants. As human population has increased the Gophers have lost habitat to homes, agriculture and roads. Most of the fires are now managed leaving Gophers with no home and nothing to eat. The State of Florida has the Gopher Tortoise listed as a Threatened Species.
At the 40 acre woods we make sure the Gopher tortoises have a wide variety of grasses and herbaceous plants including gopher apple, pawpaw, blackberries, saw palmetto berries, blueberries and other fruits. We have thinned out the Pines to allow more light to reach the forest floor and provide a better habitat for the Gophers and other animals that share the area.
We love our Gophers at the 40 acre woods. They are an important part of a healthy ecosystem.