GopherTortoiseadult.jpg (6852 bytes)



Adult Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)

gophertortoisebaby.jpg (5187 bytes) BabyTortoise


WHAT DOES A GOPHER TORTOISE LOOK LIKE?  The gopher tortoise is a land turtle, usually between 6 and 15 inches long.  It is gray or dark brown on top with a yellowish undershell.  A tortoise’s front legs are strong and shovel-like, great for digging burrows.  Its front legs look like elephant’s legs.  They help it carry its heavy shell. 

WHERE DO TORTOISES LIVE?  Tortoises prefer to live in dry sandy places near woods or grass.  They dig underground burrows that are 10 to 50 feet long.  These burrows sometimes have more than one tunnel.  When the tortoise is not underground in his home, it might be warming up in the sun or looking for food.  Tortoises eat grasses and weeds, but can also eat fruits and mushrooms.  Many animals make their homes inside tortoise burrows, including snakes, frogs, owls, and mice.  The burrows are especially important during forest fires, because they give many animals a safe place to hide.  

WHY AREN’T THERE MANY TORTOISES LEFT?  In Florida, the tortoise is a Species of Special Concern.  This means that there are not many left.  One reason is because people build houses on their sandy habitats, leaving very little room for the tortoises to make their homes.  Also, many tortoises are hit by cars.  Human litter attracts raccoons that eat the tortoises’ ping-pong ball-shaped eggs.  Raccoons also eat the newly hatched babies.  There is also a coughing sickness that tortoises get.  It doesn’t always kill them, but it makes them weak and sick.  Because of this disease, it is against the law to move a tortoise from one place to another.  Moving one sick tortoise could give the disease to other healthy tortoises.   

WHAT IS THE LAW?  It is against the law to keep a tortoise as a pet or to play with a wild tortoise.  The best thing to do is to leave them alone.  If it looks like a tortoise is going to get squashed by a car on the road, you can carry him across IN THE DIRECTION HE WAS GOING.  Hold him strongly on both sides of his shell.  Also hold him away from your body because he might pee on you.  Look both ways for cars so you don’t get squashed, and remember to wash your hands afterwards!  Click here to see how we’re learning about tortoises on Pelotes Island!


Behler, John L. And F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles & Amphibians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992.
Conant, Roger & Joseph Williams. Reptiles and Amphibians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Provided by the Pelotes Island Nature Preserve