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Gopher Tortoise

The only true land tortoise living east of the Mississippi River, the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) shares kinship with three desert-dwelling species of the western U.S. and Mexico.  Florida comprises more than half of the species’ remaining range, which extends from Louisiana to South Carolina and down to Cape Sable at the tip of the Peninsula.

The gopher tortoise stands out among Florida wildlife for its “keystone” role in upland environments.  Typically occupying sandy ridges and other high ground, the “gopher” digs long, deep burrows to escape heat, cold, fire, and predators.  These burrows in turn are used by more than 350 other species for similar protection.  Co-habitants include frogs, snakes, mice, birds, and a host of interesting insects; the list includes more than a dozen species considered by the state to be of especially high conservation concern.  Without the sheltering burrows of the tortoise, many of their populations would surely be lost.

Although the tortoise still resides in all 67 of Florida’s counties, many populations are small and isolated, and the species is considered to be Threatened here and rangewide.  Florida’ burgeoning development, coupled with degradation of landscapes for extraction of resources such as minerals and crops, continues to shrink remaining upland habitats, and those that do remain often suffer ecologically from insufficient fire, which is essential to maintaining the herbaceous groundcover upon which the tortoise feeds.


Florida Natural Areas Inventory's Online Field Guide to the Rare Plants and Animals of Florida

Detailed descriptions, photographs, drawings, maps, habitat information, and management guidelines for more than 200 rare plant species and 150 rare animal species.

FNAI Field Guide for the Gopher Tortoise


Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

This management plan provides the framework for conserving and managing the gopher tortoise in Florida.

Visit the FWC Gopher Tortoise Management Plan Website


Gopher Tortoise Council

The Gopher Tortoise Council offers professional advice for management, conservation, and protection of gopher tortoises; encourages the study of the life history, ecology, and management of gopher tortoises and other upland species; conducts active public information and conservation education programs, and seeks effective protection of the gopher tortoise and other upland species throughout the southeastern United States.

Visit the Gopher Tortoise Council Website

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