Gopher Tortoise

Gopherus Polyphemus

Scientific Name

Gopher Tortoise:  
Gopherus Polyphemus

Distribution and Habitat

Geographic Range

Gopher Tortoises are found throughout the states of Florida and southern areas of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama.

Natural Habitat

Gopher Tortoises dig their burrows in dry upland areas, including sandhills, scrub, pine flatwoods and coastal dunes. The burrows are up to 40 feet in length and 10 feet in depth, with a single opening.

Physical Characteristics

  • Gopher Tortoises are rather plain in color, either a dark tan or grey. Their front legs are broad and flat, looking like shovels and the hind legs look like an elephant’s leg. Their carapaces are fairly flat, and the male’s plastron is concave while the female’s is perfectly flat. Adults range in length from 10-16 inches and can weigh about 30 pounds. Young Gopher Tortoises are vulnerable to predation until their shell hardens at about 6-7 years of age. They can live up to 100 years.

Quick Facts

  1. Gopher Tortoises’ burrows are homes for a variety of other animals, including indigo snakes, rabbits, armadillos and insects, an important part of the ecology.

  2. Gopher Tortoises are unique in that they are one of a few tortoises to make large burrows.

  3. They become stressed easily when handled; will release their bladder contents, rendering them dehydrated.

Exhibit

Reptile House

Conservation Status

Vulnerable: The Gopher Tortoise population has been seriously depleted and its protection is not secured

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Diet

Herbivore

Gopher Tortoises are primarily herbivores, eating grasses, legumes and fruit. They rarely drink standing water, acquiring it from their diet.