biophiliamanda

Happy Gopher Tortoise Day! Habitat loss and fragmentation is one of the greatest threats to gopher tortoises. Today I’m dreaming about a connected Wild Florida that supports both humans and wildlife. Thanks to the determination of many Floridians, conservation of the gopher tortoise has come a long way, but there’s still a lot of work to do. .

Still have miles to go.

brevardmuseum:

The Humble
Gopher Tortoise

It’s over
90 degrees outside and the air is heavy with unseen moisture, not entirely
ideal weather for a nature hike. Yet from my spot at the front desk, I can see
there’s one brave soul heading for the nearest trail entrance.

He is
seemingly unfazed by this oppressive heat, for his skin is dry and his steps do
not falter. There is a determined look in his beady black eyes, and his dull
brown shell shines brilliantly under the hot Florida sun.

He is the
resident gopher tortoise, a familiar face here at the museum.

He is an
active fellow, as he often crosses the parking lot several times a day,
traipsing slowly from one end of the property to the other, pausing now and
then to rest in the grass.

Perhaps he
makes his daily sojourn to search for food. Like most other species of
tortoise, gopher tortoises subsist on a diet of grass, flowers, legumes, and
fruit. The seeds of the plants he eats pass through his body undigested, and in
his droppings he distributes these seeds across his home range.

His
species used to roam all throughout the south, but their range has been reduced
to Florida and some parts of neighboring states. He and his kind inhabit dry,
sandy environments, such as pine flatwoods, scrub, coastal dunes, and forests
with open canopies. Sandy soil is a must for these animals, as that is where
they dig their burrows.

His
forearms are built for digging-broad and powerful, shovel-like in their form.
With languid, sweeping motions he constructs his burrow in the sand, tunneling
more than 15 feet. Though a gopher tortoise’s shell provides him with a sturdy
and portable form of protection, it is underground in his burrow where he takes
refuge, safe from the grasps of the heat and cold and undetected by the roaming
eyes of hungry predators.

In recent
years, conservationists have been raising concerns over the falling numbers of
gopher tortoises. The biggest threats to these animals include habitat loss and
poor land management. Humans continue to encroach on the native habitats of
these creatures, clearing forests and scrub for property development and
agricultural purposes. Additionally, concerns have been raised over the
frequent capture and sale of wild gopher tortoises, an illegal practice that
has had a devastating impact thus far. As a threatened species, gopher
tortoises possess special protections provided by the state of Florida, whereby
it is illegal to hunt, capture, possess, or sell these animals without a
permit.

Though
their slow speed and drab colors give these animals and unassuming nature,
gopher tortoises actually play a pivotal role in their environment, awarding
them the distinction of being a keystone species (a species that plays a
critical role in maintaining the health and stability of an ecosystem). The
spacious and well-protected burrows that gopher tortoises dig provide shelter
for over 300 species, including snakes, frogs, mice, moths, and beetles. A
thriving gopher tortoise population is indicative of a thriving ecosystem. But
when an established population of gopher tortoises starts to decline, whether
due to habitat loss or disease, all the hundreds of animals that depend on
their burrows will consequently be negatively impacted.

It can
thus be said that the quiet little gopher tortoise carries the weight of his
homeland on his back, for without him, his ecosystem would lose an essential
foundational support and would be at risk for collapse.

By now,
our resident gopher tortoise has reached the edge of the parking lot; one scaly
leg slowly rises from the asphalt and settles onto the grass, the other three
soon follow suit. He trudges across the last few meters separating him from the
forest and disappears into the undergrowth. Despite the weight he must carry
and the threats he may face, the humble gopher tortoise marches on.

by Torin Grier

ainawgsd:

Gopher Tortoise

The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a species of the Gopherus genus native to the southeastern United States. The gopher tortoise is seen as a keystone species because it digs burrows that provide shelter for at least 360 other animal species. They are threatened by predation and habitat destruction. This species of gopher tortoise is the state reptile of Georgia and the state tortoise of Florida.

Keep reading

phaedrew:

After the adventures in Alaska we decided to spend the weekend at the beach. We haven’t been able to walk on the beach since a hurricane last year. The restoration of the beach and the new walk over are finally completed so our beach days are back!

you’re in good company! Nice to a see a friendly gopher tortoise patrolling those dunes! 

This is the same area I saw my first Gopher tortoise in the wild, long before Zoya. They’re amazing shells! 

Forest Conservation Has a New Poster Child: The Gopher Tortoise

Forest Conservation Has a New Poster Child: The Gopher Tortoise

The imperiled reptile will benefit from a plan to help landowners preserve America’s disappearing longleaf pine trees.

Words of wisdom from the experts pt 2

Check out this INCREDIBLE photo by Amanda Hipps, @biophilamanda, one of the experts who responded to our #worldturtleday question. Amanda studies the animals that live in gopher tortoise burrows. In case you didn’t know, gopher tortoise burrows are home to hundreds of other animals. Their status as endangered directly impacts the lives of 360 other animals ability to survive. Conservation matters! 

We asked her to share a little more about this photo and her work with the gopher tortoises and their many roommates: 

Gopher tortoises are the only native tortoise species in the southeastern US. They dig burrows up to 40 feet in length for protection from weather, fire, and predators, and are considered a keystone species because their burrows also provide refuge for over 360 other animals. Gopher tortoises are listed as federally threatened in Florida, and some animals, such as the indigo snake, are directly impacted by the gopher tortoises decline. This photo of the gopher tortoise and the southern toad was taken during the midday, summer heat in south Florida which is likely the reason the southern toad is taking refuge underground with the tortoise.

Many issues contribute to the decline of gopher tortoises, but their most significant threat today is habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation due to urban development. One way everyone can help with gopher tortoise conservation is by supporting conservation land-acquisition programs. In order to protect the gopher tortoise and the many species that depend on them, protection of their remaining habitats, as well as habitat restoration and management, should be of the highest priority.