Sunday 19 May
Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Gopher tortoise fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Gopher tortoise description
The gopher tortoise has a light to dark brown, elongate upper shell and dull yellow plastron. The skin is greyish brown and the head is large and blunt. The hind feet are small, stumpy and without webs (2). The front legs are shovel-like for burrowing in sand (4).
- Gophère Polyphème, Tortue De La Floride, Tortue Gaufrée.
- Tortuga Terrestre De Florida.
Gopher tortoise biology
The breeding season begins in the spring, when males give short rasping calls to attract females. Males and females may fight each other, apparently as part of the courtship process. Eggs are laid mainly from mid May to mid June in an open, sunny place (4). Between one and 25 white, spherical eggs are laid in batches of five to six in holes dug into the ground, and the tiny hatchlings must dig their way to the surface when they emerge 100 days later (2). Sex is determined by temperature in turtles, so those eggs that are incubated at over 30 ºC will be females, and those below 30 ºC will be males (5). After emerging the hatchlings are protected by their parents in long, deep burrows (2), but may still be eaten by raccoons, skunks, armadillos, foxes and opossums (4). Sexual maturity is only reached at 16 – 21 years, and gopher tortoises may live for over 40 years (2).
After sleeping at night in a burrow, the diurnal gopher tortoise will emerge to feed during the day (2). It is herbivorous, eating grasses and low herbs, as well as occasional fruits and berries (2). A natural fire regime is important in the gopher tortoise’s habitat as rapidly moving wildfire will clear scrub, open the canopy, and encourage the growth of the vegetation eaten by the tortoises, who remain safe in their burrows during these fires (5). Each tortoise has a well defined home range which contains several burrows (4). Gopher tortoises are considered to be a ‘keystone’ species as their burrows, both active and abandoned, are used by over 100 other vertebrates and invertebrates, such as burrowing owls, raccoons and snakes (2) (4).Top
Gopher tortoise range
This species is found in the south-eastern part of the United States, from south-western South Carolina down to the Florida peninsula and west to Louisiana (2).Top
Gopher tortoise habitatTop
Gopher tortoise statusTop
Gopher tortoise threats
The gopher tortoise’s habitat is created by a fine balance of natural processes such as wildfire, which due to habitat loss and fragmentation can no longer occur. Controlled burning is practised, but this is less effective than wildfire (5). Gopher tortoises have suffered from poaching for meat in the past, but now more commonly for pets. Whilst not harmed, pet gopher tortoises are not able to reproduce and this can therefore lead to serious population declines (5). At the current time, mortality on roads is thought to be the most common cause of human-induced death in gopher tortoises (5).Top
Gopher tortoise conservation
Protection by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has made it illegal to keep gopher tortoises as pets, race them, or remove them from their natural range (5). Conservation of their natural habitat is of the highest priority, and relocation has been used to protect individuals during development of land (2). However, further habitat destruction and fragmentation will not only harm the gopher tortoise, but also the many species that depend on its burrowing habits.Top
Find out more
For further information on this species see:
The World Chelonian Trust:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
For more information about wildfires, see:
The Earth Observatory website:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Active during the day.
- Diet comprises only vegetable matter.
- In reptiles, the lower shell of a turtle or tortoise.
IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
Animal Diversity Web (November, 2004)
World Chelonian Trust (November, 2004)
CITES (November, 2004)
Georgia Wildlife Web (November, 2004)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.