Gopher Tortoise

The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a tortoise species native to the coastal plains of the United States. They are most common to the state of Florida, but their range also extends to Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, as well as the extreme southeastern corner of South Carolina.

Gopher Tortoise
Conversion of gopher tortoise habitat to urban areas, croplands, and pasture along with adverse forest management practices has drastically reduced historic range of the gopher tortoise. Taking gopher tortoises for sale or use as food or pets has also had a serious effect on some populations. The seriousness of the loss of adult tortoises is magnified by the length of time required for tortoises to reach maturity and their low reproductive rate. Current estimates of human predation and road mortality alone are at levels that could offset any annual addition to the population. Sightings of gopher tortoises have become rare in many areas and the ones sighted are much smaller than in the past. A number of other species also prey upon gopher tortoises including the Raccoon, who is the primary egg and hatchling predator; Gray Foxes, Striped Skunks, Nine-banded Armadillos, dogs, snakes, and raptors. Red imported fire ants also have been known to prey on hatchlings. Reported clutch and hatchling losses often approach 90 percent. Many Gopher tortoises have been destroyed as developers have had carte blanche to bulldose over them alive. This has changed as of 07/30/07 with new legislation enacted in Florida. This legislation is to end the Incidental Take Permit.

Gopher tortoises are what is referred to as a keystone species. Many other species rely on the gopher tortoise's burrows for their own shelter, including Gopher Frogs, several species of snake, such as the Eastern Indigo Snake, and several species of small mammals, like the Cotton Mouse (Peromyscus gossypinus).

As the gopher tortoise numbers decrease, the populations of the species which are dependent on them also dwindle. Accordingly, gopher tortoises are listed as an endangered species.
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