Critters in the Hood – Florida Gopher Turtles

Posted on March 16, 2012


A local tortoise and Chanel

This is a Florida Gopher Tortoise.  I have a lot of respect for these turtles and I also feel a certain camaraderie with them as we both live on the same small barrier island in east-central Florida.  The turtles were here first of course, dating back to around 60 million years ago which makes them important indigenous wildlife.  They are also one of the oldest living species on our planet, but unfortunately they are now considered a *”species of special concern” and are threatened due to habitat loss, land fragmentation, automobiles, and the most recent threat *URTD – Upper Respiratory Tract Disease of which there is no known cure.

These unique turtles can live *40-60 years and even upwards of 100+ years.  Known as a keystone species they play a critical role in creating and maintaining an ecology for other species to survive, as they share their burrows with many other animals like other turtles, frogs, snakes, birds, even burrowing owls, and small mammals, which gives them the official title of *”wildlife landlords”.  This sharing of burrow space is key to this inter-species protection and survival.  *In fact, over 300 species have been found to cohabitate and find safety in the tortoises’ burrows.  Impressive!

You will find Gopher Tortoises in some coastal sand dunes or in the native forest vegetation amongst the palms, live oak trees and pine forests.  At a small local park, I see them lumbering down the pathway or busily snacking on vegetation or even nonchalantly crossing the street, in which case most everyone stops and ushers them to their safety!  I have learned that it’s important to not change the direction that they are going in.

This turtle has been ushered across a busy street several times, so a concerned citizen spray-painted (water-soluble) this turtle for visibility. Looking more like an inner-city turtle, I don't know if this is the right thing to do, but it just might save his or her life. I hope.

Personally, I think Gopher Turtles are a big part of what makes it special to live in this small town.   If you are lucky you will see Gopher Tortoises going about their lives, at their own pace, and even just sitting at the entrance of their burrow.  Sometimes they are facing out and some times they are facing into their burrow.  Some times another turtle will be visiting them and it’s your best guess what they are talking about!  It appears as though there is some serious mind-melding, mental-telepathy going on.  But they don’t bother anyone, and I think they would prefer it if you wouldn’t bother them either.  In fact, it’s against the law to harass these animals.

In some ancient philosophies the tortoise shell symbolizes both the earth and the heavens.  In Hindu mythology, the turtle carries the world on it’s back. Turtles have been considered sacred beings in Ancient Greece, Buddhist, Chinese, and Iroquois mythology as they symbolize the world and aspects of  fertility. “Hinduism views the retraction of the head into the shell as indicating an advanced spiritual state“.

If I were to associate music with these tortoises, it would be the sound of the Gamelan.

To provide important, more detailed information for this blog, I referred to this *Gopher Tortoise site.  Check it out if you’d like to learn more about this important species.  Let others know about what you have learned….these turtles are fun, unique, important, and worth protecting.

Please go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Game Commission if you have concerns about any Gopher Tortoise.

Watch out - I gotta git a move on!

Excuse me, just trying to get back home.

Home Sweet Home. Juliana the Turtle. Some turtles even get their own burrow plaques.