Gopher Tortoise -- "Ask the Expert" -- 2010

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From: Arthur, Date: December 23, 2010, Subject: Hibernation
My question is do gophers in Florida hibernate?

Hi Arthur,
In central Florida and areas south, gopher tortoises spend more time in their burrows during the winter. However, if temperatures get above 70 degrees, they will come out of their burrows and feed no matter what the time of year. In areas further north, the tortoises can spend many weeks in a row underground when the weather is cold.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: MIbandWayne, Date: December 21, 2010, Subject: We have one in our pasture!
We would like to know what they eat. Our pasture is approximately 1 1/2 acres and is fully fenced with stock fence. We have water for it up by the barn and maybe twice a week take a piece of bread and put it by it's hole. It has been here about a month and is about 8 inches across the top. We have dogs, but for some reason they look, sniff and leave it alone. My husband and I are into saving wildlife, so it has a home. Thank you! Maren and Wayne

Hi Maren and Wayne,
Congratulations on the new neighbor! I have attached a chapter from a workbook written by a friend of mine that talks about what to do when you have a tortoise on your property. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
If you have any other questions, please write me back. Have fun and Happy Holidays!

From: Lori, Date: December 21, 2010, Subject: Star Fruit
Do/can gopher tortoise consume star fruit?

Star fruit (carambola) is native to the Philippines, so gopher tortoises would not be exposed to them under natural circumstances. However, they have been cultivated in the U.S. and are available. I would imagine that a tortoise would love to eat star fruit.

From: Jahmaya, Date: December 8, 2010, Subject: saving the gopher tortoises
To whom it may concern,
Allow us to introduce ourselves, our names are Shamra Gilles, Jahmaya Harvey, and Yousra Gheit. We are currently attending St. Lucie West K-8 School in Port St. Lucie, Fl. We are in the eight grade and we recently became part of the Disney Channel Challenge. In this challenge we plan on trying to help all kinds of reptiles that are thtreatend or endangered. Our main focus though, is to help and save the Gopher Tortoises. While on the computer we had the chance to pull out your email and contact you for advice on how to save the Gopher Tortoises and what the first step is toward saving these species of turtles. Please reply to this mail about how we can take on this challenege. Our school number is: (772) 785-6630 and we are in Ms. Quintero's class. Thank you for your time. We look forward to hearing from you.       Sincerly,

The first thing you need to do is educate yourselves about gopher tortoises and the threats to their continued survival. Below are some links to websites that have good information that will help you. Once you understand the problems, you will be better equipped to help figure out how to help. An excellent way is to take what you learn and educate others.
Enjoy your research and write back if I can help in any way.       Becky

From: George and Carla, Date: December 5, 2010, Subject: Florida Horse Park
I am writing you in regards to the Gopher tortoise population located in and around the current property that is occupied by the Florida Horse Park on the Preserved land that is on the Cross Florida Greeenway in Ocala. The recent construction of a Hunter jumper field, A new Building and arena have already caused the decline in Gopher Tortoises in this area. I ride out there every day and see the tortoises have become fewer and fewer in the fields. My major concern is that the Florida Horse Park has a MAJOR construction project planned that will consume the entire 500 acres of the Florida Horse Park with buildings, barns and camp grounds. There are hundreds of Gopher Tortoises in the area. With plans to destroy many of the treed areas, the Gopher Tortoises that exist in those areas will be be gone as well. The Gopher Tortoises that were in the fields are simply gone as the constant mowing of the fields have destroyed their burrows and habitats, the location of horse jumps in this area has increased the maintenance on this land, thus inturn pushing the Gopher tortoises out. There are still some Gopher tortoises in this area. I would like the Florida Horse Park stopped in their construction of a 60 million dollar venue in the Florida Greenway System property boundary. This is state land and I would like to see the development of it stopped.
The Florida Greenway was initially set up to be preserved, not destroy habitats and forests for a failing horse park.
Today December 4th I took a ride looking for signs of Gopher Tortoises and their holes, I was even more shocked to see soo many Gopher tortoise holes destroyed by mowers, The Florida Horse Park has shown no regard to the endangered species and have displaced many Gopher Tortoises, this is very evident by the abandonded holes and partially destroyed Tortoise holes by tractors, mowers and such. The Gopher Toroise population is suffering in this 500 + acres of land I demand that someone look into this and see to it that this operation is halted immediately until the existing Gopher tortoises are preserved and left alone.
I am able to take photos if necessary!
Sincerley,       George

Contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ( The FWC has jurisdiction over gopher tortoises in Florida. The horse park is required by law to have a permit to destroy tortoise habitat, and they are also required to relocate any tortoises that might be impacted by their actions. The FWC should be able to tell you if a permit exists. Tell them what you know and they should investigate the situation and make it right.

From: Jacquelyn, Date: November 30, 2010, Subject: Tortise Burrow in Front YardGo[her tortoise in front yard
We just bought a home and a gopher turtle was already living in the middle of our front yard with a large burrow ( see the attached picture lower right hand corner). How can we persuade him to move? We have been living there for two months, buried the hole twice and he just keeps digging it back out. Does not seem to care that we have moved into his home.
Do burrows have back doors or only one entrance/exit? We had thought to permanently close the hole but do not want him to be stuck inside.       Jacque

Hi Jacque,
The first thing I must tell you is that gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida as a threatened species, so it is illegal to mess with them in any way without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This protection includes the burrow, so please do not fill it in anymore. There is only one entrance/exit.
The realtor or owner that sold you the house should have told you about the tortoise and its legal status so you could have decided not to buy if you didn’t want the burrow in your yard. My suggestion at this point is that you learn to live with it – they are really incredible animals and much less trouble than a dog (or kids!). I have attached a chapter from a workbook that was written by a friend of mine about having tortoises on your property. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
I think that if you learn about tortoises and are willing to share its home, you will be really glad that you did.

From: Toby, Date: November 13, 2010, Subject: Gopher Tortoises [dogs]
I hope you can help me.I have two young tortoises in my yard..approximately two yrs old according to size.I have two dogs also,they are costantlycatching the tortoises while they are out of their burrows and are trying to get to the turtle inside its shell.I have been fortunate to catch them in timeand there is only minor damage to the underside of the turtles plate. But I do not want them to kill them.So my question is how do I relocate them to the wooded area behind the house,out of reach of the dogs.It is important to me that the dogs not kill these poor animals and all measures I've tried so far have not been successful..
Thanks.      Sincerely       Toby

I believe that you wrote me once before about this and mentioned that there was habitat on the other side of your fence (I answered you, but maybe the email didn’t make it). If that is true, I would place the tortoises over there. Try to find burrows to put them in and do it when the weather is above 70 degrees. If you cannot meet these conditions, please write me back and we will try to come up with another plan.
Also, where do you live (state and county)?

From: Bryan, Date: November 16, 2010, Subject: [box turtle]
my grandmothers box turtle minor shell damagre cracked in some spots
help pleasae bryan in modesto

I strongly suggest that you or your grandmother get the turtle to a vet (preferably one with reptile experience) or to a wildlife rehabilitator. A turtle’s shell is an outgrowth of its bone, so any injury is potentially serious if it is not treated.
Are you in California?      Becky

Sent: Thursday, November 04, 2010, From: Permelia, Date: May 26, 2010, Subject: nesting habits
May 25, 2010 from Permelia Ehle Geneva, Fla 32732 We live on 5 acres that had numerous gopher tortoises when we moved here 8 years ago. The population seems to be thriving as we only use a small portion of prop. where house sits. I feel sure we have probably 10 or more large adults and have seen smaller ones and hatchlings. One burrow was recently dug in center of back yard. Noticed today a female was laying eggs in nest she dug in apron of burrow. The burrow is however occupied by another tortoise. When finished she ambled off toward her own burrow. Is this unusual behavior?

I see that you submitted this question several months ago, but I just received it today. Not sure how that happened because I have never had that problem before. However, I hope the answer is still of use to you.
Under natural conditions, each gopher tortoise digs and uses several burrows within its home range. Here on Kennedy Space Center, we found through radio tracking that male tortoises average 15 burrows apiece and females average 9. Tortoises also commonly use each other’s burrows and sometimes occupy them at the same time. The female you saw nesting probably picked that burrow based on the angle and duration of sunlight, and the type of sand or dirt.
If you need any more information, write me back.      Becky

From: Stacy, Date: November 1, 2010, Subject: disease [transfer]?
My sister's dog has come down with a bacterial infection, and her vet stated that it is most likely from a Gopher Tortoise. They are apparently very active this time of year, and these turtles spread disease.
Is this true? What kind of diseases can my dog get from these turtles? We have several that live in our area, and I am concerned.
Please let me know.      Kind Regards,      Stacy

Hi Stacey,
There are some bacterial diseases that can be passed between turtles (reptiles) and mammals, such as Salmonella, but that typically comes from aquatic turtles, not tortoises. Upper respiratory tract disease (URTD) is the most well known bacterial disease in tortoises, but it cannot be passed to mammals. Perhaps your sister’s vet is confused about the different diseases (many vets are not that familiar with diseases in wild animals). The point is that you don’t need to worry that the gopher tortoises pose a threat to dogs. Please tell your sister, and maybe somebody can educate the vet as well.

RWF tortoise

From: RW, Date: October 30, 2010, Subject: Gopher tortoises and drinking water
I have scanned your site on gopher tortoises but still need an answer. Do gopher tortoises need to drink water? I have one that has moved in from somewhere and the nearest water is over 100 yards away at the bottom of the property. I am concerned about him and the expected drought this winter.
~ RW

Hi RW,
Tortoises get the water they need from the food that they eat. They will drink water when it is available, but lots of tortoises live in places where water is not readily accessible. If we do have a dry winter, the plants in your yard might die. However, 100 yards is not too far for him to go, and if your yard becomes unsuitable for him, he will move on.
Feel free to write back if you have any more questions. I have attached a picture of a tortoise drinking water and a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote about managing tortoises in your yard. This is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.

From: Lori, Date: October 30, 2010, Subject: soft shell
I know of a baby gopher turtle that was mistaken for an aquatic turtle and kept in water for a couple weeks. Its shell is very soft, eyes are closed, and moves very little. Is there any hope for this little guy?

Gopher tortoises are pretty tough, so I would not give up on him yet. I suggest that you find a local wildlife rehabilitator and take him there. If you don’t know of any in your area, write me back and tell me your state and county and I will try to find some for you.

From: PATTI, Date: October 22, 2010, Subject: Baby Gopher Turtle
Rescued small gopher turtle from traffic. three inches across. Can she survive alone if I place her on our property near here. Dry wooded area.

Please release it as close to where you picked it up as possible. You can put it in an adult burrow if there are any around, or place it underneath some vegetation so it has some shade and is not so visible to predators. Try to do this during the day when the temperature is above 70.
Thanks,      Becky

From: tasha, Date: October 20, 2010, Subject: Injured tortoise
Hi. I live near Savannah GA. Today on a shopping trip I found a tortoise crossing the road. I stopped to help it across and noticed he had been hit by a vehicle ( I am assuming ). I know you are not suppose to take them but I brought the not so little Guy home. His shell isn't cracked badly but I am worried for him. Where can I take him so someone can help him or should I put him where I found him? I also noticed he sounds like he is wheezing. I don't want to put him back without knowing he will be ok. Thanks, Tasha

Take him to a local wildlife rehabilitator or vet. They will be able to tell you the best way to proceed. Remember where you got him so you can take him back to that spot and put him out of harm's way if that is what needs to happen.

From: Catherine, Date: October 17, 2010, Subject: can gopher tortoises see colors?
My parents have gopher turtles, and we notice that they follow us if we have on red toe nail polish! We also notice that they are particularly interested in red apples? Can they see colors?

In the book “The Natural History and Management of the Gopher Tortoise” by Ray and Pat Ashton, it says that tortoises have an excellent sense of sight and will follow brightly colored objects, even if they aren’t edible. There is also a picture of a tortoise nibbling on someone’s painted toenail!      Becky

Dee's tortoise
From: Deecee, Date: October 16, 2010, Subject: from Dee[construction in area]
      I live in the Panhandle of Florida, I live by Juniper Lake in DeFuniak Springs. My area is of mostly dirt and clay roads, while walking my dogs I discovered a den and was curious about it. A neighbor told me it probably was a Gopher Tortoise, immediately looked it up on the internet and came upon your site. Since finding the den I have seen the tortoise many times peeking out. I finally managed to capture a picture of her.
      Now why I have written, I been noticing the Electric Co. marking the sides of our roads and the water co also has been marking too. I'm thinking that maybe they might be going to do something with our dirt roads and I'm worried about my buddy. Should I report the tortoise to somebody before they bring machinery in, and if so who can I talk too. Please let me know what I can do.
Thanks, Dee Curran

Hi Dee,
      The first thing I would do is mark the burrow somehow, either with flagging tape or stakes so that it is visible to a person driving machinery. Make sure not to block the tortoise in, or put anything right in front of its line of sight coming into or out of the burrow.
      Then I would contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( and explain the situation to them. Hopefully, they will require the electric company to avoid burrows and not do any harm. In addition to doing that, you could contact the electric company. I am not sure how helpful that will be, but you never know. It would depend on if you could get to a person that has some control over the folks doing the work and driving the equipment. You might at least be able to find out what kind of work they are planning to do. If it is just mowing, that is probably ok. Even if they mow over the burrow (which they might not if it is marked), the tortoise can dig out, and mowing is good because it keeps the grass short and available as food to the tortoises.
Good luck, and write back if I can help more.       Becky

From: K D, Date: October 13, 2010, Subject: Photos and Comment
Hi, Just found your site,, and glad I did. Found a gopher tortoise today in the middle of a major highway. Took him home for a while and as I knew nothing about this tortoise, decided to consult the web. So now I know it is illegal to move one of these creatures from where it was found. Just took him back to the area I found him,,, placed him in the forest along the road. For your enjoyment, I'm including a few photos.... Regards,,,       Ken

Hi Ken,
Thanks for the kind words about the web site and especially thanks for doing the right thing for the tortoise. Nice pictures.       Becky


From: Jeannie, Date: October 10, 2010, Subject: request [Identifying]
I have several gopher tortoises living in my yard and would like very much to have the chapter your friend wrote, to help me enhance their habitat. Would you send me a copy?
I would also like to be able to identify individual tortoises in order to understand how and when they move around. Is there a safe way to ID them other than to drill holes in their shells? I've read that this is how the experts who study them tell them apart but I do not like the idea even though I understand it is painless.
There seems to be a fair amount of "trading" of burrows on my 3 acres. The one nearest my house, for example, has a large female living in it most of the time, but lately a smaller one of unknown gender is staying there. I am pretty sure the one who moved out is the same female who left the burrow about this same time last year and returned in spring. Since I cannot identify individuals, though, I can't be certain. Might a splotch of colored latex paint work to ID these tortoises??
I also have a story to share. My sister got stuck in nonmoving traffic on a Tallahassee freeway one day recently. After several minutes of waiting she got out and walked up the line of cars ahead to see what the problem was. Both lanes had stopped to allow a gopher turtle to make its leisurely way across the road in safety!

Hi Jeannie,
I have attached the chapter. It is from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote; it is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only.
If you can manage to take pictures of the individual tortoise’s top shells, that might be a good way to identify them. There will be different characteristics of their shells that you will be able to pick out. Putting a drop of paint on them is ok, but it will wear off, and besides, that is not legal to do.
Gophers will trade burrows and sometimes more than one will be in a burrow at the same time.
Sounds like you have a great situation. Enjoy, and thanks for caring!       Becky

From: barberkatz3, Date: October 8, 2010, Subject: Babies
Hi we live in gainsville fla on a farm we have left the land to herself ever since 1999 we began to see more and more gophar tortoise moving in a count of 7 to 10 adults as of 2010 it is now October here now. 78 85 degrees day 50 at night. As we were mowing for last time we just found one of our burrows with 5 new little babys coming out OH how suprised we were!!!!!!!! We stopped mowing *nd spent the whole day with them!!!! Were granparents!!!!!!

Congratulations!! You are very lucky. In the nearly 25 years that I have been working with gopher tortoises, I have never gotten to see a nest hatch. Very nice!       Becky

From: Joanie, Date: October 2, 2010, Subject: gopher tortoise [mating]
We have a couple of gopher tortoises that we seen just mating this morning. How long until she lays her eggs and then hatch? We want to be sure that the baby's are not disturbed in any way. They have made their dens in the pasture close to the fence so we can see them. Thanks for getting back to me as fast as you did.       Best,       Joanie

Hi Joanie,
It is interesting that you saw them mating this late in the year, as they typically do that and lay their eggs in the spring. What state and county are you located in?       Becky

From: Gloria, Date: September 27, 2010, Subject: tortoise relocation
I found a large Gopher T. in the street near my yard and am keeping it in our fenced yard to prevent it from going into the streets. It definitely was dropped in the lot next door very recently (there is a new construction site nearby). This neighborhood is not safe for it; where can I take it?
Thank you.

Please contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They have legal jurisdiction over gopher tortoises in Florida and should be able to give you some guidance.
If that doesn’t work, write me back.       Becky

From: George King, Date: September 26, 2010, Subject: tortoise burrow under our pool
We have a preserve behind our house and we have had gopher toroises living back there for 10 years.
We just returned after being away for three months and find that they have dug a deep hole right up next to our inground pool. We covered it over but two of them have dug it back.
We know they are protected, but we would prefer not to have them living under our pool. Also, we wonder if the female is laying eggs.
Do you have a suggestion?
Thank you, Sue

Hi Sue,
What state and county do you live in? That will determine what is legal and not legal.       Becky

Young gopher tortoise 9/22/10
Old gopher tortoise 9/22/10
From: Anna, Date: September 22, 2010, Subject: Studies
Dear Miss Becky,
I live in far south east Alabama. I am wondering if there are any studies on the recovery of these Gopher Tortoises being done. My small piece of heaven has numerous babies and their dens and there are 3 large dens in the area and one on my property. I would love to have anyone studying them and their recovery, in my area, know they are here. Attached is a picture of one of the little ones and also one of the biggest. Thank you for your consideration!

Hi Anna,
The Alabama representative for the Gopher Tortoise Council is Mark Bailey. He can be reached through his company’s website: Tell him I sent you.       Becky

From: Allison, Date: September 21, 2010, Subject: WHAT DO I DO?
I have several occupied gopher turtle boroughs on my property and in my neighborhood in Weeki Wachee. Recently I saw one of them trying to make it back to the tunnel with a very badly cracked shell. I wasn’t sure who to call or what to do. I know you are not to touch or relocate them and I did not but it wasn’t long before the ants and flies got to it and by the next day there was nothing left but a shell and I felt so guilty for not being able to do anything. I don’t know how it was injured other than to say maybe someone ran it over. I hate to think it was intentional but I guess that’s a possibility. In the future what can I do to help since there seems to be quite a few nests around? I hate to see them suffer the same fate.

Although the laws say that you are not to interfere with gopher tortoises, it would be ok for you to pick up an injured animal and take it to a wildlife rehabilitator or vet. No one is going to arrest or harass you for doing that. You should investigate places to take a tortoise so that you will be ready if you have problems again.       Becky

From: Erik, Date: September 8, 2010, Subject: [hatchlings]
I live in a area just on the Georgia and Florida state line and we have many Gopher turtles around here. In fact I seen 4 of them just today. My dog sometimes bring the smaller ones up on the pouch (unharmed) and I simply take them back out into the woods. Recently she has been finding little baby ones no bigger then a silver dollar, and I am a bit concerned about just dropping them back off in the woods somewhere since they maybe somewhat traumatized by the incident. But I read it is best to drop them under some brush and leave them be so that is what I do. My dog has yet to inject one but if that does happen what should I do?
Also since we have so many around here I leave some food out around the yard such as, watermelon cores strawberry and pretty much any left over vegetables or fruits we may have. But I try to disperse the food through out the yard rather then near the holes because I rather the Gophers not get depended on me feeding them. Is this the correct way to go about it? Also what types of foods or fruits do they generally like?
Thank you

It is best to release the hatchlings in a hidden place, either under vegetation or into an adult burrow. Do it as soon as you can after you get them. Try to teach your dog to stop grabbing them (I know from personal experience – that is way easier said than done). If the dog hurts the tortoises, please take them to a wildlife rehabilitator or vet to get them treated.
The laws governing what you can and can’t do with/to/for tortoises are different between Georgia and Florida. For example, it is illegal to feed tortoises in Florida. You are right to be concerned about getting them too dependent on you, and what you are providing may not be what they really need. I have attached a chapter out of a workbook that has lots of ideas on how to make your yard and property good for tortoises. It is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please.
Feel free to write me back if you have other questions.

From: summer, Date: September 7, 2010, Subject: [SpaceCoastAudubon] Florida Box Turtle
I have a couple of Florida Box Turtle hatchlings that I got from my property in West Cocoa. I saw the turtle laying the eggs so I covered the nest until the eggs hatched on July 31st. I am feeding them meal worms and trying to introduce turnip greens and fruit. I have them in a 20 gallon glass aquarium with coconut husk substrate, a small, shallow container of water, and a UVB light. I was only planning on keeping them until they were a little bigger and then I would put them on the heavily wooded lot next door but I am concerned about future development in the area.
Is there someone who raises them for future release in a sanctuary near my home? I would rather they go someplace more safe then in a vacant lot in a residential neighborhood. I have heard you are not supposed to move turtles but the box is so rarely seen that I thought there might be a better place for these babies. Will someone please advise? Thank you.

Box turtles are not legally protected, so you are free to keep them or release them however you see fit. That being said, I would suggest that you release them in a (hopefully) safe place soon. They need to learn how to forage for food on their own and the longer you feed them, the harder it will be for them to become “wild” again.
Feel free to write me back if you have more questions or need more information.       Becky

From: Sin Ying Ma, Date: August 28, 2010, Subject: baby tortoise
Why does the mother tortoise not take care of the baby tortoises ?

Gopher tortoises are reptiles. No reptiles exhibit parental care with the exception of alligators and crocodiles. It is just the way that this particular group of animals has evolved, and it must work because reptiles have been on Earth for a very, very long time.
Feel free to write back if you have any more questions.       Becky

hatchling 1
hatchling 2
Click to enlarge.

From: Britta, Date: August 27, 2010, Subject: Hatchling photos
I know you have an educational program devoted to gopher tortoises and was hoping you should shed some light on these photos. I say its a gopher tortoise but I have never seen a hatchling. The belly of it looks odd to me but I don't know if its due to being in the egg recently or not. The crease in the belly is about a quarter inch deep. Does the crease and "belly button" hole disappear as a turtle ages? It's back seem rounder than the flat backs of the adults I've seen. Also wondering if that is due to being in the egg? In the bottom photo you can see what appears to be an "egg tooth?" This turtle measured out to approximately 1 1/2 inches in length and 1 inch wide. Thank you for your help.

You are right about all of that. It is a new hatchling and that is where the embryo was attached to the egg. Often when hatching occurs, some of the yolk is still not absorbed and will absorb over the next few hours. This gives the hatchling a source of food before it has to go out and graze on its own. That is an egg tooth that the hatchling uses to pip the shell from the inside.       Becky

From: Cathy, Date: August 15, 2010, Subject: diet [tomatoe plants]
Will gopher turtles eat tomato plants?

Probably, if the leaves are low enough for them to reach.       Becky

From: Joydlla, Date: August 7, 2010, Subject: [under foundation]
The turtle has made his home under my foundation and i'm afraid it will fall inward and my washer and dryer are on top of it. How do i get rid of it???

Many people write me with this same situation of a tortoise burrowing under their foundation, and I have seen it myself. Not once have I seen anything bad happen. The burrows go into the ground at about a 45 degree angle, so it is deep before it gets very far. You can keep an eye on the ground to see if there are signs of it weakening. If you decide to remove the tortoise, you will need a permit because they are legally protected. If you tell me what state and county you are located in, I can send you contact information to apply for a permit.

From: Hhambone314, Date: August 4, 2010, Subject: Enchanted Forest: [on porch]
I have a gopher tortise that came up on my front porch yesterday and has now been there about 18 hrs.It does have a den dug on my property and I was wondering should I put it back near its den or what? I don't want it to die on my front stoop. Thanks Jim

Hi Jim,
I would carry it back to its burrow and release it. If it comes back or you see it outside its burrow for long periods of time, I would take it to a wildlife rehabilitator or vet.
Feel free to write me back if you need more information.

From: Donna, Date: August 4, 2010, Subject: turtles [moving]
Hi Becky
I have a 10 acre vacant land property listed for sale. Gopher turtles must have recently migrated to this land. Owner said they were not always there. Some tenants want to lease the land for storage of blueberry plants this would mean they need to do some grading and clearing for room and putting up some removeable buildings. Would all this present a problem in regard to the turtles?

Hi Donna,
As long as you stay 25 feet (on all sides) from the burrow, you are o.k. If that is not possible, you will need a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You can apply for this on-line:
If you have any questions or need more information, feel free to write back.

From: Bryan, Date: August 3, 2010, Subject: Injured tortoise rehabilitation
I am inquiring about the legality and options for the rehabilitation of injured gopher tortoises. A local veterinarian is assisting the Animal Control department with the care of gopher tortoises that are hit by cars. The vet is familiar with reptiles and has saved around 20. Unfortunately, some have back legs that are permanently paralyzed. What should the vet do in these circumstances? It does not appear they would survive in the wild due to their lack of mobility. Is there a sanctuary or refuge they can be taken to? Is it legal for him to provide them with shelter until homes are found? Any information would be helpful. Thank you!!!

I am not sure what the legal requirements are for a veterinarian treating tortoises, i.e., does he need a permit or can he work under a permit held by Animal Control (if they even have a permit). What to do with tortoises that cannot be returned to the wild is another good question. My suggestion is that you (or the vet) contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They may be able to tell you if there are educational facilities or zoos, etc., permitted and willing to take tortoises. If you tell me what state and county you are located in, I can send you the appropriate contact information.

From: Tracy, Date: July 28, 2010, Subject: question [permits]
Hi. I have been reading Q&As on your webpage, and I tried to find my answer before I wrote. I was impressed with your patience to answer the same question and have to give the same info over and over- you must scream into a pillow at times! :)
I live in NE FL and the neighborhood I live in is fairly new and still being developed. I am a city girl-Chicago- where gophers are brown, furry I was unprepared for the large amount of turtles in our small neighborhood. I personally have 5 burrows in my half-acre property.
My concern is that my neighbors and I don't believe the developer got any permits to build or relocate or to bulldoze over these animals. I emailed the FFW conservation email addy you had on your site to see if they could tell me if any permits exist.
Any advice?       Thanks,       Tracy

Hi Tracy,
Enjoyed your funny email. Thanks.
I don’t know which office you emailed, but your regional office is probably the Northeast: If you look at that website, there are some phone numbers you can call. Have the address or name of the development or developer ready. They should be able to tell you if there are permits, and if so, what kind of permits they are.
If this doesn’t work, write me back and I see what else we can do to get the information for you.
I love answering the questions from the website. Some of them are real doozies, but it feels good to know that people are so interested and that most of them really like and appreciate tortoises.       Becky

From: Fred, Date: July 25, 2010, Subject: Hurt Gopherhurt tortoise
My husband and I were traveling down hwy 54 in land o lakes, we spotted a turtle and pulled over and back vehicle up by the time we got to it someone had already hit it. It was bleeding at the top of its shell. We put it in the truck and made calls. We are a family of turtle savers but never picked one up to move out of road that was injured. I left messages with a few people trying to figure out what to do and how to help it. While we waited for the calls my husband cleaned the top with Iodine, then antibacterial ornament then put a sanitized gauge and tape across the shell. We have him in a wired dog cage inside because we don’t want the ants to get in him. It does not seem to be that bad, the bleeding stopped immediately however I am still unsure what to do next. I can keep him until he is healed and then take him back near the place we picked up (I know how important it is for him to be in his familiar area) or should I call a wild life office? He has water and food but don’t want to do the wrong thing. The turtle has a number 2 on the shell?? Why would he be numbered? He found him near Starkey ranch, is it possible he was counted by a biologist?
Thanks       Melissa

Hi Melissa,
Even though it looks like you did a great job fixing this guy up, I would still consider taking him to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator. It might be good for him to get some antibiotics to stop any infection. Because tortoises are reptiles and cold-blooded, it can take several months for an infection to get bad enough to show outward physical signs, and by then it is often too late to help.
No telling why it was numbered. It was probably someone in the neighborhood keeping track of him. Biologists typically use a shell notching system and not paint.
If you decide to take him somewhere and need help finding a place, write me back.
Thank you,       Becky

From: becky, Date: July 20, 2010, Subject: [laid eggs on our proporty]
Hi we think we have a gopher tortoise that has laid eggs on our proporty. What do we do?

When gopher tortoises lay eggs, they dig a chamber in the ground and then cover the eggs with dirt. If you are seeing the eggs on top of the ground, the nest has either been depredated or the eggs were shed by the turtle and are not alive. If what you have appears to be a good nest, the best thing to do is stay away from it so your scent does not attract predators. Try to keep your pets, especially dogs, away from it, too. Don’t mow over it.
It takes between 80 and 110 days for the eggs to hatch, depending on your geographic latitude (longer for places in the northern part of the range). If you keep your eyes open, you may be lucky enough to see the hatchlings emerge.
Feel free to write back if you have concerns or other questions.       Becky

From: Theresa, Date: July 20, 2010, Subject: Gopher Tortoise [small children & dog]
I just bought a house in the Titusville area and the previous owner told us that the large burrow in our back yard was for an armadillo. Being inquisitive I wanted to see the armadillo. To my surprise I found that I have what I believe might be a gopher tortoise in my back yard. I have small grand children in the yard and don't want to have problems for the tortoise or my grand children. We also have an 8 year old dog that has not adapted to the heat. Needless to say she doesn't go outside much. Any guidance on how I should handle this situation? Would it be possible to mitigate the animal to a more desirable terrain for?
Many thanks for any information that you can give me.
Sincerely,       Theresa

Hi Theresa,
You should not have any problems coexisting with the tortoise, and I would much prefer that to an armadillo who would certainly tear up your grass. In fact, you should take the opportunity to learn about tortoises and pass that knowledge to your grandchildren. I think they will remember and appreciate it, and many children these days don’t get to learn about wildlife first-hand. My only word of caution is that you teach the kids to have respect for any animal (including the dog) and not to try to pick up or touch any wild animal without supervision from an adult.
I have attached some website links and an article on tortoises in your yard that I hope you will find helpful. Feel free to write me back if you need more information or have other questions.

From: chelé, Date: July 16, 2010, Subject: Found Gopher Tortoise missing most of front leg
Hello Ms. Bolt:
I found a gopher tortoise trying to crawl across a fairly busy street. I stopped cars so it couldn’t be run over and then I noticed its very, very slow progress…it was missing the greater part of its front leg. The stump had healed somewhat but it still looked sore.
The cars were getting impatient so I scooped it up and took it home. Now I am writing to you for guidance.
We live in Gainesville near Payne’s Prairie so I could let it go there where there aren’t roads and there are gopher tortoises. We also have a teaching zoo across town with vets.
What do you suggest?       Thank you,       Chelé

Dear Chelé,
Please take the tortoise to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator and don’t release it. It will simply try to find its way home and likely end up back out on the road. Besides, from the sounds of it, the poor thing could use some treatment.
Feel free to write back if you have questions or if I can help you find a place to take it.       Becky

From: Johannah, Date: July 15, 2010, Subject: gopher turtle [other animals in hole]
I am moving into a new house build about a year ago and I was cutting grass there and discovered this huge hole and the people I am buying this house from said it’s a gopher turtle and I was stunned. Is it ok that it lives that close to my house. And can my grandson get hurt by other animals that may choose to live in that hole after its gone.

It is perfectly fine that you have a tortoise living in your yard, and I think you are pretty lucky. Even though tortoises are legally protected, if it has chosen your yard and you are not preventing it from leaving, you are not breaking any laws. Regarding your grandson: It is possible that other animals may use the burrow. Just teach your grandson to watch and not touch, and to always be respectful of wild animals. You can use your tortoise as a great teaching opportunity for your grandson, which is great, because many kids these days don’t get that chance.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: pwiggins16, Date: July 15, 2010, Subject: [mating behaviors]
We are lucky enough to live right next to a gopher turtle. It has been feasting in our yard very peacefully for months now. The last couple of days it has also been laying on top of the burrow entrance withdrawn inside it's shell for a while which we hadn't noticed before.
Last night we looked over to see it racing back to it's burrow with another tortoise close behind. The second tortoise actually tried to mount "our" tortoise (and I don't think it's mating season), but our tortoise dived down its burrow. The second one stayed there at the hole for over an hour just staring down the hole or pacing around the perimeter. Finally it gave up and wandered down through the woods using the same path our tortoise often uses.
The moment the other tortoise was gone, ours popped its head up and periscoped around for a minute and then came out of the burrow and turned around and starting kicking dirt as if cleaning or deepening the entrance way. Any ideas what was going on?

Even though mating typically takes place in the spring, mating behavior can occur at any time. The interaction you saw might also have been between two tortoises of the same sex “arguing” over burrows or mates or food resources, etc. Gopher tortoises are highly social, so all kinds of things go on that have to do with how individuals relate to one another.
Feel free to write back if you have any other questions. Enjoy “your” tortoise!!

From: Abby, Date: June 29, 2010, Subject: unusual tortoise excrement
I have several gopher torotises (breeding pair and several hatclings now about 5 yrs old) and just recently saw some unusual excrement. I am used to normal fecal matter and the whitish pasty urine, but just saw yesterday urine that was very grey paste. This is the first time in more than 20 years that I have seen this and I am worried that there is something wrong with one of my turtle-people. They all seem to be eating well and the female is currently searching for an egg laying site near their burrow. They all seem to be acting totally normally, but the color of this urine matter concerns me.
They normally eat a diet of leafy greens (romaine, red leaf, kale) plus fruit. They graze on bermuda and clover grass, and I also give them rose petals occasionally. The food this week has consited of melon (canteloupe) and bananas as well as the leafy greens and grass. Any ideas what would cause this and should I be concerned?
Btw, I am in california. My two adults are registered with fish and game (have had them for more than 20 years), all the hatchings are from this pair. All are mycoplasma free.
Thanks,       Abby

Hi Abby,
I believe that you must have desert tortoises, not gopher tortoises (which do not occur west of Louisiana). They are very closely related. I suggest that you look at the Desert Tortoise Council website
( to get more information. There is a way to reach a desert tortoise expert and they should be able to help you with your question.
Let me know if this doesn’t work, and I will see what else I can do.

From: joanteresa9, Date: June 22, 2010, Subject: Inquiry: [burying tortoises]
I hope I am on the right page/ Wallmart is planning A large superwallmart on us 19 s. & cardinal street area in Homosassa area There is a large number of Gopher turtles and Indigo snakes on this property. Wallmart has been called concerning this and quote: We have the right to cover them up. We already have a permit to cover them up. ?? How is this possible? They need to relocate them. How can they get away with this?? Joan

Dear Joan,
In 2009, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) revised their rules on gopher tortoises and made it illegal for anyone to bury tortoises. Before that, a developer could buy a “take permit” that allowed them to not have to relocate the animals from their property. The money went into a fund for gopher tortoise conservation. If the people developing your Wal-Mart got their permits before the laws changed, they are grandfathered in and do not have to abide by the new laws.
Contact your regional office of the FWC and ask if the Wal-Mart has a take permit for their development. If they don’t, tell the law enforcement people what is happening. If they do have a take permit, the only way to change things is by getting the developer to agree. Perhaps some bad press and other forms of public pressure would help them see the light and change their minds.
Good luck and write me back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Liz, Date: June 20, 2010, Subject: found an injured gopher tortoise
Hello! Was just reading your letters/responses at your website and hope you’ll be able to help. We live in New Port Richey, Pasco Co., FL and live on an acre w/a few gopher tortoises that just do their own thing on our property. Today we saw one of the tortoises w/a bad break in his shell, missing a piece of the shell and much of the shell around this missing piece is white (dead?). he looks horrible. Not going into his burrow. Hanging out near the house. Flies and ants are on his wounded area. What can/should we do?? With today being a Sunday I figured I’d call our vet in the morning and see what they recommend and also Brooker Creek Preserve which is nearby. Thought I’d ask you also. Thanks so much. –Liz

Hi Liz,
Hopefully by now, you have been able to find a vet or wildlife rehabilitator to take care of the tortoise. Sounds like he needs some serious care fast. Write me back if I can help.       Becky

From: ANIMALHOUSE, Date: June 14, 2010, Subject: [lawn mower]
We live in a mobile home park in Ormond Beach and have had two babies in our lot. I did not know what they were until yesterday, when a friend was visiting. They come and go. I am concerned because the park has a lawn mowing service that is not careful about where they mow and the last one showed a scar on it's back. I do not know where they live and am not sure what to do to protect them.       Karen

Hatchling gopher tortoise Mature gopher tortoise

Hi Karen,
The best thing to do is try to work with the group that is in charge of the mowers. Ask them to mow early in the morning, late in the evening, or at the hottest part of the day. The tortoises are more likely in their burrows then and out of harm’s way. I have attached a couple of pictures (click to enlarge). If you can print them out and take them when you talk to someone, it might be helpful. If the people mowing know what they are trying to avoid, they will do better. The one with a finger in the picture is a young animal; the other is an adult.
You want them to keep mowing because the tortoises need short tender grass for food. If it gets too overgrown, the tortoises will leave.
Feel free to write back if I can help more or if you don’t get anywhere with this tactic.       Becky

From: Krista, Date: June 12, 2010, Subject: Identification? Blueberry Tortoise
I live in Colorado, and this tortoise was obtained by the humane society in a raid on a reptile hoarder. His shell was already painted, and he was donated to my class room. The school decided to rid itself of critters and so I have brought him home. I am moving to TX in a month and I believe him to be a gopher tortoise. Is it illegal to own one in Co or TX? Will he survive well in TX (houston) with me? I have a large yard and plans to create flora suitable to him in a protected area so he can be an outdoor tortoise and burrow all he wants. I have not attempted to remove the paint because he is captive and I take him on 3 hour monitored walks a day. It helps me to locate him and he is approximately 7 inches in length (carapace). He adores walking and munching on the Colorado grasses, weeds and cacti...and he likes 'playing' with the orange kitten in the pictures. Can you please confirm him as a gopher tortoise or give me proper identification?Thanks;       krista
P.S. here is a better picture of him in detail. it is hard to see color due to his shell being painted....

George & kitten

Dear Krista,
I suggest you contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and tell them your story. Hopefully, they will issue you a permit to bring the tortoise into Texas and keep him.
I think George is a gopher tortoise, but he could possibly be a desert tortoise, and it is really hard to tell between the two from pictures. If you can find someone that can i.d. him positively “in person”, that would be helpful when you apply for the permit. If you are near a university that has a herpetologist, they might be able to tell you, or if there is a local herp society, someone in it should know.
Please feel free to write me back if you have any problems, or to let me know if things worked out. Best of luck!       Becky

From: Melody, Date: June 12, 2010, Subject: rescued
a small gopher tortoise from a dog. His back shell has a few nicks and there was some very minimal bleeding from a few small punctures on the bottom shell. He's in some leaves and dirt now with a small amount of water. I'm afraid to release him in the same location due to continued presence of dogs. He is approx. 4" long, about the size of a computer mouse. Looking forward to your help. Florida Panhandle Resident

Please try to find a wildlife rehabilitator or vet that has reptile experience and take the tortoise there. If the tortoise’s shell has been compromised, it probably needs some antibiotics.
While you are keeping the tortoise, it is fine to have water available for it to sit in if it chooses, but make sure it can stay dry if it wants.
If you can’t find a place to take it, write me back and tell me your state and city.       Thanks,       Becky

From: ksandsvet Date: June 11, 2010, Subject: 3-legged tortoise
I am a veterinarian in Apopka, just northwest of Orlando. Today I found a gopher tortoise by my fence (thanks to my barking dog); I was going to take it back to the wooded area behind my house (so it wouldn't go into the road and wouldn't be stuck by my fence); after I picked him up (yes, a male) I noticed he only has 3 legs! front right leg is missing; I can feel a stump under his skin which appears healed over. I am going to take him to the clinic tomorrow to x-ray but I'm not sure what I should do with him. I could keep him in a fenced wooded area and feed him, but it would be better if he could be somewhere protected and can breed with females. I don't want to just release him because he can't dig a burrow very well and is at a disadvantage for walking, etc. Any advice? Thanks.       Kristine, DVM

Hi Kristine,
I suggest you contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and see if they know of anywhere that would take an animal for education purposes (zoo, nature center, etc.). The contact information for your regional office is:352-732-1225
When you call, ask to speak to the tortoise biologist. Tell them you are a vet and explain the situation. Hopefully, they can give you some ideas about who might take it. If not, write me back and we’ll come up with another plan.       Becky

From: thedancerspointe, Date: June 7, 2010, Subject: [New tortoise in backyard]
Hi Becky, thanks for your site.
We had a gohper tort. wander into our backyard a couple of days ago. There are plenty of low holes in the fence where he could have come through or can leave by but so far he is still around, We did give him a chunk of lettuce which he seems to love but am not sure what else in the backyard (it's quite big) would be edible to him. I read on yr site that it's illegas to feed them so won't do that but is there something in our backyard that could be harmful to him vegation wise?
We also have a dog that is in the back yard at time and they have "met" and so far no problems. We haven't allowed him out w/o supervision since the tortoise showed up but he seems more afraid of the tortoise than vice-versa.
Should we just leave him and see if he moves along on his own?
Thanks for your help.       katie

Hi Katie,
The best thing to do is let him be and see what he chooses to do. Where has he been going at night? Typically, a gopher tortoise will sleep in a burrow that they dig. If he doesn’t leave or dig a burrow soon, he may not be a gopher; there are other possibilities, but not native ones. If you can send me some pictures of him, that would be helpful.
Good news about the dog. It has been my experience that a dog will either be afraid or get bored after a while and leave the tortoise alone. The only time I have known that a dog has injured or killed a tortoise is when the tortoise was young and still easily eaten. Adult tortoises are safe from most dogs.
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote about tortoises in yards. It has much helpful information. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.       Becky

From: John, Date: June 2, 2010, Subject: injured tortoise
hi, I am quit a tortoise expert myself i am thirteen and i saw a baby gopher turtle or other people call it desert tortoise well anyways he had yellow spots on him but im not asking why he has yellow spots on him because i know that they have that when they are young but they fade away when they get older ,well anyways i noticed that my dogs was about to get him but i picked him up and his shell was soft.I got him in a huge pen outside and i also have sulcata tortoise and they get huge but the sulcata is still 1 or 2 years old or you can call it african spurrthighed.I herd of respitory infection but i want to know why it happend and if well,she would be ok.I figured out that it was a female because the bottom of her shell was flat and males have indentions on the bottom.Well i also want to know if you could help me get a permit for her or should i let her go.tortoise and turtles is my favorite animal.i want to save the gopher tortoise species. thank you. ps       grant.

Hi Grant,
You certainly do sound like a tortoise expert. However, the best thing to do for the baby tortoise is take it back to where you found it and let it go out of harm’s way. Do this in the morning or evening of a warm day when it is not raining. Put it underneath some vegetation so it is hidden from predators.
I know it is tempting to keep the baby, but it is not legal and you would not be able to get a permit to keep one as a pet. Besides, it needs to be out there in the world doing what tortoises are supposed to do, especially making more tortoises. We need all of them we can get.
Good luck with your sulcata. Thanks for caring about tortoises. Feel free to write me back if you have any other questions.       Becky

From: hausnersgirl, Date: May 27, 2010, Subject: question [children taking tortoises]
Hi.       I'm hoping you can help me. I live on 5 acres and my house and my yard is on 2 of the acres. The rest of the land is used for our buisness. (daycare) I have about 5 burrows of gopher turtles on my land. They come and go as they please. What my question is... What can i do to stop parents (picking up their children) from taking our turtles if they see them out? I say "our" turtles cause they are on our land and i would like for people to leave them alone. I stopped a parent today because a baby turtle was near the playground and her child wanted it. I told her to please leave the turtles alone. It really makes me mad. I can't find a websight that can help me with this problem. I was hoping at maybe there is a sign i can post so people can see not to get the turtles. We don't cut the very back of our yard because we like to keep the turtles safe. Please help me....

Sounds like some parent education is in order - maybe a flier to distribute to the parents talking about the tortoises. It should include that gopher tortoises are a protected species and that it is illegal to keep them as pets or move them around. The tortoises are also a good tool for getting the kids interested in nature.
If you would like me to put something together for you, I will be happy to do that. Just let me know.       Becky

From:, Date: May 26, 2010, Subject: [Eyes covered with skin]
I found a baby gopher tortoise in my neighborhood, crossing the street today in the middle of the day. I picked him up and put him in my yard and noticed that his eyes were completly covered with skin. I am not sure if this is just shedding or something more serious. He was also rubbing at them quite a bit and it looked like he may have rubbed off some skin around one of his eyes. I have learned from researching gopher tortoises today that the best thing to do is let him go in a safe place nearby, but I just need to know that his eye issue is not serious and could potentially get him hurt or killed before I put him back out there. Thank you.

Hi Patricia,
I often see and hear about hatchling tortoises having eye problems. You could find a wildlife rehabilitator and take the tortoise there. If you can’t find a place to take it, write me back with your city and state and I will try to help.       Becky

From: Craig, Date: May 23, 2010, Subject: gopher tortoise [in pool]
I have a large gopher tortoise in my swimming pool. I need to start putting chemicals in my pool to clarify the water but I don’t want to hurt the turtle. Every time I see him, he goes underwater. I need to get him out. How long can they stay underwater?       Justin

Dear Justin,
Gopher tortoises are land animals and are not able to spend long periods of time in the water. Regardless of what kind of turtle it is, you need to fish him out of the pool. Try using a net, or get some people to help corral him in one corner so you can grab him. How did he get in there? Please write me back asap with more information and a picture if you can send one so I can help you.       Thanks,       Becky

What kind of tortoise?
Date: May 19, 2010, Subject: I Think I Have A Gopher Tortoise
I live in Colorado and I just recently realized that I might have a Gopher Tortoise. How do I go about finding out if this is a Gopher Tortoise and what do I do from there? I have attached a picture of him, if that will help at all. My email is Thank you for your time.       Yvette

Hi Yvette,
It is definitely some type of tortoise, but I am not sure what kind. Where did it come from? How long have you had it? Any other details you can give me on its history would be very helpful.       Thanks,       Becky

From: alley, Date: May 20, 2010, Subject: Gopher tortoise I think
Hi my name is Alley and my husband and I found what we think is a baby Gopher Tortoise. Now I think he is sick because his eyes have been what looks like glued shut. We left him outside and have had to continue taking him out of this sallow hole. We wouldn’t be taking him out if he wasn’t upside down in the hole ( belly up). We have been keeping in eye on him for the past couple of days and he hasn’t eaten, gone to any water, or moved. We really aren’t sure what to do for the little girl. We are really worried. What can we do? We live in DeLand, FL is their a rehab center near by that we can take her to. Please let us know before she die. Thank you.       -Alley

Alley and hubby,
I found this place on-line. Sounds like what you need, but if that isn’t true, write me back.
Good luck,       Becky

From: Kelly, Date: Fri, May 14, 2010, Subject: Gophers [Safety]

Gopher tortoises
I had a hard choice to make as to pass this tortoise up on interstate 75 or stop and take her 2 miles east in the direction she was heading and release her close to my home as there is much vacant property,we knew there was another living on a vacant lot next to our property,It makes me so angry to see 2 and sometimes 3 or more a week dead on my way to and from work on the interstate,the pics i have attached is what took place 4 days after we released her,we are very fond of them and it would really upset me to see something happen to them.we have no intention of domesticating them but is there anything we can do to assure their safety and to protect them? We only want the best for them.

I understand that it is very difficult to see tortoises in harm’s way and not try to do something. However, moving them far from where you find them is illegal. There are lots of good reasons for that including diseases, genetics, and the ability of the habitat to support the animals. In the future, please just carry them out of immediate danger to the nearest vegetated area.
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that addresses having tortoises in your yard (or next door lots). You might want to do some of the things suggested in that which would help the tortoises already living there. The material is copyrighted, so please use it for your own education only.
Thank you,       Becky

From: kindhart, Date: April 18, 2010, Subject: New Home...Tenant living on property :-)
Buying new home (new for us) in Spring Hill, Florida and found large adult turtle the realtor says is Gopher Turtle living in the back yard. I see from your website that it is illegal to feed the turtle so was wondering who can legally relocate the turtle to safer environment, as we were wanting to fence in yard. Thank you for your help!

I would suggest you try living with the tortoise. It is not likely that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would issue you a relocation permit, and it would be expensive to get it done. Tortoises can easily dig under fences and he will do that if he can’t get what he needs from your yard. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that addresses “yard tortoises”. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only.
Feel free to write back if you have more questions or need more information.       Becky

From: joan, Date: April 18, 2010, Subject: [killing] gopher tortoises
I live in the Ocala National Forest (private land). There are people who live near me whom I believe are trying to kill gophers. I've heard tell of farmers putting burning creosote torches down holes. From time to time I smell burning creosote. I don't have any proof except the smell. I can't imagine why anyone would be burning creosote.

Hi Joan,
I have never heard of the burning creosote torches before. My suggestion is that you call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and tell them your concerns. Or you might just visit your neighbors, ask them about the “peculiar odor”, and see what they say. There might be a logical explanation.

From: Tony, Date: May 11, 2010, Subject: FW: [gopher tortoise in my front yard]
African spur-thighed tortoise
Hi this morning I found a gopher tortoise in my front yard (see attached for picture) which is really weird since I have never seen this type of turtle in Miami. He is a big guy I say about 30 pounds, I read on your web site that the gopher tortoise is endangered and should not be kept as a pet. He or she is currently in my back yard since it is fenced off to keep him from getting hurt. I am not sure if he was a pet he's not scared of me or my dog or cat. What if find weird is that were I live is the city there is a lot of concrete, busy streets, and humans so letting him alone is really not a good option he will be killed by a car or dog. I thought it would be best to leave him in my back yard which is a big yard with a lot of plants, grass and nature and I have been giving it bananas, grapes and lettuce, what do you think.
Thanks for your help.       Tony

Hi Tony,
It is not a gopher tortoise, it is an African spur-thighed tortoise. They are not native to the U.S., but are often sold as pets when they are young and small. People buy them without realizing that they grow quickly and get very large. They are not protected here, so you can feed him and fence him in without breaking any laws. He was probably someone’s pet that either escaped or was released.
You have some choices. If he belongs to someone and escaped, you may be able to find the owner in your neighborhood. Or you can try to find another home for him, such as a zoo, nature center, or school. Or you could keep him, but I would suggest you do your homework before deciding to do that. He will make a great pet, but will require some work and you really need to know what you are getting into before committing. Please don’t take him anywhere and let him go. You are right that he wouldn’t last very long out there on his own.
I have attached links to a couple of good sites that tell about that species of tortoise and how to properly care for them. If you have any questions or concerns, write me back.

From: Wil, Date: May 7, 2010, Subject: Gopher Tortoise and Pesticides
baby gopher tortoise
First, I'd just like to say thank you for all of your hard work. My sister is a manager at KSC and I hear all the time about the interesting wildlife encounters.
I live on 5 acres in Columbia County and am lucky enough to have a few Gopher Tortoises living in my yard. One decided to make his/her burrow about 40 Feet from my back door, and I even found a young Gopher the other day (Attached a pic I thought you might like).
My problem is a rather bad tick infestation this year affecting my yard and neighbors across the street who also have several Gophers in their yard. We want to do something about the ticks, but are afraid any pesticides we get from the local stores may harm the Gophers. I've tried for days to do research with no luck and we don't particularly trust the information from manufacturers or sales persons.
I realize this is probably not the type of question you are used to getting and may have no information, but it was worth a try. My next move is to try the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to see if they have any ideas.
Thank you for your time.       Wil

Hi Wil,
Unfortunately, I don’t have much information as there are no studies done on pesticides and gopher tortoises. Conventional wisdom (i.e., people that should have some insight giving their opinions) is that pesticides likely have deleterious effects on tortoises, and that these impacts go beyond what is caused by loss of food plants. One study done in Greece on Herman’s tortoises showed that a population in an area sprayed with pesticides was less healthy and had higher mortality than a population in an unsprayed area.
So, I would suggest contacting a local agricultural agent and obtaining advice from that person on methods of getting rid of ticks that might be “environmentally friendly”.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: walcath, Date: May 7, 2010, Subject: Sick Tortoise?
A fairly large gopher tortoise has arrived in our yard and has been sitting in one location for two days without moving.
I suspect it is sick, but not sure. It had 2 large deer ticks on its rear leg and we removed them.
Can you give us any suggestions as to how to help?

Hi Walt,
It is unusual for a tortoise to sit still in the open for that long. I would try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator to take it to for an opinion and treatment. Another option is a vet with reptile experience, but that might end up being expensive, depending on the vet. If you need help finding somewhere to take the tortoise, write me back and tell me your state and town.
Thank you for caring.       Becky

From: Jo, Date: May 4, 2010, Subject: gopher turtles [under shed]
Hello, I live in a development in North Lakeland. I believe I have 2 gopher turtles living under my shed. I don’t know a lot about them, other than they are on the endangered species list. Other than just enjoying their company, is there anything else I should do??

Hi Jo,
Gopher tortoises in Florida are protected by State law as a Threatened species. I am so happy that you are enjoying them; so many emails that I get are from people asking how to get them out of their yards. There is nothing that you need to do, but I have attached a chapter from a workbook that explains some things you can do to make your yard more tortoise friendly. This is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
Thanks for writing and let me know if you have any more questions.       Becky

From: Kendra, Date: April 30, 2010, Subject: turned in tortoise
I really hope you can help me with my problem. I am a high school science teacher and one of my students randomly left a gopher tortoise sitting on the floor of my class room. I know it is illegal to keep them and I am going to release it, however, I want to let it go in a habitat that suites it best. What type habitat or area would you suggest I release it in?

The best, and legal, thing to do is find out from the student (or parents) where the tortoise came from and release it there. Otherwise, even if you put it in great habitat, it will still try to find its way home and will likely get run over or hopelessly lost. If it is not possible to take it back , write me and we will figure out Plan B.       Becky

Gopher tortoise male / female difference

From: Justin, Date: April 15, 2010, Subject: [sex?]

How can you tell the sex of a gopher tortoise.. do they have indentions on the bottom of their shells like other turtles?

The plastron (bottom shell) of the male is concave at the tail-end; the female’s is flat. Pictures attached.       Becky


gopher hole?

From: BreeDancer, Date: April 11, 2010, Subject: Borrow Hole ??????
We recently were camping at Ochlockonee State Park and found this hole/ burrow is it possible that it was a Gopher Tortise hole.

It could be a tortoise, but it might also be an armadillo hole. Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish between the two, especially without seeing it live.

From: Cindy, Date: April 13, 2010, Subject: Gopher touroise vs curious dog?
I have recently moved to Ocala, FL where I have learned that I have a gopher turtle. The hole in the side yard (I thought was from a previous tenants dog digging) turns out to be his home. I saw the turtle for the first time today and it is about 15" long, my neighbor informed me that he hasn't been around in awhile because he was moved. My question is could it be the same turtle that found his way home? Do I need to worry if my dog gets curious and gets near the turtle? She is older and would not hurt it, if anything she run from it if it came towards her as she would not know what to make of it. My concern is her sniffing in the hole and getting bitten.
Thanks,       Cindy

Hi Cindy,
It may very well be the tortoise that was there before; they often try to find their way home after being moved. Most of them don’t make it, but maybe this one was lucky. The tortoise won’t bite your dog, and my experience with dogs and tortoises is that the dog will get bored soon and leave it alone. Just make sure the dog doesn’t try to bite the tortoise.
Sounds like you have a new neighbor. Congratulations! Feel free to write back if you have any other questions.

From: Ron, Date: April 9, 2010, Subject: [getting under fence]
I've had a Florida gopher tortoise trying to get under my fence (where my three dogs are trying to get him). I've moved him three days in a row, only to have him return to the EXACT same spot to try to get under the fence again! Any ideas as to why he is doing that?

Apparently, he wants into your yard really badly. I suggest putting something at the spot where he is trying to dig (it must be soft there) and see if he doesn't give up and go away. He may just try somewhere else along your fence, but maybe not. Is letting him into your yard out of the question? My experience with dogs has been that once the novelty wears off, they get bored and stop harassing the tortoise. Unless the dogs are really big and the tortoise is small, the tortoise should be o.k.       Becky

From: Julie, Date: April 5, 2010, Subject: Is this caused by a Gopher Turtle?
Hole in dirt mound.
We have large burrows appearing in our front lawn in the Ocala area. The largest of these burrows is 8 inches high and 30 inches across.
We of course want to do something about it, but the neighbors says these are gopher turtles. We do not see any exit points anywhere near the holes so are confused of whether it is gopher turtles or pocket gophers.
See attached photos.       Thanks,       Julie

Hi Julie,       They are definitely not gopher tortoise burrows.       Becky

From: Glenn, Date: March 25, 2010, Subject: tortoise shells
Hi Friends of the Enchanted Forest,
I am doing a conics project for school, and I was wondering...does the gopher tortoise shell, or any tortoise shell for that matter, have a parabolic shape? If so, what are the dimensions from the front of the shell to the back of the shell? Also What is the length from the top of the shell to the bottom of the shell?
Thank you,       Math Help!

An adult gopher tortoise’s shell averages 9 – 11 inches long; maximum is around 15 inches. From the top of the shell to the bottom (at the opening for the head) is about 3 inches.
Hope this is helpful.       Becky

From: Terri, Date: March 28, 2010, Subject: Question [Endangered?]
Is the Florida gopher tortoise an endangered species?
The reason I ask is because it is illegal to remove a gopher tortoise from where you find him regardless of the conditions; even if the conditions are so bad you know it will not survive you have to just leave it behind and let it die.
Sincerely,       Terri

Dear Terri,
The gopher tortoise is listed by the State of Florida as a Threatened species; it is not federally protected here under the Endangered Species Act, although that is being reviewed.
It is illegal to relocate a tortoise, regardless of the situation, unless you have a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. I know that seems cold, at least from the perspective of that one animal, but there are many good reasons for those laws. They have to do with disease transmission, exceeding the ability of the habitat to support the number of tortoises living there, genetics, etc., etc. These are all biological reasons that have to do with protecting populations of tortoises, even if it means sacrificing individuals.
If you know of a specific circumstance where a tortoise is in danger, you can contact your regional office of the Conservation Commission and let them know. If you need help getting that contact information, or if you have other questions, please write me back.

From: David B., Date: March 22, 2010, Subject: Juvenile Burrows

Good Morning,       I am interested to know what the shape and size is of a juvenile gopher tortoise burrow is when it leaves the adult burrow and excavates its own for the first time. If you have any pics of such I would appreciate you including them with your response.Thank you,       David

Juvenile tortoises can do a number of things after they hatch. Sometimes they immediately dig burrows of their own, or they can just hide out underneath vegetation and wait for many months before digging a burrow. I have attached some pictures of small burrows.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions or need more information.       Becky

Juvenile gopher tortoise burrow #1 Juvenile gopher tortoise burrow #2 Juvenile gopher tortoise burrow #3

From: Jennifer, Date: March 20, 2010, Subject: baby turtle QuestionJen's baby gopher tortoise.
Hi,       We have many gopher tortoises on our 11 acres. I have found baby ones before and left them alone. I found one the other day and it has not moved for 2 days. He has his head out just a little bit and when I pick him up he slowly pulls it in. That is the extent of any movement. Is this normal? How old do you think he is? I just put him in a box and brought him inside. Should I put him back outside? I am in Vero Beach, FL.
One other thing. His eyes are completely closed all the time.
Thanks for your help. Great website!       Jen

Hi Jen,
It looks like the tortoise is probably last spring’s hatch. I would definitely put him back outside as soon as possible. The weather has been so crazy, he might have gotten too cold and wasn’t able to find a good place to hide. As soon as the temperature is above 70, put him somewhere that is sunny, but underneath some vegetation in the shade. An even better option is to put him inside a gopher tortoise burrow.
You might try washing his eyes with some saline solution (safe for human eyes) and see if that helps him get them open. If not, you could take him to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
Write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Ian, Date: March 19, 2010, Subject: How much should my tortoise eat and what?
We have had an American Gopher Tortoise for a number of years and have been told that he is approximately 50 years old; we are still unsure how much food we should provide him with, can you help?
We currently provide him with:
      Lettuce (English round)
      Runner beans
      Horseradish leaves
He won’t eat any fruit, beans (pulses) or tomatoes can you recommend other foods that are available in the UK that we should try?
Regards,       Ian

Hi Ian,
The best advice I can give you is to provide variety. In the wild, gopher tortoises eat several hundred species of plants, and will change their diet according to the season and even the time of day. Because they are cold-blooded, their digestion is very dependent on the air temperature.
Keep trying whatever fruits and vegetables you can get. I had one that loved bananas, skin and all. Grapes are good, too. I don’t know what you have available easily. Maybe you could find a market or restaurant that would be willing to give you their leftovers at the end of the day.
How did you end up with a gopher tortoise in England?       Write me back.      Becky

From: Andy, Date: March 16, 2010, Subject: Manmade Tunnel for Gopher Tortoises
Gopher tortoise burrow in a berm.

We have a few Gopher Tortoises at our site that we care for.
Their pen is in a low lying patch of ground where water collects & floods.
Is there a method to create an artificial Tortoise tunnel above ground—out of say, wide PVC drainage pipe?
Andy Frank, Parks Specialist

Hi Andy,
One of the favorite places that tortoises love to put their burrows is in berms. These are longitudinal dirt piles that are intended to block something from the surrounding habitat, like a percolation pond or gas tanks, etc. I am not an engineer, so I don’t know the specifics of building a berm, but people do it all of the time. If you think this is something you might be interested in finding out more about, write me back.
Picture attached.      Becky

From: chad, Date: March 8, 2010, Subject: tortoise research
My daughter is doing a research project on the gopher tortoise and needs to know why they were plentiful during the Great Depression. we are having a difficult time finding an answer. Can you please help us? Thank you

My guess is that they were more plentiful in some areas than they are now because there was less development and more habitat for them. On the other hand, I know that they were a popular free food item for people that lived in areas where tortoises occurred and were impacted by the Great Depression.

From: M Edwards, Date: March 4, 2010, Subject: Fine?
I keep seeing articles about a fine for disturbing turtles, burrows or eggs but I can't find the fine. How much is it and is there a fine and/or jail time?
Thanks, M. Edwards, Central Florida

Hi, The maximum fine is $500 and 60 days in jail for each count.      Becky

From: noahsark1961, Date: February 1, 2010, Subject: soft shell on baby gopher
I have a baby gopher turtle (aprox 1 yr old). It has a soft shell on the bottom and on the sides. It is lively and eats. I provide water daily. Please help me with this.Thank you      Connie

Hi Connie,
The first thing I must tell you is that it is illegal to keep a gopher tortoise without the appropriate state or federal permit, depending on where you are located. If you do not have a permit, please write me back and I can help you figure out what to do.
It is normal for gopher tortoises’ shells to be somewhat soft for several years, usually until they are around 5. That being said, it is very important that the tortoise have access to the right kinds of food and shelter for it to be healthy and the shell to be in good shape. If you have questions regarding this, please let me know.

From: Carmen, Date: January 25, 2010, Subject: Gopher Tortoise Question [habitat]
We moved into a wooded area that has a lot of oak trees, cherry laurels, fern. We live on 3 acres of land and about 2 of the acres is wooded and dense. We created walking paths, placed mulch on the paths and while doing so discovered there are numerous gopher tortoise burrows in the area. Will the mulch on the paths be detrimental to the turtles? Also, we put up a wooden fence but created man made burrows under the fence along the fence line to encourage travel between properties. Will this work, or again will this hurt the turtles?
I am working feverishly to find out more about these creatures and realize that we have perhaps altered their lifestyle by putting up the fence and the paths…but I am willing to try to protect them and nurture them in any way possible.
Thanks for your input.      Carmen

Hi Carmen,
It sounds like you are doing all of the right things. The tortoises will have no problem getting across the mulch. As far as the fence goes, if you hadn’t been so kind as to dig passages for them, they probably would have eventually dug their own. I imagine that they will certainly use what you have provided.
The best thing you can do to encourage the use of your property by tortoises is to keep the grass mowed and the unwooded parts as open as possible. Controlled burning would be best for habitat management, but I realize that a fire on your property may not be feasible. Mechanical treatment of the vegetation is the next best thing.
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that may have some helpful information for you. Please use it for your own education because it is copyrighted material. Feel free to write me back if I can help.      Becky

From: Kate, Date: January 22, 2010, Subject: turtle question [white head]  
I know that you are a gopher turtle expert and this is out of your field, but I was hoping you may know the answer. We have a box turtle that has been coming up to the porch to get treats for the last ten years, before that my aunt fed him/her for many years. She fed the turtles for the thirty or so years she lived there, but I'm not sure when this one moved in other than she said it was a long time ago.  We know he is old, his head has turned a yellowy white. There was also another one she thought was older that had white as well that passed away. My question is do turtle's heads change colors after reaching a certain age? Is there any way to know how old he is? Thank you for your time.      Katie

Hi Katie,   I had no idea about your question, but  asked a good friend of mine that is a retired herpetologist and pretty much knows everything there is to know about reptiles.  He told me that when some alligator snapping turtles get very old, their heads turn yellow.  He has also seen box turtles with white heads, so that may be a sign of age.  However, we don't know when this happens or if it is only the males or females or both sexes.    Hope this is helpful.  Feel free to write me back. Becky

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