Gopherus Polyphemus

Photo of the front side of a gopher tortoise
Florida celebrates Gopher Tortoise Day on April 10!

Come along for a glimpse into the extraordinary life of a true native Floridian … Gopherus Polyphemus AKA the Gopher Tortoise.

Perhaps you will see this ancient creature meandering alongside the road or while hiking through the Florida wilderness areas. Please keep in mind, it is illegal to bother any aspect of the Gopher Tortoise environment including but not limited to its eggs, burrow, etc. One exception is picking up a Gopher Tortoise to assist it across a busy roadway in the direction it is heading.

The gopher tortoise is uniquely situated as a keystone species in its native environment. As such, the gopher tortoise provides hundreds of other animals a home inside its burrow during various seasons. Some animals may use the burrow to escape from a fire. Many of these animals are dependent on the gopher tortoise’s burrow (see diagram) for a place to live. These are commensals, who live for some or all of their lives within the burrow. Very much like sharing your home with guests who outstay their visit.

Joke #1 Why did the Tortoise cross the road? … To get to the ‘Shell’ station. Ha Ha.

Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and eat various types of vegetation throughout their long life span. They dig a burrow to live in and may have more than one burrow at times. Gopher tortoise burrows range in length and depth with an average length of 15 feet and depth of 6.5 feet. One burrow was found to be over 45 feet long.

Many people believe tortoises and turtles are the same animal, but this is far from true. Tortoises and turtles are uniquely adapted to live in different environments. Tortoises live exclusively on land, and they cannot swim. Turtles on the other hand, live most of their lives in an aquatic setting(ponds, rivers, oceans).

In Florida, only one native tortoise lives among us … the Gopher Tortoise. This reptile is considered a State designated Threatened species in Florida. Predation (humans, domestic and wild animals), road mortality, and habitat loss are the leading causes in Gopher Tortoise population decline. In contrast, there are over thirty Florida native turtles living in various aquatic settings. Many of these turtle species also face similar issues as the Gopher Tortoise.

Joke #2 I went to the library and asked for a book about tortoises. “It’s over there,” said the Librarian, “In the ‘Hard Back’ section.” Get it? LOL

Children's Fiction

Who Wants a Tortoise?
A laugh-out-loud tale of unexpected friendship follows the experiences of a spunky little girl who receives a tortoise for her birthday instead of a puppy and who tries to make the best of things with wacky activities before her pet's disappearance causes her to realize how much they have bonded. Simultaneous eBook. - (Baker & Taylor)

Memoirs of a Tortoise
Spending decades alongside a human best friend who is just his age, Oliver the 80-year-old tortoise wonders why his pet has left him and embarks on a visit to his mother’s garden to ask if she knows. By the creators of Memoirs of a Goldfish. Illustrations. - (Baker & Taylor)

A Surprise for Mrs. Tortoise
Spotting her reflection in the pond and realizing that her shell is worn out, Mrs. Tortoise begins to feel old and sad until her close friend, Birdie, arrives with a creative idea to cheer her up. - (Baker & Taylor)

Children's Non Fiction

At Home with the Gopher Tortoise
Discusses the habitat, physical characteristics, and behavior of the gopher tortoise, and describes its role as a keystone species and how over three hundred sixty other kinds of animals live in the burrows it builds. - (Baker & Taylor)

Named an "Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12" by the National Science Teachers Association and Children's Book Council.

The Gopher Tortoise: A Life History
Full-color book for children ages 10 and up. Details the life of the gopher tortoise and how it is tied in with other animals. Also discusses how the encroachment into the gopher tortoise's habitat is affecting the environment and the tortoise. - (Ingram Publishing Services)    Teens and Adults will enjoy this book as well.

Young Adult Fiction

One Earth: People of Color Protecting Our Planet
This nonfiction book for teens profiles twenty environmental defenders of color from around the world. Their individual stories show that the intersection of environment and ethnicity is an asset to protecting our planet. Illustrated with photos of each of the people profiled. - (Orca Book Publishing)

Generation Brave: The Gen Z Kids Who are Changing the World
An illustrated celebration of Gen Z activists fighting to make our world a better place. Gen Z is populated--and defined--by activists. They are bold and original thinkers and not afraid to stand up to authority and conventional wisdom. From the March for Our Lives to the fight for human rights and climate change awareness, this generation is leading the way toward truth and hope like no generation before. - (Baker & Taylor)

The Science of Endangered Species (DVD)
We share our world with many other living creatures. But sometimes we find ourselves in a battle over resources and living space. And it is a battle that is driving much of our wildlife to the brink of extinction. – (Producer, Michael Dieffenbach)

Challenge Everything: the Extinction Rebellion youth guide to saving the planet
A call to action from an inspiring young environmental activist. This is no greenwashing book--it's a call to action. A manifesto for how young people can help to save the planet by questioning everything about modern life and acting upon their conclusions. - (Random House, Inc.)

Green Nation Revolution: Use Your Future to Change the World
With in-depth text and data, and clear and detailed case studies this crucial book presents information in a scientifically accurate and easily accessible way. It will answer readers' questions on what comes next in our fight for the future. - (Grand Central Pub)

Adult Non Fiction

Image removed.Florida Wildlife Encyclopeida: An Illustrated Guide to Birds, Fish, Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians
Shupe includes the size, habitat, and abundance of each species located in the state. Whether you’re a lover of the outdoors, photography, or are looking to learn more about your state, this comprehensive guide will teach you about the wonderful wildlife that covers the water, earth, and skies of Florida. - (Perseus Publishing)      Wonderful book for patrons of all ages though children may need an adult to assist them with reading.

Remember, it is illegal to bother any aspect of the Gopher Tortoise environment including but not limited to its eggs, burrow, etc. One exception is picking up a Gopher Tortoise to assist it across a busy roadway in the direction it is heading.

Additional Links

Florida Gopher Tortoise Conservation Groups

Gopher Tortoise Celebration

Gopher Tortoise Information

By CJ on April 12, 2021