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).