Gopher Tortoise -- "Ask the Expert" -- 2011

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From: Jim, Subject: Gopher tortoise DNA analysis question, Date: December 19, 2011

Has anyone completed this type of DNA analyses for eastern gopher tortoises?

140 New Species Described by California Academy of Sciences in 2011 from

A Tale of Two Tortoises
In a ZooKeys article published this year, Academy curator emeritus Alan Leviton and colleagues, collaborating with Dr. Robert Murphy of the Royal Ontario Museum, solved the identity crisis of the desert tortoise Gopherus agassizii -- a saga almost as old as the Academy itself. First, by sifting through the original species description in The Proceedings of the California Academy of Natural Sciences (as the Academy used to be called), they determined that the species was first described in 1861, not 1863 as had long been thought. Next, they deduced that one of the three original specimens used to describe the species was likely lost during the most devastating event in the Academy's history -- the 1906 earthquake and fire. (A second specimen is currently housed at the Smithsonian, while the whereabouts of the third remain unknown.) Third, they reviewed the tumultuous taxonomic history of the species, which has changed its genus name five times in the past 150 years. Finally, using DNA analysis, they concluded that G. agassizii is not one, but at least two distinct species -- one that lives to the northwest of the Colorado River in California and Nevada (G. agassizii), and one that lives to the southeast of the river in Arizona and Mexico (a new species, which they named Gopherus morafkai).
This newfound clarity has important implications for conservation, because the geographic range of G. agassizii is now only 30% of its former range. Having significantly declined in numbers over the past three decades, it may warrant a higher level of protection than its current "threatened" status. And now that G. morafkai has a distinct name and its own identity, its conservation status can be evaluated as well.

Jim Beever
Southwest Florida Reginal Planning Council
1926 Victoria Avenue
Fort Myers, Florida 33901
Telephone (239) 338-2550 ext 224
Fax (239) 338-2556

The link below is to the “12-Month Finding on a Petition to List the Gopher Tortoise as Threatened in the Eastern Portion of its Range”. Near the beginning, in the taxonomy and genetics section, there are several articles referenced that should be helpful to you.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: Steveb239, Subject: Gopher Tortoise Relocation, Date: December 1, 2011
We have concerns about a permit issued to Babcock to relocate Gopher Tortoises. The relocation site is located near the intersection of 2 arterial roads, SR 31 and CR 78, in Lee County. SR 31 is being studied for widening to 4 lanes (widening will be to the east toward the relocation site). The site had been identified as Scrub Jay habitat but Scrub Jays have not been seen there in several years due to many years without fire. More that 2 years ago we asked the developer to do a controlled burn but he's not responded. A biologist who has studied Scrub Jays told me the area has become too overgrown.
The permit is attached. Can you comment?
Thank you,
Steve Brodkin

Hi Steve,

This looks like a thorough job on the application permit. If I understand correctly, you are concerned that the recipient site is not good because of road mortality potential and lack of fire. I suggest that you call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and tell them your concerns. The recipient site should be as good or better than the donor site, so maybe fire is in the management plan. The problem with making the recipient nice good is that it might exacerbate the road mortality problems. When you contact the FWC, ask to speak to a biologist.
Let me know how it goes or if you need more information.       Becky

From: connie, Subject: Mating, Date: November 28, 2011
What time of the year do gopher tortoises mate.
Thank you, Connie, Workcamper MINWR

Hi Connie,
“Spring” is the answer, but you have to remember that spring comes at different times over the geographic range of the tortoise. Here in central Florida, we see mating in March/April. However, male tortoises will chase females around most any time of year.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: Kimberly, Subject: Renting a home with Gopher Tortoises, Date: November 27, 2011
My friend has recently rented a home with gopher tortoise holes in the backyard. My friend has two labs, and one of the holes goes under the chain link fence. We are trying to figure out how to keep the dogs in and the hole still available to the tortoises. Also, what instructions should she give to her lawnmowers regarding the holes? We are hoping that everyone can coexist peacefully!

Thanks!       Kim

Hi Kim,
Maybe you could close the hole in with some dirt enough to dissuade the dogs. You can’t completely block the hole, and the tortoise would probably just dig it out again anyway. It is good for the lawn to get mowed so the grass stays short and available for the tortoises to eat. I would take pin flags and mark the burrows so the mowers can see them and not run over them. If the grass gets tall around the mouth of the burrow, I would weed-eat there.
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote about having tortoises in your yard. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
Write back if you have other questions, and enjoy the neighbors!       Becky

From: Brian, Subject: From: Molly, Date: June 8, 2011, Subject: Tortoise {what kind?}, Date: November 21, 2011
Hi, Rebecca - I'm a gopher tortoise fan who lives down on Marco Island, where we have an amazing population of tortoises living in close proximity with people. You're doing such a great job with the site - thanks!
Regarding this inquiry -
From: Molly, Date: June 8, 2011, Subject: Tortoise {what kind?}
... the tortoise in question is a juvenile leopard tortoise, a cousin of the sulcata. If anyone ever needs a home for a leopard, red foot, or yellow foot tortoise, I keep and breed them. Feel free to refer them to me.
Keep up the great job with the site!

Hi Brian,
Thanks for the kind words about the site. We have a great webmaster that keeps things up and running.
Even more thanks for the kind offer of help with wayward tortoises. Most of the questions I get come from people with sulcatas, but I occasionally do get emails about the other species. I will keep your contact info handy and gladly refer them to you.
Thanks,       Becky

From: Nancy, Subject: my dog vs gopher turtle, Date: November 19, 2011
I have a GT that burrowed on the other side of my fence, my dog goes ballistic and tries to dig under the fence to get at the GT. I take my dog back in the house, but now I have to watch before I let my dog out to make sure that she doesn't try to get it again. The GT doesn't seem a bit concerned. Also, my dog ate a baby GT and swallowed it, but seems to be okay. I thought she would get sick.

Gopher tortoises are legally protected by every state. They are federally protected in Mississippi and Louisiana, and are a candidate for federal protection in the rest of the range. You need to either prevent your dog from being able to reach the tortoises, or train her to leave them alone. If she is stubborn, you might need to hire a professional trainer. You are ultimately responsible for your dog’s behavior.

From: Robert V, Subject: Gopher tortise [trapped in yard], Date: November 16, 2011
Hi, I just moved into a home in Fl. and we have a small Gopher turtle in our yard. This turtle dug a burrow in our yard after we put up a farm fence and gate. I am hoping he goes in and out under our gate which has a 4 or 5 inch gap at the bottom. I have seen him outside the fence, but I am not sure if it is when the gate was open or not? We only have the 1 burrow in our yard which is 1/2 acre. Today I saw him roaming up and down the fence line, trying to go to our neighbors yard, but he will not dig under the fence. I can't keep the gate continually open due to us having a dog. I really love having this little guy in our yard, but I certainly don't want to trap him in if he wants out. Any suggestions would be appreciated, I just want to do what is best for the turtle. Thank you, Rob

Hi Rob,
He might eventually decide to dig under the fence if he wants back in your yard badly enough. However, you could always dig out the dirt for him in a few places so that he can scoot under. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote several years ago that talks about having tortoises in your yard. It has some interesting information that you might enjoy. The material is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please.

From: rmcm2, Subject: recycled asphalt & GT's, Date: November 16, 2011
A dirt path with according to the City "lots of sugar sand" runs along a power line and drainage easement. It also contains numerous gopher tortoises. The path has always been dirt for the last 18 years that I have owned my property which includes the easement. Recently the City decided to sure up the path wih recycled asphalt. This material is less expensive than crushed rock. The City needs access to monitor the drainage easement at least monthly. They stated their trucks were almost getting stuck in the sand. What effect is there, if any, on the gopher tortoises by this use of recycled asphalt?
Michele in Lake Mary, FL

Please contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and tell them what is happening. At the very least, the City should have evaluated the potential impacts to the tortoises before making the change to asphalt.
Let me know if you need more help.       Becky

From: denaeisaiah, Date: November 15, 2011, Subject: [my girl desert tort]

Desert Tortoise
Hi I am a new owner of my girl desert tort; my nieghbors had me babysit the tort then ended up giving her to me knowing I am a reptile lover! She had a bit of a runny nose when I got her 3 weeks ago and so I did not hibernate her; I have her inside at night at a regulated temp of 80 to 85 does that sound about right temp wise? And any tips and advice would be greatly appreciated! I haven't seen any signs of a runny nose since she's been at a regualted temp; she is still eating everyday and I feed her outside once the sun is shining and it warms up a little. I live in Tucson so it's nice here most of the time. What are some of the best nutritional foods for a desert tortoise to eat? I have read a lot of contradictional things so I would like to be certain she's receiving the right amouts oftort friendly foods! Thanks in advance! Denae

Hi Denae,
I know lots about gopher tortoises, but very little about desert tortoises, and they are very different animals. Here is the link to the Desert Tortoise Council website. It has much information, including contact information so you can ask desert tortoise experts your questions.
Good luck and have fun!       Becky

From: Patrick, Date: November 15, 2011, Subject: Why do Gopher Tortoises seem to fight?
My wife and I frequent Smryna Dunes park in Volusia County, Florida. I'm sure you're aware of the huge number of GTs that inhabit the park. We love to watch them but on occasion we witness what appears to be a fight between two of the animals. One will ram the other, sometimes with such force that the one rammed will be flipped over. Perhaps you can enlighten us.
Thank you,       Patrick

Hi Patrick,
Gopher tortoises live in groups, but they are somewhat territorial when it comes to burrows and mates (maybe food resources, too). I have often seen males battling over a nearby female, and have had other researchers tell me of incidences of females fighting.

Box Turtle From: 3525842964, Date: November 9, 2011, Subject: [Is this a gopher tortoise?]

Found what I think is gopher turtle. It is younger and different colors than I normally see. it is orange colored skin with orange yellowish 7 brown shell. Can you tell me what kind of turtle it is? I live 45 mi. N. of Tampa in Spring Hill

It is a box turtle.

From: Bev, Date: November 9, 2011, Subject: re: ridding this digging turtle
Each year I have this gopher turtle that digs a humongous hole next to my house and foundation! How do I get rid of this digging creature? It is destroying the bushes around where it digs!!

Hi Beverly,
I personally think that having a gopher tortoise in the yard is a whole lot more fun, educational, and cooler than a million bushes. However, if you would like to have the tortoise removed, you must apply for a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( ). Gopher tortoises are legally protected from harm and/or harassment in the State of Florida.       Becky

From: Denise, Date: October 19, 2011, Subject: Dog attacking baby gopher tortoise
Our dog keeps attacking the baby tortoise and although I have moved the tortoise outside the fence and on the other side of the house, he keeps returning to the fenced in back yard where the dog is.
I know of two burrows used by large adult tortoises but when I put the baby near the adult as it traversed our yard to its burrow on our back lot they ignored each other.
What can I do to help the baby?
Thanks for any advice,

The tortoise will probably keep going back to the area that is its home. Can you block the dog from there? Can you discipline him (gently) when he bothers the tortoise? You might try putting the little tortoise into one of the adult burrows (they often will share), but I can’t guarantee that will work.
It is much easier to modify a dog’s behavior than a tortoise’s. Reptiles act based on instinct, not intelligence, and that is impossible to change.

From: Lee, Date: October 15, 2011, Subject: Tortoise has dug burrow into fill around our house -- what to do
We live on a sand ridge in rural Brevard County, in Micco, near the Indian River County line. There is a large burrow across the street (so big a family of foxes inhabited it last spring). Needless to say we are in a somewhat rural area and like wildlife.
Recently a tortoise has begun digging a burrow into the fill surrounding our house. Our house is on a sloping lot so the south end had about three feet of fill added to keep it level.
I have two related concerns around the possibility of the collapse of the burrow:
1. will this burrow eventually compromise the structural integrity of our house?
2. will the weight of the house eventually collapse the burrow and bury the tortoise?
Any information or advise will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks,       Lee Newell

Hi Lee,
I love the area around Micco. There is so little left in Brevard County that is comparable. How many people have foxes living across the road? I am just thankful that you are happy about it and not trying to figure out how to get rid of “the vermin”.
I often get questions from folks when a tortoise has burrowed next to a structure, and I have never seen or heard of anything being compromised because of it. I also would not be concerned about the burrow collapsing and trapping the tortoise. They choose where to dig using their instincts, so they won’t place a burrow in a dangerous spot. However, during really torrential rains or if heavy equipment drives over the burrow, it might collapse. If that were to happen, the tortoise is quite capable of digging out. They are bulldozers and I have seen burrows through black top.
So, I wouldn’t worry and you should enjoy your new neighbor! Feel free to write back if you have more questions.

From: Jesse Ruth, Date: October 14, 2011, Subject: Pretty sure this is a gopher tortoise.
Gopher tortoise by my fence.Found this fellow trying to bull his way through my fence. So I figured the neighborly thing to do would be to get a shovel and dig him a little access ramp under the fence. He came in and cruised around for a bit eating weeds and grass then came back to the hole I dug and went back out. Attached a couple pics for you to verify that it is a gopher. Also of note is the small red paint spot on his back. Is this a marking for a study?

Hi Jess,
It is a gopher tortoise. It was kind of you to dig him a passageway. If he wanted in badly enough, he would have eventually dug it himself, but you saved him expending a lot of energy. He may be back and come and go, or he may have just been passing through.
Looks like nail polish on his shell. I doubt it is an official research marking and is probably from someone who is just interested in being able to identify him.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky


From: Joan, Date: October 6, 2011, Subject: [landscape]
I am designing a gulf front landscape to attract gopher tortoises. Any suggestions for native plants that will provide good food for them?
Thank you,       Joan

Hi Joan,
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that should have good information for you. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please. If you have further questions, feel free to write me back.       Becky

From: Pat, Date: October 2, 2011, Subject: Hi [identify?]
We found a tutle in traffic with a high rounded shell with yellow markings. We brought it to uur lake but it wanted in the bushes. It is about 5-6" long. What do we have?
Best Regards,      Pat

Hi Pat,
It sounds like a box turtle, but I can’t be sure without a picture. Search on the web for box turtle pictures and see if it looked like that. Don’t be too concerned that the colors match perfectly because there is variability. Look at the shell shape and face, etc. Box turtles are land animals, which would explain its preference for the bushes. I am glad you didn’t throw it into the lake!
If you took any pictures, send me some and I will be able to tell you..       Becky

From: V, Date: September 28, 2011, Subject: Tortoise hole?

Armadillo hole
I was wondering if you could tell me if the hole shown in the attached photos is that of a tortoise or of some other animal, perhaps an armadillo. We live on an oak and pine wooded property, on a lake, in Eustis (Lake County). The property is (chain link) fenced so I'm not sure how it would've gained access.
The ruler is 12" The hole is between our water filtration system and the fence we use to cover it.
Any aid would be appreciated. The opening has cause our system to tilt and we'll have to do something about it before something cracks; PVC pipes, y'know.
Please advise if you have any issues decompressing the file. Thanks in advance for your time!       Vanessa

Hi Vanessa,       The hole and the tracks look like they are from an armadillo.       Becky

From: Fran, Date: September 27, 2011, Subject: HIBERNATION
I have a gopher and think its hibernating, at what temperature do they go into hibernation
It dug a den in yard by fence about a month ago he has been coming in and out and eating it has been about three days since I seen him – is it possible something has eaten him or he left. What time to they begin to hibernate in central Florida.
Thanks and have a great day!       Roland

Hi Roland,
Gopher tortoises in central Florida don’t hibernate. When the temperature gets too cold or too hot for them to be comfortable (they are cold-blooded and can’t regulate their own body temperatures), they can stay in a burrow for weeks, even months, at a time. However, as soon as the temperature is good again, they will come out, regardless of the time of year.
There could be several different explanations for why the tortoise hasn’t come out for a few days. He might just not want to be down there and will come out when he’s ready. Or, if he only recently showed up in your yard, he might have just been “passing through” and will not return. Or, because tortoises dig several burrows within their home ranges, he might be using another burrow elsewhere and will be back to your burrow later.
I hope this is helpful. Write me back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: Tc, Date: September 27, 2011, Subject: Turtles in my pond.
      Hello. I hope you don't mind me asking you some questions. I have no
one else to ask.
      I live on 1.9 acres in West Palm Beach. I have a rather large pond in
my front yard. We used to have many turtles in the pond. I don't know
where they have gone. We now have a boxer turtle in there and a long
neck turtle. He is not scared of us.
      I want to start feeding him. What do I buy? Where do I put it? When is
the best time to feed them? The big one comes right up to the edge of
the water to eat bread.
      Do they come out of the water at all? If so when?
      Can I buy more turtles and place them in the pond?
      Where do I buy them?
      How have they survived all these years if I have not fed them?
      About a month ago my Husband ran over some eggs with the lawn mower.
      We were so upset. We think they were turtle eggs. Can they lay out in
the open in my yard like that? When is the mating season, when do they
lay their eggs? When should I should look out for the eggs? I want to
be more aware of it from now on. I would love for them to have babies.
      Can two different types of turtles lay eggs together?
      Thank you so much for your information. I just want them to have a
better quality of life than they have been having.       Carrieanne

Hi Carrieann,
      The number of turtles in your pond could be influenced by a number of things. There has to be enough food for everybody, but water quality, other more dominant turtles, the need for mates, etc., etc., could make the population go up and down.
      Quite frankly, I am not a big fan of feeding wild animals. Turtles have survived for millions of years without being taken care of by humans, and they might very well outlive us. If you feed them, you will not know if you are giving them the proper diet to be healthy, or if you are giving them “junk food” that fills them up, but doesn’t provide the nutrients that they need. Also, supplemental feeding might cause them to have more young, and eventually, they will get overcrowded. This will diminish the water quality in the pond (too many bodies and too much poop) and there will be a die-off.
      My suggestion is to let them be. When the pond is in natural balance, there should be plenty of food for the number of turtles that can live in it and be healthy.
      Feel free to write back if you have other questions.      Becky

From: Rebecca, Date: September 21, 2011, Subject: gopher tortoise in retention area
I live in a small subdivision in south Titusville, there are many runoff retention areas in the neighborhood that are home to many gopher tortoise. If the neighborhood were on lower land, there may be water, but even in the rainy season it is dry & sandy, we call the one behind our home the sand pit. In our sand pit there are 3 tortoise. None of the neighbors mind them & most of us like them. The problem is that every once in a while the city (I believe) comes in & mows the sand pit. It's obvious that they simply run across in straight lines & pay no attention to the burrows. As a protected species, what can we do to protect the burrows? Stakes & rope around them like sea turtle nests on the beach? Do we need some kind of official statement or gopher tortoise survey? I'd be happy to do whatever legwork needs to be done to protect our gopher tortoise neighbors.       thank you,       Rebecca

Hi Rebecca,
You don’t need a special permit to mark the burrows as long as you don’t impede the tortoises from entering or exiting. I would take one wooden stake and put it in the ground next to each burrow, making sure not to block the burrow entrance, and tie a piece of brightly colored flagging tape on each stake. Then contact the city, give them the location information and tell them that you have marked the burrows (tell them how many) so the mowers can avoid running over them. If you have a digital camera, you could send them pictures as well. Be sure they don’t think that you want them to quit mowing, because the grass needs to be kept short for it to be good tortoise food. Try to contact a supervisor with the city and be sure to get their name.
Hopefully, that will do the trick. If not, write me back.       Have a good weekend and thanks for caring.       Becky

From: JRieve, Date: September 20, 2011, Subject: Is This A Gopher Tortoise?
Florida Box Turtle

Dear Becky,       My wife and I live in the Florida Panhandle near Destin. Our yard is filled with Gopher Apple and we have often wondered if Gopher Tortoises inhabit our environs. This morning, we came across the tortoise below and wondered if indeed it might be a Gopher Tortoise. He or she was approximately 8 or 9 inches from end to end. The yellow markings on its head would seem to indicate that it may not be a Gopher Tortoise. Could you help us out with an expert identification of our reptilian neighbor? Thanks, Jan and April R

Hi Jan and April,
It is a Florida box turtle. Congratulations on the new neighbor!
Feel free to write back if you have more questions or want information.       Becky

From: hotton2, Date: September 17, 2011, Subject: [Drown?]
I had a gopher tortoise living in a burrow on my property. We had a very very hard rain about a week and a half ago and I have not seen him since. Is it possible that he drown in his den ?       Thanks

I doubt that the tortoise drowned. They have good instincts that prevent those kinds of things. He probably just moved out to another burrow that is dry somewhere in his home range. He may be back later.       Becky

From: renee, Date: September 16, 2011, Subject: Rescue
I recently saved a tortoise from sure death on a four lane hwy. I brought to a lake near my home. Did I do the right thing for the tortoise?
Sincerely,       A caring human

Dear CH,
The first thing I have to tell you is that relocating gopher tortoises without a permit is illegal. However, I know that it is very difficult to ignore an animal you are pretty sure is going to get killed.
Where is the tortoise now? If you are keeping it in captivity, you need to find a wildlife rehabilitator, nature center, zoo, or other facility that has a permit to keep the tortoise and take it there.       Becky

From: Sarka, Date: September 14, 2011, Subject: Tortoise or armadillo burrow? See September 28
I live by the beach in st. Augustine, FL. I have been gone all summer, and now that I have returned I have found 2 rather large Burroughs at my house. I also found a not too deep trench going under my picket fence, being used as a little road, no more than 8" depression. One of the burrows is in fine sand that goes under some wood stairs and further on under my house. The other burrow is on the opposite side of the house, by the driveway about 200' away. It is dug into an area under tall wild cherry trees. The burrow was dug through lots of thin roots before hitting sand. Both burrows are in deep shade areas. There are no small diggings in my yard - nothing seems to be looking for grubs. Do I have an Armadillo or a tortoise?My yard has no grass it is mostly mulched and has natural growth. It is very overgrown and I need to clean it out - now that I am back after all this time. What should I not remove - I don't want to remove food sources...       - Sarka

Hi Sarka,
If you can email me some pictures, that would be helpful. Even then, I can’t promise that I will be able to tell if the burrows belong to armadillos or tortoises. Sometimes it is difficult even when you are standing there looking at a burrow to tell for sure. However, if you send some pictures, I will try.
Keep your eyes open during the day. As hot as it is right now, tortoises will be out during the morning and evening hours, but armadillos will mostly be active at night.       Becky

From: Rainie, Date: September 9, 2011, Subject: Gopher tortoises in my yard
Could you send me info about how to make yard safe for the gopher tortoises. I have many in my back yard that come and go. I've seen small golf ball sized ones in the last several weeks. I want to make sure they are not going to eat anything that could hurt them. I saw you had sent a chapter from a book that a friend of your wrote. Could you email that to me?
Thank you,       Rainie Meyers

Hi Rainie,
Chapter is attached. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
Thanks,       Becky

From: Barb, Date: September 7, 2011, Subject: nearby gopher burrow - can we get a copy from the workbook?
Hi,       We live in a very rural area of North/Central Florida and there are at least four gopher tortoises in the vicinity that we know about. I noticed that you have been sharing a page of information with others that are also neighbors of gopher tortoises, and was hoping you would share with us.
We have shared leftover carrots, corn, lettuce and spinach. That stuff disappears, but we also have many wild animals around so it could also be the turkeys or racoons or who knows what. Anyway, we don't want to make it sick, so please let us know what not to share. We are vegans, so no meat or dairy would ever get shared. Is bread okay? We eat some multigrain stuff made without dairy or eggs... Would it like sweet potatoes? We had a huge crop this year...       Barb

Hi Barb,
The first thing I have to tell you is that it is illegal to feed the tortoises, and it really isn’t a good idea anyway. Their diets are very complicated and change seasonally, and even during different times of the day (it has to do with their cold-blooded metabolism). If they are filling up on food that is easily accessible, they won’t expend the energy to go find what they really need. It’s analogous to people constantly hitting the Taco Bell drive-through instead of making something healthy at home (I know that as vegans, you can certainly relate to that J).
I have attached the chapter a friend of mine wrote for a class he used to teach. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please. I have also included website addresses that have lots of good tortoise information.
Sounds like you have a very cool situation and lifestyle. Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: Debbie, Date: September 6, 2011, Subject: Fwd: [need info re: turtle in yard]
Hello, I have found one in my yard today in Port St. John. Could you send me the material for living with one in your yard and also the website and /or phone number for the local FWC in this area. Not sure I want it in my yard.
Thank You       Debbie

Hi Debbie,
I have attached the chapter about tortoises living in yards. This is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only. I have also included a website address for a site where you can learn about tortoises.
I just tried to get the web address for our regional FWC office, but the entire FWC site is down right now. If you search on FWC northeast region (once their site is back up), there will be contact information you can use.
I hope that after reading the material, you will decide that you are really lucky to have a tortoise as a neighbor. Feel free to write me back if you need more information or have other questions.       Becky

From: Shellenberger, Date: September 6, 2011, Subject: Tortoise Eggs
I have found on two occasions eggs that I am sure are Gopher Tortoise eggs. To prevent the raccoons and other animals from eating them what should I do? Can I incubate them so as to help them survive?

If you found eggs on the surface of the ground (they are supposed to be buried in a nest), the eggs are not going to hatch anyway. Sometimes they get dug up by predators that eat some of them, but get full and leave. Also, this late in the nesting season, females will just drop unfertilized eggs on the ground instead of carrying them around all winter.
Feel free to write me back if you need more information or have more questions.       Becky

From: Tara, Date: September 3, 2011, Subject: Tortoise question [Numbers on carapace]
Hello! My name is Tara, I am visiting relatives in Deland Florida. I helped a female Gopher cross the road today. She was beautiful and I took a few pics. I wanted to look at her and take more pics of her, but the cars were roaring by. I did notice that on her carapace, she had six numbers painted on her. Is this significant in your research? What are these numbers for? I.D?? Who if anyone should I report these numbers to? If you have any infor for me if would be wonderful! In closing, I LOVE tortoises and was so blessed to have helped her!

Hi Tara,
Can you tell me more precisely where you saw the tortoise? It may be an animal that someone marked for a research project, or someone might have marked it for fun.
Thanks so much for helping it along. We lose way too many along our highways.       Becky

From: Rachel, Date: August 28, 2011, Subject: please!! i need your help!
Couple questions…..i have a red eared slidedr tortoise name jack and he some how flipped over on his back...when I figured out he was laying on his back, his eyes were closed and he looked like he was dead but wasn’ I was wondering how long they can survive on there backs???
And I live in Michigan and somehow a tortoise tagged along in our car after we came home from florida...we did research and figured out that it’s a gopher tortoise!!!! What do I do...can I give it to a local zoo?? They are illegal to have so if I gave it to a zoo would they give me a fine???? I need help please!!!!! I know you are the person I need....i believe that you can help me so please give me allll the help you can!       Rachel

Turtles and tortoises can stay alive on their backs for a long time. That is how large ships in the old days would carry them as food for their journeys. That being said, it isn’t healthy for them and you should try to figure out how your turtle was able to flip onto his back and fix it so he can’t.
Regarding the tortoise: Please find a wildlife rehabilitator, zoo, or nature center to take the animal. You might also try looking for an Amphibian and Reptile Breeders’ club. Now that the animal has been taken out of Florida, the State will not allow it back in, so you have to find a home for it somewhere. Do not release it because it will never survive the winter in Michigan.
Please let me know what you have found for it, or if you need any more information or advice.       Becky

From: mike, Date: August 19, 2011, Subject: Removal
I know of a place in the middle of a s. Fla city, surrounded by fast paced streets and bldgs, that has a small population of gophers. As with most places below the palm bch line, all we have left of natural areas are lil " islands". A shame. I've had a lifetime of gopher experience and have a q for u. Too many r in this small population. If some were to be bad is the problem of their respiratory disease affecting others as well as their territorial personality. Please tell me the laymans real world way and.not the by the book way, if u will. Thanks!!!!!

The real-world answer is that it is illegal to move gopher tortoises without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you would like to contact them, your regional office information can be found here:
It is true that there are many small islands with a few tortoises that are biologically useless, as far as the big picture goes. However, sometimes these populations are good “educators”, particularly if the local people know and appreciate them. Also, moving tortoises can easily spread diseases (respiratory and others), disrupt the social system of the tortoises already in the area, and put stress on the available resources such as food and good burrow sites. Relocation should only be done as a last resort and with good preparation and follow-up.
Feel free to write back if you have more questions.       Becky

From: Sonia, Date: August 20, 2011, Subject: gopher?
Gopher Tortoise?
my mom found him/her in the back yard. It has made 2 burrows already! could you email me and let me know what it is? Thanks       Sonia

It is a gopher tortoise. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote that you might find helpful. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
Feel free to write back if you have questions or need more information.       Becky

From: Sandra, Date: August 21, 2011, Subject: Sulcatta Tortoises
My name is Sandra Straub and I have been rescuing African Sulcatta tortoises from New York and other colder states for over two years. I now have 20 of them on my five acres in Palm City, Florida. I want to find a home for my larger guys (they are all males) and was wondering if you know where I can find a home for them—a wildlife preserve or a zoo—not a private residence. I want to know they will be cared for. Thank you for your suggestions.       Sandra

Hi Sandra,
I suggest that you get on-line and get the entire list of zoos in however large an area you want to drive/ship the animals. Contact them all. I know that zoos and nature centers have been overwhelmed with animals during the last few years, so it may not be easy to find homes.
Best of luck. Sounds like you have been doing a really good thing.       Becky

From: Barbi, Date: August 15, 2011, Subject: Removal of turtles

Hi. Quick question. I am on the board for the SPCA in Lakeland. We are in desperate need of an expansion to care for the animals being abandoned and our medical clinic. In having the land surveyed, 28 turtle borrows were found. We were told we have to relocate them. However the cost to do so is substantial. Do you know of any organizations or individuals that have the proper permits and can relocate them as a charitable donation?       Barbi

Hi Barbi,
      The cost of relocating tortoises is very high. It includes not only the cost of physically collecting and moving the tortoises, but also the fees charged by the recipient sites. Their costs to set up the site, get permitted, and comply with everything they have to do in order to meet their permit requirements all figure in to the final cost to the property developer. And the recipient site owners are in the business to make a profit, or at least break even. Many of them are trying to keep their large pieces of land, cannot afford to farm anymore, and do not want to sell out to subdivision developers. When you hear the cost per tortoise, it sounds insane, but when you get into the nitty gritty details, you can understand why things are the way they are.
      All that being said, I also empathize completely with your situation. Here are a couple of suggestions that might help. First of all, get someone in “the business” to take what you would like to do with a new building and see if it can be fit onto the property without destroying the burrows. Legally, you have to stay >25 ft away from any burrow. If part of your land could be set aside as tortoise habitat, everybody wins. One of our local Humane Society shelters has that situation. There are a number of burrows and tortoises that coexist with the facility and activities. It would be smart to involve someone from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at the beginning of the process so there are no legal surprises down the road.
      If relocation turns out to be your only option, talk to the Wildlife Commission and see if they will put you in contact with your designated recipient site. Maybe you could convince the site owner to give you a break on the costs. I assume you are a non-profit, so they might be able to get a tax write-off.
      Your regional office (if the SPCA is near Lakeland) website is: If/when you contact them, be sure to ask for a tortoise biologist.
      I hope this is helpful. Please don’t hesitate to write me back if you have questions or need more information as your project moves along. Good luck!       Becky

From: Robin, Date: August 13, 2011, Subject: protecting gopher turtle hachlings
A turtle laid eggs in our back yard and we think it was a gopher turtle. Should we, and how would we protect the hatchlings if they do hatch?

Hi Robin,
The best thing to do is stay away from the nest so that your scent doesn’t attract predators to the area. Also keep your pets from digging the nest up. That’s the best you can do. Good luck!       Becky

From: King Family, Sent: Monday, August 08, 2011, Subject: Re: Gopher tortoise in our yard
Follow up from July 9, 2011
Gopher tortoise in our yard,

Hey Becky,
Well our little friend finally came back. I guess there is something he or she likes right in the middle of our yard. I was able to get some pics for you so hopefully you can tell us what you think. My husband was able to measure the tortoise’s shell and he said “if I stretch the tape measure the shell is just barely 10” long” so as you can see, I am not a good measurer! LOL Sorry the pics are so huge, but I wanted you to be able to zoom in. Looks like he or she has lots of red dirt on the shell, which is possibly from the neighborhood behind us as it is very slowly being built out.
Please ignore how overgrown and weedy our yard is. I refuse to put any chemicals on it because of our dogs. Shortly after we moved here we lost one of our dogs to hepatocellular carcinoma, which I found out can be caused by insecticide and fertilizers. (The people who lived here before treated the yard, A LOT) So, since then I just refuse, hence the weeds, lol. Obviously, they are a tortoise-attractant anyway and that is fine with me!       Tracy

Hi Tracy,
It is definitely a gopher tortoise, and a very nice looking one. It may have been displaced by the development going on around you. Tortoises typically dig several burrows within their home ranges, so it may come and go as long as it has other places to go.
It is great if you don’t use chemicals on your yard, but you want to make sure that the grass stays low and tender enough for the tortoise to be able to eat it. Mowing works fine, as long as you are careful not to hit the tortoise with the mower. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote that talks about having tortoises in your yard. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
Congratulations on your new neighbor. Feel free to write me back if you have other questions or need more information.

From: Ashley, Date: August 5, 2011, Subject: Cracked turtle egg.
My granpa was tilling the ground at our farm when he found some eggs so we removed them and brought them back home.My grandma knows alot about turtles so they were in dirt and kept outside. Its been about 5 months and most of the eggs had gone rotten so we were going to throw them out when i was looking in the dirt to get them i noticed one was cracked and inside it was a moving baby gopher yet it was to little to come out. Is there anything we can do to keep it alive? My grandma put a little piece of plastic wrap over the hole so the dirt doesnt get in it.. Please respond soon.
Thanks       Ashley

Hi Ashley,
If there is yolk attached to the turtle so it has something to eat, it might survive to hatch out. Keep the egg protected from extreme weather and predators, and make sure the soil is slightly moist, but not dripping wet. Other than that, there is probably not much you can do. Best of luck!

From: Mary, Date: July 23, 2011, Subject: identification of turtle
I wish to know if the large turtle that has lived (has two large holes) on my son's property for years is possibly a gopher tortoise. I read the questions/answers on your web (and THANK YOU so much), but the pictures don't make the ID certain for me. I am a novice on such matters. The behaviors, habits and description seem to fit. But to me, the distinguishing characterist is that it has a "flat butt." I even call it "Unbutt." But that is not mentioned, nor does any picture shown on your page show the extreme flatness of its backside that Unbutt has.
I suppose it doesn't matter what kind it is because it's done fine for years, but I am interested in learning and especially learning what NOT to do. It's borrow is probably thirty feet from the back door. I did learn so much from your answers just today.
Bless you!       Mary

Dear Mary,
It makes me so happy to know that people are getting benefits from the website.
Is there any way you could take some digital pictures of Unbutt and his burrows and send them to me? If you can put something in the pictures that give me a size reference, that would be helpful as well.
Thanks,       Becky

From: McMoRan, Date: July 17, 2011, Subject: Gopher in my yard
My wife has found a gopher in our yard (in ms) w/ two (2) eggs in a hole. She is staying over the hole but you can see the eggs. So far our cats nor dogs have molested her. She does not retract her head when the wife walks by to check on her. We have notified our yard cutters that stake flags will be placed +- 4’ in a square around the gopher and her eggs and to avoid her. Anything we need to do as far other protection or food so she does not have to leave the nest for prolonged periods of time
Thanks,       Terry Graham

Hi Terry,
Once a tortoise or turtle finishes laying her eggs into a nest cavity, she will cover the hole with dirt or sand and then leave. There is no guarding the nest or parental care of any kind.
The best thing to do is stay away from the area so that you don’t spread your scent there and attract predators. If the tortoise did not properly bury the eggs, she may have just been shedding them. That would happen if the eggs were infertile or it was too late in the season for the eggs to have time to hatch. In that case, somebody will likely come along and eat them.
Feel free to write back if you have any other questions or concerns.       Becky

From: Andrea, Date: July 12, 2011, Subject: Found on S.Bound Turnpike
Hi Becky,
I’m wondering if you can please help me determine if this lil guy we just found is in fact a Gopher Tortoise? We found him crossing the Fl. Turnpike southbound near Kendall drive exit just the other day. My immediate instinct was to protect him from 70mi + on coming traffic. Cars were literally swerving all over the place to try and not hit him. So I brought him home to our large yard. I was so scared to just move him off to the side of the road and risk him running into danger again. What can we feed him? Do they need a pan of water on hand at all times? Are we allowed to even welcome him to our family? I do not want to get into any trouble having him, but at the same time, walking across the turnpike doesn’t seem like an option either.
Any help/info would be so greatly appreciated!       Thank you,       Andrea F.

Hi Andrea,
It is definitely a gopher tortoise. What county are you in?       Becky

From: Claudia, Date: July 11, 2011, Subject: Gopher Tortoise lifespan
I have had a gopher tortoise living in my backyard for the past several years. He was a good size and had dug a good sized tunnel. I have not seen him this year. Would he move? Could he have died? I don't want to disturb the area if there is a chance he is still around somewhere.       Thanks       Claudia Berry

Hi Claudia,
Gopher tortoises typically dig and use several burrows within their home ranges, which could be a few acres. I can’t say for sure whether he died or has just moved away. He may come back. I realize that none of this is particularly helpful to you, but it’s the best I can do. I would just leave the burrow alone. If it collapses, if he comes back, he can reopen it easily.
Write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: John, Date: July 10, 2011, Subject: [development]
There is a turtle burrow(gopher) down the street where I walk. Can this property be developed or does the turtles nest get in the way of any construction, does anyone keep a log on the turtle dens?       Thanks,       RC

Hi RC,
The property can be developed, but the developer must get a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission first. If there are tortoises on the property, they must be relocated to an approved site before development can begin.
Write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Britney, Date: July 9, 2011, Subject: Tortoise [pet]
Hi, I would like to know where I could adopt a pet tortoise that wont need a permit. I live in west palm beach, lake worth Florida. Are there any places near by that I could adopt a tortoise?

You cannot keep a gopher tortoise as a pet. However, there are several species of tortoises that are available to buy. You might try large pet stores or independent dealers in your area. I must warn you that keeping a tortoise is not easy. They have very specific housing and dietary requirements that must be met in order to keep the animal healthy. One species of tortoise (African spur-thigh) starts out really small and cute, but grows up quickly and is the third largest tortoise species in the world. They dig huge holes, need a fair amount of space, and are escape artists. If you decide to get a tortoise, please, please, please do your homework first and know exactly what you are going to need to have and do.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Sarah, Date: July 11, 2011, Subject: gopher turtle trouble
I have a large adult gopher turtle that has decided to make its home under my house and is taring down my ac ducts. Is there anything I can do to make the turtle decide to move?

Please tell me what state and county you live in.       Thanks,       Becky

From: King Family, Date: July 9, 2011, Subject: Gopher tortoise in our yard
Hello Becky,
Came across your site after a google search. Today when I let my dogs out to our fenced yard, I noticed my Greyhound barking at what I thought might be an injured rabbit in the middle of the yard. Upon getting closer, I noticed it was a large Gopher tortoise, at least 12”. He (or she!) was hissing and visibly upset.
I was not sure what to do so I had my husband place the tortoise about 10 feet away on the other side of the fence to get away from the dogs. I was concerned the tortoise would be stressed out by the dogs (though I immediately made the dogs leave it alone!) Now I am worried that we should not have moved him (or her) to the other side of the fence. I did not know you were not supposed to move them!
Also, behind us is a new subdivision (which has been under little construction for about 5 years, no real building going on), and I am concerned this might be a displaced tortoise, though I have never seen one here before.
Please let me know what to do if I see one in the yard again. From what I am reading, I should just let him be, right? I am thrilled he came into the yard and secretly hope he will come back but am worried about the stress he may experience from the dogs. We do have plenty of weeds for him to eat as I do not use pesticides or herbicides in my yard, due to the dogs.
He or she was really gorgeous and appeared to be VERY healthy! He put up quite a fuss at the dogs!       Thanks so much!

Hi TK,
It was o.k. to move him/her to the other side of the fence; if he wants back into your yard, he can easily dig under the fence. If you see him again, please take some pictures and email them to me. Twelve inches is pretty large, and I would like to make sure it is actually a gopher tortoise and not a released or escaped exotic species.
In my experience, the dogs and the tortoise will get used to each other and stop all the fuss if they are exposed to each other very often.

From: JEANNIE, Date: July 8, 2011, Subject: Hello! [baby tortoise in road]
My mom brought home a baby gopher turtle that was in the road is it ok to put it back were she found it ?

Yes, that is exactly what she should do. Put it off the road, preferably under some vegetation where it will be shaded from the sun and hidden from predators.
Thank you,       Becky

From: Linda, Date: July 4, 2011, Subject: rain and gopher tortoise hole
Good Day to all,
We have 3 tortoise's in the field behind our fence. We had a downpour rain and 2 of the holes collapsed in leaving a suprisingly large open area, We have not seen hide nor hare of any of them since. They came out to sun daily and eat. I will say I was surprised at the area it opened up. Is there a concern here? I feel like a parent waiting to see the kids come out. Thank you in advance. We live in New Port Richey, Fl.

I would not be concerned about the tortoises. They are exceptional diggers and will be able to escape from a burrow collapse caused by rain. They likely were not in there in the first place, because even thought tortoises are really intelligent, they have incredible instincts and would avoid getting themselves into a dangerous or uncomfortable situation.
Write back if you have other concerns or need more information.       Becky

From: JACK, Date: June 21, 2011, Subject: A lost gopher tortoise?
Yesterday morning about 7:30am we were driving home on Missouri route 5 from Tipton to Booneville. On the road was a very large, over 12 inch long tortoise with a very high carapace. The color of the shell was mostly dark brown as we drove past and it was in my view certainly NOT a box turtle as it was at least 3 times as large as the largest box turtle I have ever seen. The shell almost looked like one from the smaller Galapagos types I have seen on TV-more squared than rounded. The tortoise was on the road walking to the edge in the middle of a very rural area.
I could not find anything close online. Any ideas?       THANKS       JACK

Hi Jack,
Unfortunately, yes, I have a pretty good idea what it was. Search on African spur-thighed tortoise or sulcata tortoise and see if that looks like what you saw. It is an exotic species and the third-largest tortoise in the world. People buy them when they are tiny, but they grow pretty fast (for a tortoise) and either escape or the owner turns them loose. Here in Florida, they can make it outside all year long in the southern part of the state, but he won’t survive the winter in Missouri. If you look at pictures and that is not what you saw, write me back.

From: Nora, Date: June 18, 2011, Subject: in the road
A gopher turtle was walking in the road in front of my home. It looks pretty old. Should I do someting with it

It would be o.k. to move a tortoise out of immediate danger, but it is illegal to take it somewhere else and release it.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: David & Lori, Date: June 18, 2011, Subject: REPORT POTENTIAL HABITAT DESTRUCTION
Is there a number in Florida you can call to report the potential destruction of a gopher tortoise habitat? In the already overbuilt county of Hernando there is a small 12 acre wooded parcel. There are numerous holes all over the land and I’ve seen many of the tortoises digging and eating throughout. The land has recently been sold and is about to be razed for a daycare.
How can this be reported to an environmentalist to step in and help? I really feel the clock is ticking on this as well. Thanks.

Report what you know to your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Contact information is found at this website: They have legal jurisdiction over gopher tortoises in Florida and no development can occur in occupied tortoise habitat without a permit from them.
Feel free to write back if I can be of more help.       Becky

From: Molly, Date: June 8, 2011, Subject: Tortoise {what kind?}
Can you please identify this tortoise. It came walking up into the yard and is not shy at all.
MollyGeochelone sulcata

Hi Molly,
It looks like a young African spur-thigh tortoise (Geochelone sulcata). It is an exotic species not native to Florida, but are popular as pets. However, they are the third largest tortoise species in the world and grow quickly; they often either escape from their owners or are intentionally released when they get too big for the owner to handle. One of their more endearing habits is digging huge holes in your yard.
I suggest that you ask around and see if any of your neighbors are missing their tortoise. If that doesn’t work, you might consider keeping it yourself, but that is not an easy job and requires pretty specific food and housing to do it right. I have attached a couple of fact sheets you can read to get an idea. If you don’t want to keep it, please try to find somewhere to take it because it won’t survive the winter as far north as Melrose. If you need help finding somewhere, let me know and I can look, too.

From: George, Date: June 8, 2011, Subject: Gopher {laying eggs?}
we have had a family of Gophers living on the edge of an adjacent lot, near the intracoastal for years. They come out on a regular basis to feed and then return. Yesterday I noticed sand being thrown in the air and walked down to see what was happening. there was a large burrow but could not see a tortoise. Then again today, the tortoise came out from its original habitat, made its way to the new burro and started digging again. the new burrow is in an open, sandy location and gets sun all day. Would the tortoise be laying eggs, if so would it fill in the burrow after laying?

From your description, I would guess that the tortoise is digging a new burrow and was not laying eggs. If you send me some e-mail pictures of the site, I will be able to tell you.

From: Jared, Date: June 6, 2011, Subject: Gopher Tortoise burrow question
I moved into my current house last year and found a pretty large (~10-12" long shell) gopher tortoise in the backyard. Currently there are 2 burrows: one which has collapsed, and the other which was dug out within the past 3 months. I have always seen the tortoise peeking out of her burrow around 9:30-10:00 AM to do a little basking and surveillance (we have 2 dogs which are pretty tolerant of her), then does her usually feeding until about 12:00 PM. She runs like clockwork. Until lately.
I am in north Florida (Tallahassee), where rain is a factor in her daily life. We have had some on and off rain over the past few days, some of which was pretty heavy but didn't last terribly long. Over the past 2 days, she hasn't come out of her burrow at all. I don't see any tracks nearby the burrow, so I know she isn't coming and going while I am not there. I think she is just staying in the burrow, but I don't know. I was just wondering if it is common for them to stay in their burrow for few days at a time, especially when it has been raining. I would imagine they would be more active to clean out the burrow due to the rain. Anyway, let me know what you think. I could be worrying over nothing.
Thanks.       Regards,       Jared

Hi Jared,
Burrow use is definitely a fluid situation - daily, seasonally, and yearly. Tortoises often stay inside a burrow for weeks at a time, especially when it is cold or dry. They typically have several burrows within their home range that they use during different times, so she may have gone somewhere else. There is no way of telling if she will come back. Because you have not been there that long, you don’t know what her habits are over the course of a long period of time. My suggestion is that you write down the date when you saw her last, and then wait to see when she either comes out or comes back. That way, you will get to know what she is doing over the course of time.
Write back if I can help any more.       Becky

From: parbot1, Date: June 5, 2011, Subject: Gopher Tortoise in yard
I discovered this burrow after being away from home for three weeks. It is four or five feet off my driveway (first picture). How can I help, other than leaving it alone? Should I cut surrounding vegetation so it can get more sun?
Yesterday, the tortoise went on the other side of the house (my dogs barked). When it returned, I snapped several pictures.
I have a “Certified Florida Yard” in “South Punta Gorda Heights Acreage Estates,” in South Charlotte County, a two-acre lot with a 60-by-100-foot pond. The entire rear of the house I left in its natural state. I enjoy a wealth of native wildlife.
Thank you for your advice,

Hi Liliane,
Congratulations on the new addition to the family! I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote about having tortoises in your yard. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
If you have any other questions or need more information, write me back.

From: Larry, Date: June 4, 2011, Subject: Very Large Tortoise
Last week a very large tortoise/turtle was crossing our back yards along the wood line from Black Creek west to east in the edge of my west side neighbor’s back yard about to cross into my back yard. I approached it and attempted to change its path into the woods. I tried to turn it with my foot, but it was with some difficulty that I only turned it over with my foot. It was strong, and stretched its neck back toward me. I noticed that the bottom was more flat than concave.
It was large enough and strong enough to deter me from lifting it into the woods. I was surprised at the size of it. I estimate it at 24” long, 18” wide, and 12” high. The weight was maybe 20-25 pounds. It turned itself over immediately and reached back with a rather long neck opening its jaws, so I gave up and went to the front of my house to to get a shovel out of the garage. I told my wife to go take a look at it. When she saw it, it had traveled east into my east side neighbor’s yard (a distance of about 300 ft.) and it was stopped by a metal backyard fence with their dog barking at it.
I was also surprised at the speed it had traveled. The tortoise was just sitting with its long neck stretched out staring up at the dog through the fence. I continued my yard work, and the next time I looked it had gone back into the thick woods in the modified conservation drainage area south of us. We are in the The Links on Yellow Jasmine Lane in Fleming Island Plantation, backing up to Black Creek, and separated from the Golf Course by a low drainage (modified conservation) area. On the internet I see that the the average size of gopher tortoises is only 12”, so I don’t know if this was a gopher turtle or a different species.
Was this a gopher tortoise?

Dear Fred,
It sounds to me like it was probably an African spur-thigh tortoise (Geochelone sulcata). It is an exotic species that either was released or escaped from its owner. They are the third largest tortoise species in the world when full-grown.
What state and county are you in?

From: Michaelle, Date: June 3, 2011, Subject: Help {dog bite}
My dog bite a small hole about the size of a quarter on it belly area...not such bleeding....what can I done
Frankie 11yrs old

Hi Frankie,
If you can get the tortoise to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator, that would be the best thing. However, if that is not possible, take the tortoise back to where you (or your dog) found it and release it into a burrow or underneath some vegetation. Please try to keep your dog from bothering it.
Write back if you need more information or if I can help you find somewhere to take the tortoise.

From: Alice, Date: June 2, 2011, Subject: re: gopher trauma
Dear Ms. Bolt,
I have inherited a captive Gopher Tortoise from my in-law who had her since it was a juvenile. It is approximately 47-50 years old now.
She was safe and well care for and quite happy to wake up at 11am everyday and has a very good appetite.
She is happy in my mother's garden during the summer months. I keep her indoors when she is hibernates.
Recently, she was dropped from about 3 feet and landed on her dome. I normally never let anyone lift her but the child got startled by her thrashing and let go. She bounced onto the asphalt. Her eyes were bubbled out and was slightly bloodshot. After I placed her onto the grass she seemed to slowly recover. She soonafter started to eat again the dandelion leaves, flowers and clover.
She seems to wake up later than normal and I'm concerned that although there's no visible cracks to the shell. I wonder if she needs an x-ray or antibotics if she might have an infection or internal injury.
Thank you and I appreciate your advice!
Regards,       Alice

Dear Alice,
This is going to have to be your call. If she is eating and moving around normally, she might be just fine. However, the safest thing to do is take her to a vet and let them check for internal injuries.
I know this isn’t much help, but I would feel really bad if I told you not to take her and then something happened. Keep me posted or write back if you need more information.

From: ian, Date: June 1, 2011, {Subject: mating, location, value}
I have a few questions about the gopher tortoise...
1- How often do they mate? (years)
2- What is/where can i find there population? (one from this year and one from the past)
3- What is their value to humans?
Thank you SO much!!!!!

Here are some answers and some resources where you can find more information:
#1. Gopher tortoises become sexually mature around 15 to 25 years of age, depending on where they live. In the more northern parts of their range, they mature more slowly than in the southern parts.
#2. I am not sure what you are asking.
#3. The answer to this question depends on your personal value system. Some people believe that tortoises are not valuable because they have no specific monetary worth. Other people believe that all creatures and plants are very valuable because everything contributes to the whole, and the integrity and health of the Earth depends on every individual contribution. Over 300 species of invertebrates and vertebrates use the burrows of the gopher tortoise, so it is considered a “keystone species”; the loss of gopher tortoises and their burrows from a habitat completely alters the structure of the area.
Here are some other websites that will give you more information.


From: Tony, Date: May 31, 2011, Subject: Gopher Tortoises & Conservation
My wife and I live on a conservation tract in East Orlando. Since we moved in about a month ago we have been dealing with persons riding ATVs and motorcycles in our conservatoin area. We have had 3, what we strongly believe to be Gopher tortoises, emerge from the area grazing on the grass and return to the conservation.
We've been attempting unsuccessfully to have our POA's management company resolve the issue due to destruction of the habitat as well as noise. Last week I contacted FWL and they said that the issue is out of their jurisdiction. They referred me to contact the Orange County Sheriff and speak with a range and water deputy. When the next occurrence happened I contacted the OCSO and they said they didn't have jurisdiction either and they had no idea what a range and water deputy was.
I called FWL again this evening and explained what has happened since there were riders in the same area again - they advised they would have someone contact me tomorrow to discuss. I'm hoping you may have some good advice for us to help resolve this and protect our shared habitat.
Many thanks,       Tony C

Hi Tony,
I was on vacation last week and just saw your email today. The first thing to determine is who owns the land that has been set aside as a conservation area. It could be the State, Orange County, the subdivision, or any number of other possibilities.
Part of the problem you are having with getting a response might be terminology. The State of Florida agency that is responsible for gopher tortoises is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The “ range and water deputy” is probably the St. Johns River Water Management District which is an entirely separate entity from the Wildlife Commission or Orange County.
Try to find out who owns the property and write me back with that information. Then we will figure out how to proceed.

Conservation area photos

From: Melanie, Date: May 31, 2011, Subject: 3 gopher tortoises on property
Hello - we've just moved into a new (to us) house and there are 3 adult gopher tortoises living on the surrounding property. I'm trying to learn as much as I can about them; can you send me the info that your friend has written? Thank you! :)

Hi Melanie,
Congratulations! It is very nice to know you are excited about your new neighbors. So often, people just want to find out how to get rid of the tortoises before they even learn how wonderful they are. I have attached the workbook chapter. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only.
Feel free write back if you have more questions or need information.       Becky

From: Barbara, Date: May 31, 2011, Subject: Injured gopher tortoise
Dear Becky,
We found a small gopher tortoise upside down on a busy road close to our property. We rescued it and turned it loose into a burrow in our yard. It ran pretty fast straight into the burrow. (There are several gophers living in our yard, we have 5 acres in northwest Florida) My concern is he had a small crack in his shell where he was likely hit by the car that flipped him upside down. Was it ok to let him go? It ws a small crack and did not seem to be affecting his ability to get around. Should I try to catch him and take him to a veterinarian? Thanks in advance for your help!!!

Hi Barbara,
It is really hard to say what is the best thing to do in a situation like this. Turtles’ shells are an outgrowth of their bones, so any injury is serious because of the risk of infection. However, I have seen several really traumatic old injuries that have healed nicely and the tortoises have appeared to be fine and healthy. I would watch for him and if you get the opportunity to catch him and go to a vet, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get a shot of antibiotics. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much; you have given him a chance that he certainly wouldn’t have had sitting upside down in the middle of the road.
Feel free to write back if you need any more information.       Becky

From: Vicky, Date: May 27, 2011, Subject: Gopher turtles {pee}
Why every time u pick up a pet gopher turtle do they pee? Does that mean they are scared?

Yes, that means they are scared and are using urine as a defense mechanism. Please do not pick up tortoises unless you are moving them out of the road. When they pee, they also lose water and can more easily become dehydrated, especially in the summer.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.
Thanks,       Becky

From: Howard, Date: May 24, 2011, Subject: Native tortoises in United States
Names of native US tortoises?

Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) southeast U.S.
Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) California, Nevada into Mexico
Berlandier’s tortoise (a.k.a. Texas tortoise) south Texas into Mexico

From: Haleyshaven, Date: May 22, 2011, Subject: (no subject) { Protect Nest? }
Does a gopher turtle go back after she has finished the nesting process . I watched the nesting process today and think I should put up a sign [nesting site Protected and a small fence may as the landscapers could disturb this area. Thanks Toni

Hi Toni,
It would be fine to mark the site somehow so it doesn’t get run over by mowers, etc. I don’t think a fence is a good idea; the mom may need access to the burrow and a fence may also keep the hatchlings from being able to get out. Try to disturb the area as little as possible so you don’t attract predators.

From: Corina, Date: May 22, 2011, Subject: Food {dog feces}
We found a gopher turtle i our yard and it was eating our dog's feces is that ok? Or do we need to find it a new home farther away from ours and our dog droppings?

Dog feces will not hurt the tortoise. It probably is getting some protein from it. Besides, it is illegal to move a tortoise without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It’s best to let things be.

From: Rainie, Date: May 21, 2011, Subject: Tortoise's in our yard
We have gopher tortoise's in our back yard. Two large and then a smaller and last month saw one the size of a baseball, very small. This little one has dug a small burrow and now one to the bigger tortoises has moved in, enlarging it. Is this norma, do they take over the smaller burrows and will they hurt the smaller ones?

Hi Rainie,
Sounds like you have quite the community going! That is great. It is very common for tortoises to use each other’s burrows, and even be in there together sometimes. The adults will not hurt the young ones.
Have fun! Write me back if you need more information.

From: Scott, Date: May 18, 2011, Subject: How can I tell their age?
I have several Gopher Tortoises living around my home here in Lee County. I measured a male today, he was around 13 inches. I know of at least one other that is bigger than him. How old might tortoises of this size be?

Hi Scott,
Tortoises that size are adults and probably over 20 years old. They can live 60 or 70 years in the wild, but reliably aging them is impossible.

From: Tom, Date: May 17, 2011, Subject: Density of Populations
Dear Sir/Madam:
Here in Clay County we have about 30 burrows within a .5 Sq mile area. It is in the back of a development with sandy soil. The gophers are both large and small. Is this unusual to have this high a density?       Tom

Hi Tom,
In natural circumstances, tortoises occur in “colonies”, so you might have areas with lots of burrows near each other. Also, each tortoise would have several burrows that they use during different seasons or even on a daily basis. However, in situations when they have been disturbed, they will crowd into whatever suitable habitat is left, and often every single burrow will be occupied by a tortoise. Sounds like that might be what you are seeing. This is o.k., as long as there are sufficient resources (food, nesting sites, etc.) for the population to remain healthy. If that is not true, they will start moving out, looking for what they need, and many will end up as road kill.
Write me back if I can offer any more information.       Becky

From: Kim, Date: May 17, 2011, Subject: Tortoise {what to do?}
HELP!!!! A couple little boys were walking by my house with something in a box. I look curious & they asked if I wanted what they had. OK, took the box (saw the tortoise) and brought it inside, put it in a clean tank, gave it some fruit (its all I had). Now, after extensive research, I find on the internet that it's a Gopher Tortoise. I need to know exactly who to call. It's about 5 inches from head to tail, and I saw the bottom and believe it's a female. Please let me know who to call ASAP. I live in DeLand, FL.
Thank you.       Kim

Hi Kim,
Do you know the boys, or did they tell you where they got the tortoise? The best thing for all concerned would be to release it where it came from.
Can you email me some pictures so I can tell you for sure if it is a gopher tortoise?
If it is, and you can’t figure out where it came from to release it, we will move on to Plan B.
Write me back.       Becky

From: Gwen, Date: May 8, 2011, Subject: Found baby turtle {what kind?}Stinkpot turtle - adult
I found a baby and I don't know what kind it is. I was going to keep it but want to make sure it isn't a gopher. Can you help? I'll send you a couple pics.

I think it is a stinkpot (scientific name Sternotherus odoratus). That is probably an adult as they are less than six inches long.
These turtles live in freshwater and usually only come out on land to lay their eggs. They can survive in captivity, but if you decide to keep it, do your homework and make sure you can do a good job. Please.
I have attached a couple of care sheets for you to study.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Marci, Date: May 8, 2011, Subject: desert/ gopher
Are desert tortoises the same thing as gopher tortoises?

Desert tortoises and gopher tortoises belong to the same genus, but are two different species. Desert tortoises are Gopherus agassizii and gopher tortoises are Gopherus polyphemus. Desert tortoises live in the far western U.S. and gopher tortoises live in the southeastern U.S. There are lots of other differences between them, such as behavior and body structure.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: Monica, Date: May 10, 2011, Subject: Gopher tortoise in yard
We are thrilled to have an active gopher tortoise burrow in our yard. Can you please provide information about how to keep it safe? Should we plant anything around the burrow?
Thank you for your help.       Monica

Hi Monica,
Congratulations. I have attached a chapter from a workbook written by a friend of mine that should answer your questions. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only. If you have other questions, etc., write me back.

Sulcata tortoise

From: Jonathan, Date: May 3, 2011, Subject: Tortoise identification
Hello Becky: Two questions when you have a moment. I'm certain its not a gopher tortoise, but still, it is a tortoise.
I wondered if you can identify this tortoise. It's shell is about 20" - 24" long; I've never picked it up (or touched it for that matter) so I have no idea of his/her weight. It is a pleasant creature that ambles around eating grass and leafy plants, and eventually disappears under the house. I enjoy watching it, and, oddly, it seems to recognize me (although I assume that this is just some anthropomorphic projection on my part).
My other question is whether a cat could pose any danger to this tortoise.
Thank you very much,       Jonathan

Hi Jonathan,
I believe it is a sulcata tortoise, an exotic species that either escaped from or was released by its owner. Have attached links to information sheets about them which you should read for a couple of reasons. First, depending on where you live, the tortoise may not be able to survive the winter in the wild. Another thing is that they get huge (3rd largest tortoise species in the world) and dig enormous holes. “Your” tortoise is just a baby. They make great pets if you are prepared to take care of them properly, but it’s not simple.
Please look over this information and research on your own. If you decide to adopt it, that is great, but make sure you know what you are getting into. If you don’t want to keep it, please catch it and take it somewhere that it will be safe and kept healthy. If you need help finding a place, write me back with the name of your town and state.       Becky

From: Morgan, Date: May 1, 2011, Subject: I was woundering what do baby gopher turtles eat

Baby gopher tortoises eat low-growing herbs and grasses.
Please know that gopher tortoises are legally protected and you cannot keep one in captivity. If you have a tortoise, you need to take it back where you got it and release it. Do this on a nice, sunny day either in the late morning or early evening. Put it in a burrow or underneath vegetation where it will be protected from direct sun and predators.
If you need assistance or more information, please write me back.       Becky

From: Stephen, Date: April 28, 2011, Subject: Found Juvenile GT in Pool
Found a juvenile gopher tortoise in my pool. Got into the screen in pool when the landscaper weed whacked my screening.
He/she may have been in the pool for a day. What is the best thing to do to make sure he/she survives?

How is the tortoise behaving? Does it come out and walk around or is it just sitting? If it is active and seems o.k., I would release it as soon as possible. If there are burrows in the nearby area, put it into one of those; if there are no burrows, place it under some vegetation so it is hidden from predators. Wait until mid-morning on the next sunny day.
If the tortoise is behaving strangely, I would take it to a local wildlife rehabilitator or vet that has some reptile experience. If you don’t know where to take it, write me back with your city and county and I will try to help you find a place to take it.
Thank you for helping,       Becky

From: DAVID, Date: April 24, 2011, Subject: How do you determine the age of a gopher tortoise?

You cannot really determine the exact age of a tortoise unless you know when it hatched and have kept up with it since that time. Their growth rates depend on where they are located in the range (i.e., in northern latitudes they grow slower than in southern latitudes), and what kind of food resources they have had.
There are established size ranges that suggest particular ages:
      Hatchlings, 1 -2 inches long, orange coloration, soft shell = 0 – 2 years
      Juveniles/Subadults, 2 – 5 inches long, orange coloration, soft shell = 2 – 10 years (around the age of 5 years, the shell gets brown and hard)
      Adults, 7 – 15 inches long, brown coloration, hard shell = 9 – 50 years
Hope this is helpful. Write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Eydie, Date: April 19, 2011, Subject: loss of habitat
Venice is planning to build 3 baseball fields in a wilderness area that has gopher tortoises and bobcats, etc. Is there any legislation or ways we can stop this loss of wilderness? What fed or state laws can we use?

The gopher tortoises are a protected species in the State of Florida. You should contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( and find out if the city has acquired the appropriate permits for the development. They should have a relocation permit for the tortoises. If they don’t, they cannot (legally) develop the property until those details have been settled.
Unfortunately, bobcats are not protected.
Please write me back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Jessica, Date: April 18, 2011, Subject: turtle question {empty burrow}
We had a gopher turtle in our yard last year and his hole is still there. Is he still in there or will he come back this year?

Gopher tortoises typically dig several burrows within their home ranges. Some of the burrows they use frequently and other burrows they use depending on the season. What burrows they use when is determined by the resources that are available in different spots. So, if the tortoise is not in the burrow now, it may very well come back sometime.
Look at the burrow apron (sand in front) and see if there are slide marks or footprints. That will help you know if anybody is home.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.       Becky

From: Kristin, Date: April 16, 2011, Subject: shell
Is a gopher tortoises shell supposed to be soft

Juvenile gopher tortoises’ shells are soft for about the first five years. After that, they get hard and dark brown.
If you know of a gopher tortoise that is an adult and the shell is soft, you should probably take it to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator. The animal is likely not eating properly or is in living conditions that are not healthy. Please know that gopher tortoises are legally protected and cannot be kept as pets indoors or outside.
If you have other questions, or need more information or advice, please do not hesitate to write me back.
Thank you,       Becky

From: christin, Date: April 16, 2011, Subject: Tortoises could be being harmed
Hello I was contacting your organization in regards to saving Gopher Tortoises that are located behind my house and surrounding area in Ormond Beach. There has been an on going battle for years between the community here and a developer that is planning on building. The zoning was never intended for building until he purchased it and then it was changed to allow him to follow through with his construction. The community here has always enjoyed the natural wild life in these woods and always loved the gophers that would bask in their yards, and now they are depleting. District Senator Lynn was contacted in 2007 when they did not obtain the proper permits for the tortoises and she told us to stop them immediately. She then instructed to contact The State of Florida wildlife Commission, we did so and construction was halted. At that time the developer stated there were only 3 tortoises, but following his search the Florida Wildlife officer along with the community found 23 and GPS located them. For Over 3 years they haven't built anything and now they are claiming the turtles have been properly relocated and are no longer there. Today, when I stopped the construction of the development I was told there were only 15 tortoises that had been relocated. Past state documentation states a different number than this developer has relocated and we are not sure he has even relocated them correctly. We are a small neighborhood in serious need of help. We are running out of options. Thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this. It is very appreciated. Thank you,       Genny, Ormond Beach Florida

Dear Genny,
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is the only group (agency) that can legally thwart the development. Contact them again and keep doing that until you get answers. Unfortunately, the answer may be that the developer acquired their permits and that the tortoises have been relocated, but make sure you are given specific details about how many and exactly where they went. If the Commission or the developer cannot provide those answers, then development should stop until they do.
As a last resort, you can contact a sympathetic news person, but you run the risk that they may see development and new jobs as a plus. I don’t know what kind of development this is going to be, but so many places were and are still being cleared that are not used because there is no customer base.
Good luck and write me back if you need any more information.       Becky

From: Goldinthimble, Date: April 15, 2011, Subject: Gofers dieing
The woods in front of my house has overgrown with nanty vines, As I try to make my way through these woods, Dead govers are all around, Fire ants are eating them, After they become tangled in these nonnative vines. What can I do to save these wonderfull babies. ?

Hi Gerri,
Please contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (863-648-3200; and tell them what you have seen. They will hopefully send someone out to investigate.
Let me know if you need more help or have more questions. Thank you for being concerned.       Becky

Gopher tortoise hatchlings

From: 3863077841, Date: April 4, 1911, Subject: { baby color? }
Wat color does a baby gopher turtle! And wat do they look like percificly and can u show me a pic of one?

I have attached two pictures. Please be aware that it is illegal to keep gopher tortoises in captivity. If you have one, take it back where you got it and let it go immediately.
If you need help or advice, please write me back.
      Click the little pictures to see enlargements >>.
Thanks,       Becky

From: Ivy, Date: April 3, 2011, Subject: Rescued Injured Gopher Tortoise
Hi Becky,
My son and I just rescued a gopher tortoise from our neighbor's dog. The poor thing is chewed up pretty badly, but still appears to be alive. I don't know how severely it's injured and whether or not it will survive. We've placed it in a plastic pond liner to prevent the dog or any ants from causing more damage. I will contact my vet's office in the morning, but I came across your website and was hoping that you might have some advice. We are in Polk County, FL - Lake Wales area. Do you know of any wildlife rehabilitators, sanctuaries, or veterinarians that we should contact?
Thank you for your time.       Ivy

If the animal is badly injured, I would take it to a vet first. They may be able to refer you to a good reptile rehabber for once the tortoise’s condition improves.
Here are two rehabbers that may be in your area:
Okeechobee: :
Sebring: 863-385-2770
Good luck and please write back if you need more help.       Becky

From: Brennan, Date: April 2, 2011, Subject: Brennan { keep new born? }
I have found a new born gopher tortoise. is it ILLEGAL to keep him?

Yes, it is illegal to keep any gopher tortoise. Please take it back where you found it as soon as possible. If you have any questions or need advice, write me back.
Thanks,       Becky

From: michele, Date: March 25, 2011, Subject: forced to hook up to sewer/toroises in yard
hi. i have several gopher toroises living in my yard. currently, the loxahatchee river environmental district is demanding i abandon my septic tank and hook up to sewers. the tortoises are living quite close to the area that needs to be dug up.
can i adopt the tortoise and avoid this issue? what should i do? you can email me. i am a resident of unincorporated Palm Beach County, Jupiter, FL.
thanks for your help.       Michele

Hi Michele,
You need to contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and get their advice. I have no idea what happens when the actions “forced” by one agency (LR Environmental District) impact the resources of another agency (gopher tortoises protected by the State of Florida). This website has all of the contact information you need to reach the FWC. Ask to speak to a tortoise biologist and explain the situation. I hope they can give you some guidance. If not, please write me back and we will come up with another plan.       Becky

From: Norma, Date: March 26, 2011, Subject: Tunnel in lawn
While cleaning sprinkler heads I discovered a very small Gopher Tortoise digging a tunnel right next to my garden. I thought it was a stone and started to try to grab it when it moved and hissed at me! I'm thrilled that it chose my garden to build a home and don't want to disturb it. Is there anything I can do to make sure it has a safe home?     Norma

Hi Norma,
Congratulations on the new neighbor! The best thing to do is be very careful when you mow your lawn, just in case he is out feeding. Also, don’t let your pets or kids mess with him. If he stays around and becomes older and larger, you might want to consider planting some food plants that he would enjoy, but right now he should be fine.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions or need more information.       Becky

From: rebekah, Date: March 23, 2011, Subject: Baby tortoise in backyardbaby gopher tortoise
Just wanted to share! Moving into a house in Rockledge with a nice, shady backyard! Was over there today doing some much needed yard work, when I saw dirt being flung nearby. I instantly knew it was a turtle but my nosy self had to go investigate. To my delight, I discovered a gopher tortoise digging a burrow! Needless to say, there is a very large area in the yard that will be left undisturbed, but a nice chair nearby may be a good idea to observe and enjoy my new friend! I hope he stays around, as he will get all the respect and admiration he deserves!

Congratulations!! He looks young - I am guessing three or four years old. I am so happy that you are o.k. with him being your new neighbor.
Would you mind if I kept that picture to use when I give educational talks? If you send me the photographer's name, I will put it on the picture.
Also, if you would like a workbook chapter about having tortoises in your yard, let me know. I can email it to you in a few days (I am away from my office right now and don't have access to it).       Becky

From: Lee, Date: March 21, 2011, Subject: gophers { mowing grass }

I live on about 10 acres and next to an 80 acres forest directly on Tampa Bay.
The acres my house is on was mowed and all trees taken out practically.
There are a lot of gopher tortoises out there and I see that you say mowing the grass is best? There are so many cactus and wildflower etc popping up that I was going to let those things grow… should I mow? I am also afraid of mowing over babies. I see a little 4 inch gopher out there (I am in FL) that is just under vegetation.. should he have a hole by now?
Thanks so much,       Lee

Hi Lee,
When I encourage people to mow, it is so the grass and herbs don't get too tall for the tortoises to be able to reach them and feed. This often happens in yards, along road shoulders, and under powerlines where the grass is planted and sometimes not native species. You will have to judge if the grass/weeds/plants you are talking about need mowing and if it is worth doing that to keep them short. If you decide to mow, do it when the weather is cool, or early in the morning or right before dark when the tortoises are more likely to be in their burrows.
Regarding the small tortoise, sometimes juveniles dig their own burrows, sometimes they use adult burrows, and sometimes they just stay underneath the vegetation. He will eventually dig several burrows of his own.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Herb, Date: March 16, 2011, Subject: owning a gopher tortoise
Is it illegal or legal to have a gopher tortise in your backyard in brevard county?

If the gopher tortoise moved in on its own and is not being confined, it is perfectly legal for it to be there. However, it is illegal to feed, harass, or disturb the tortoise or its burrow in any way.
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that will probably help answer your questions. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please. Also feel free to write me back if you have any more questions or concerns.

From: James, Date: March 11, 2011, Subject: Gopher tortoise habitat
Hi,       We are in a community and have gopher tortoises living in a small section of the woods. One of the neighbors removed quite a few plants, trees and shrubs some native and some exotic. The neighbor then installed natural cedar mulch on much of the ground, including all around the burrows. Eventhough the neighbor means well, I believe this may be harmful to the tortoises' habitat. The toortoise does still have access to some shrubs and grass closeby. Is this true or is it possible that the tortoise' don't mind living on mulch?
Thanks,       Jim

Hi Jim,
It is hard to say whether or not the mulch will impact the tortoises negatively. Native grass and herbs right near the burrows is more beneficial than mulch. Thinning out the overstory is a great idea so that more sunlight can get to the ground and encourage food growth. However, covering the ground with mulch defeats that purpose.
I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education (and your neighbor’s) only, please.
If you have more questions or concerns, write me back.       Becky

From: Joann, Date: February 7, 2011, Subject: Use of pesticides in yard
I have quite the family of gopher turtles in my side problem is ticks and I would like to spray my yard and not sure what to use that will not hurt the turtles.
Thanks       joann

Hi Joann,
We don’t have data specifically on the impacts of pesticides on gopher tortoises. My advice is that you use something commercially available, do not apply it directly on the tortoises or their burrows, and get a product that will kill ticks, not vegetation (tortoise food source). It might help reduce the tortoises’ exposure if you apply the pesticide on cooler days when the tortoises are less likely to be out of their burrows (I don’t know if that would impact the effectiveness of the pesticide).
Feel free to write me back if you need more information.       Becky

From: Maura, Date: February 2, 2011, Subject: Two male gopher tortoises
Dear Becky
There is a good deal of road construction in our neighborhood. We have seen a gopher tortoise in our yard. We photographed it and whenever it comes through we take more pictures. We discovered that there are at least two because by looking at the photos we can see the differences that we don't identify by seeing them solo each pass through. One or the other stay on our property for a few days at a time. I am not sure if they are looking for suitable places to rebuild their homes. Is there any way we can make them comfortable? We have plenty of shrubs and they do have very shallow burrows in and around our palmettos. We have two and a half acres and would love to provide them a safe place away from the road work and the impending busy traffic area.
We live in fort myers florida.
Thanks       Maura

Hi Maura,
It makes me so happy that you are concerned and willing to help. These animals (and maybe more) may likely have been displaced by what is happening in the landscape around you. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that was written by a friend of mine that you should find useful. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only please. I have also attached some website addresses to sites that you will probably enjoy.
If you have any other questions or want more information, feel free to write me back. Thanks again for caring.

From: Brenda, Date: January 25, 2011, Subject: Purchase of land close to a gopher tortoise reserved area
My concern is the purchase of a lot adjacent to a gopher tortoise protected area. Over time, could I lose my property due to the tortoise branching out into our property and I can’t legally relocate it back into the reserve? Also, it seems that since the tortoise is a burrower, all types of wildlife can cohabitate this area due to the burrowing for shelter – including rattlesnakes. Could this encourage other types of undesirable wildlife such as poisonous snakes?? This area is in northern Florida and I am debating the purchase of that property due to the gopher tortoise preserve right next door. Or if I decide to never sell or move there myself, I guess I could just concern it an extension of the reserve.
Thanks,       Brenda

Hi Brenda,
If the property is located adjacent to an area occupied by gopher tortoises, it is certainly possible that the tortoise population could expand into the property. However, you would not lose the property. Your ability to develop parts of it might be restricted (any development must be kept at least 25 ft. away from a gopher tortoise burrow). You would have the option to apply for a relocation permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to move the tortoise/tortoises off of your property.
Gopher tortoise burrows are used by many different animals, including venomous snakes. You might consider asking the agency or group that owns the tortoise preserve if any species of venomous snakes have been documented there. If the area is fairly small and surrounded by development, there may not be any snakes of concern. It just depends on the landscape situation.
Personally, I would really love to live in a place next to a tortoise preserve (or any other type of protected natural area). If you do some research, I think you will find that being adjacent to a natural area actually increases your property value. Besides, gopher tortoises make great neighbors.
Feel free to write back if you need more information.       Becky

From: jbahur4, Date: January 14, 2011, Subject: Undermining foundation
A tortoise has burrowed under the foundation of my porch and I am worried for the safety of both of us. Is there a safe and legal method of getting it to abandon this burrow so that I can get it filled in? I'm worried that the porch slab may break off from the house.

I get this type of question very frequently and I have never heard of anyone actually getting structural damage because of a gopher tortoise burrow. When the tortoise digs the burrow, it goes pretty deep quickly at about a 45 degree angle. If you are concerned about you or someone else stepping into the hole accidently, mark it with a pin flag or some flagging tape; just don’t block the front of the burrow or make the flagging real obvious to the tortoise when he/she is trying to come out.
If this is a new burrow, the tortoise may decide to move on in a few weeks. However, if it came to your yard because it was displaced from somewhere else, you may have a more permanent situation.
If you decide that you cannot live with the tortoise, you can contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and apply for a relocation permit to have the tortoise moved. Their address for their gopher tortoise information is:
Write me back if you need more information from me.       Becky

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