Description: The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a large dark-brown to grayish-black terrestrial tortoise. The shell is approximately 15-37 centimeters--or 5.9-14.6 inches--long. The gopher tortoise has elephantine hind feet, shovel-like forefeet, and a gular projection beneath the head of the yellowish, hingeless plastron or undershell.
For refuge, gopher tortoises dig burrows which average 5 to 1O feet in depth and may be 1O to 2O feet--or more--in length. A number of other species may share gopher tortoise burrows, including the eastern indigo snake, the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the black pine snake,and the gopher frog, as well as several small mammals.
Range: The range of the gopher tortoise extends along the coastal plain from South Carolina through Florida to southeastern Louisiana.
Habitat: The gopher tortoise most often lives on well-drained sandy soils in transitional (forest and grassy) areas. It is commonly associated with a pine overstory and an open understory with a grass and forb (non-woody) groundcover and sunny areas for nesting. Gopher tortoises can also sometimes be found in more marginal habitat such as roadsides, ditch banks, utility and pipeline rights-of-way, pastures, and even marginal wetland habitat, especially if their preferred habitat has been lost.
Status: The gopher tortoise is Federally listed as threatened across the western portion of its range. This area extends west from the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama across Mississippi and into Southeastern Louisiana.
Articles of interest:
- "Gopher Tortoise Research at Camp Shelby" (Endangered Species Bulletin, November/December 2000, http://www.fws.gov/endangered/bulletin/2000/11-12/27.pdf )
- "Banking on Gopher Tortoises" (Endangered Species Bulletin, August 2005, http://www.fws.gov/endangered/bulletin/2005/ESB08-05.pdf)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service News Release " First Federal Conservation Bank Announced for Threatened Gopher Tortoise in Mobile," June 25, 2001, http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news/2001/r01-039.html