You’re probably fairly familiar with the humble tortoise—after all, it was a tortoise who handily beat the hare with its slow and methodical determination during Aesop’s infamous race.
But there’s so much more to this land-dwelling reptile than an ancient fable—and the gopher tortoise is no exception. A medium-size land turtle with large, stumpy hind legs, the gopher tortoise can be found in all 67 counties in Florida and are considered a “keystone species” because they are the backbone of their local plant and wildlife community. Without the gopher tortoise, the populations of more than 350 wildlife species that seek refuge or live in the burrows would be greatly reduced, if not eliminated.
Frost Science has four gopher tortoises that have all been rehabilitated at the museum. You can meet them on Tuesday, April 10 in honor of Florida Gopher Tortoise Day.
In celebration of this special day, here are six fun facts to help you get to know Florida’s only native tortoise.
- The gopher tortoise has shovel-like front legs that it uses to build burrows in sandy soil as home and refuge. Some burrows have been recorded at more than 20 feet deep and 50 feet long!
- Although it might be tempting to give these gentle creatures a home, Florida laws prohibit keeping them as pets. Gopher tortoises are considered a threatened species and should be left alone in the wild.
- The gopher tortoise missed hanging out with the dinosaurs by a good five million years. They belong to a group of land tortoises that originated in western North America nearly 60 million years ago—the last dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago.
- Unlike humans, female gopher tortoises are generally larger than their male counterparts.
- Male gopher tortoises can get downright competitive when it comes to searching for a mate, often ramming into each other, pushing, bobbing their heads and even pooping.
- Although they generally love to munch on leafy, low-growing plants and veggies, gopher tortoises are opportunistic eaters and will scoop up anything they can find including dead insects, small crabs and other carrion.
To find out more about gopher tortoises and Florida Gopher Tortoise Day, visit gophertortoisedayfl.com.