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Gopher Tortoise – "Ask the Expert" – 1998 - 2006

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Becky Bolt is a Wildlife Ecologist, working for IHA, the contractors for Environmental Studies
at the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida.
She has been answering your questions about Gopher Tortoises since 1998.

Click here to send your question: Gopher Tortoise Question.
Your question and the answer will be posted on the current year webpage as soon as possible.
Please do a search of this Q&A to see if your question has already been answered.
Use the FIND function of your Browser to find what Becky has said about a topic.
Go to your Edit Menu, then to Find. (Shortcut: use Cmd/Cntl-F; then for next: Cmd/Cntl-G).
Search for words like: "food," "burrow," "keep," "protected."

Baby in hand.



Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2006
From: Jamuh8
Subject: (no subject)
how do you know if a gopher tortoise is going to lay eggs? how old do you these gopher tortoises are? i spotted them in my yard and took a picture of them because i was wondering how old they are for something i have to do in school.
060628-Tortoise 1 060628-Tortoise 2
You cannot tell from the outside if a tortoise is carrying eggs. When researchers want to know, they do a sonograph or x-ray.

You also cannot reliably age a gopher tortoise, but you can estimate the age from the size. I can't tell from your pictures how big these are. Can you tell me approximately how long they are in inches?

I don't know what you mean by doing something with them for school, but you need to realize that gopher tortoises are legally protected. You cannot keep them in captivity (even in your yard, unless they are there of their own free will), feed them, or mess with them in any way. If your school project is making observations only, that would be fine.

Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006
From: Spider1369420kap
Subject: berlandiers tortoise
I've had a berlandiers for two years now and she has laid 4 eggs in the last week. there is no male with her., can these eggs be good? I have heard that tortoises can carry eggs for up to three years, but I can find no info to back this up. Can you please help.
Sperm storage is well documented in many species of tortoises, including the closely related desert tortoise, so your eggs may very well be fine. I have attached a reputable website that talks about Texas tortoise care that may be helpful, although it doesn't specifically address reproduction. It will at least give you a place to start. Good luck and congratulations!!
Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006
From: Sandy S.
Subject: TORTOISES [ears]
I was told that tortoises don't have ears, but I swear mine respond to sound. Do they?
Tortoises don't have ears, so they do not "hear" as we humans think of it. However, they are very tuned into vibrations. Imagine what it would be like to have so much of your body being hard and flat on the ground. You would pick up much more of what was going on around you through the vibrations. Good question! Thanks.
Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2006
From: Joy
If I find a gopher turtle how do i find a suddible habitat in my own home and are they legal in Jacksonville Florida.
It is illegal to relocate a gopher tortoise. If you find one, please just move it out of immediate harm's way (i.e., out of the road) and leave it alone. Thanks.
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006
Subject: Should we try to remove nail polish/paint from shell
A gopher tortoise with either thick nail polish or acrylic paint was found. We would like to remove the material to reduce predation/visibility if possible and release back on his way. I have searched the Internet and have read conflicting information regarding the damage the paint can cause the shell along with the damage that can be caused from trying to remove the material. According to what I have read, the shell is a porous substance that can develop fungi if not exposed to air. Since it is porous, it can absorb cleaning solutions to remove paint.

What would you recommend? We do not know who did this but her name is Kalia from Puerto Rico... which is now brightly displayed on the shell. Definitely stands out on the street much less field.

Thanks in advance for any assistance. And a Wonderful website!!!

I would first try carefully scraping or chipping the paint/polish off. If that doesn't work, use some appropriate solvent, but wipe it off as quickly as possible so it doesn't get much time to soak in. The shell is not really that porous and it should be fine. Good luck.
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006
From: Jamuh8
can you please tell me how old does a gopher turtle have to be to lay eggs? I was just wondering how do gopher tortoise's lay eggs and how can you tell how old they are???
Gopher tortoises become sexually mature around 20 years of age. The female digs a hole and lays from 3 - 8 eggs in the cavity, covers it back up with dirt, and leaves. There is no parental care and the eggs hatch in about 90 days.
Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2006
From: terron
Subject: Gopher rescue
My husband rescued a Gopher Tortoise from US 1 in Titusville today. There are so many condos being built, that I assume that he, like others has lost his home. Our yard is currently home to several Gophers, but as I understand he shouldn't be relocated. Is this a tortoise that you can take at your facility? I'm sure he will not make it without help. Thank you for your assistance. Mrs. Terron Phillips
I am very familiar with Titusville and agree that the development there is out of control. However, it is illegal for you to have the tortoise, or to move it away from where it was found. Please take it back and let it go, out of harm's way. Hopefully, it will get to a safe place. There are many good reasons that tortoises cannot be relocated, including disease and genetic issues. Thank you.
>Date: Mon, 19 Jun 2006
From: gone_hunting
How to we determine the sex of a gopher turtle? We rescued him from being hit from a car on our street. Also, what do they like to eat
If you have taken the gopher tortoise away from where you found him, you are breaking the law. Please return him and let him go out of harm's way. Thank you.
Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2006
From: spomach4p
Subject:can a gopher turtle eat grass?
They eat all kinds of low-growing herbs and grasses. The most important need they have is a large variety of things to choose from.
Date: Thu, 08 Jun 2006
From: Ashley
Subject: Species?
I live in Pensacola, FL and found this little guy in my front yard as I was digging up and old and overgrown flower bed. I haven't been able to find any pics that resemble him on the site? Thanks so much!
Florida box turtle. Florida box turtle.

It is a Florida box turtle.

Date: Tue, 06 Jun 2006
From: Peter
Subject: Can you identify this tortoise?
Seen in Walsingham Park, Seminole, Florida. I tought it might be a box turtle, but it scurried into a burrow. I'm wondering if it might be a young gopher tortoise, as described on Three (4-ed.) pics attached - carapace, plastron, and burrow.

Follow up: Thanks for your reply. I was particularly impressed by the beeline the tortoise made for his burrow, which was some 20 feet away. Is it known how they navigate? (Maybe you've already answered this on your site). I am visiting Florida from Marlborough, Massachusetts. I used to find box turtles when growing up in New Jersey and they still fascinate me.

Click for enlargements.
2006_06_06-2 020 2006_06_06-2 021 2006_06_06-2 022 2006_06_06-2 024
It is a young gopher tortoise, probably older than five years, but not an adult.
Date: Mon, 05 Jun 2006
From: Oldsouthcc
Subject: Gopher turtle
He's eating my flower garden, it there anything I can do to stop his destruction? He polishes off a plant or two a day!
I suggest a fence. It doesn't have to be very tall, but you will need to bury it a few inches into the ground to keep him from digging under it. Because gopher tortoises are legally protected, you can't move him, or do anything to him, so blocking him from your flowers is the best tact. Maybe you could plant some flowers outside the fence for him. You are really lucky to have him hanging out with you.
Date: Fri, 02 Jun 2006
Subject: gopher tortoise
Someone on our street in south melbourne beach, spray painted parts of the tortoise shell with red spray paint...will this hurt the tortoise..deeply concerned.
Spray painting a tortoise's shell won't hurt the tortoise, but it is illegal. If it is a small tortoise, the paint might make it more vulnerable to predation because it is easier to see. If you figure out who painted the tortoise, you might tell them that tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and that they have broken the law. If the activities continue (i.e., more painted tortoises or other forms of harassment, including feeding or holding in captivity), contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at (352) 732-1225.
Date: Sat, 27 May 2006
From: PAULBdjn
Subject: [injured tortoise]
i found an injured gopher turtle and it isn't moving it's back legs it's only dragging and it won't eat and it had holes in the belly of his shell. how can i help him??????? their are many dogs in the neighborhood and i want him to have a chance to survive help please!!!!!!
It is very important that you get the tortoise to a vet that has reptile experience or to a wildlife rehabilitator. If you can not fine one of those, contact a local vet, pet store, or zoo and ask for their recommendation of where to take the tortoise. If none of that works, write me back.
Date: Sun, 21 May 2006
From: TJLD4
Subject: Are they an endangered species?
Are they an endangered species protected by federal law ?
See the attached website:
Date: Sun, 21 May 2006
From: Kimberly
Subject: Red Eared Slider Turtles
My family just returned from vacation in Destin, Florida with two red eared turtles. Unfortunately, we were cruely misinformed of the proper care and housing these turtles require and the threat of salmonella spreading to our children. Is there anyone I can give these poor turtles to before they die from lack of proper care? We have had them in the plastic containers they came in the whole ride home & they were not looking so good tonight so I got on the internet to research them & caring for them & feel horrible!

We have had them for 48 hrs. now. Please help me if you can!

Unfortunately, this is a very common problem. Often, people that sell these animals (and others) are more interested in making money than the welfare of the animals. I have a few suggestions: a school teacher may take them as they make decent class pets; try local pet stores (that is a doubtful option); some people sell these at the flea markets and may take them; a wildlife rehabilitator may take them. The worst thing you can do is release them into the wild, so please don't do that.

Write back if none of these options work.

Date: Sun, 21 May 2006
From: Steve
Subject: turtle [identity]
I saved a turtle (tortise?) today on a highway. Here is a picture of it. Can you please identify the species? Thank you. Martha, Ormond Beach, FL
Gopher tortoiseIt is a gopher tortoise. Good job. Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida, so (if you haven't already) you need to move the tortoise out of harm's way and release it where you found it. If you have any questions, write me back. Good picture, too. Thanks. That makes my job much easier!
Date: Sat, 20 May 2006
From: Cathymb
Subject: eggs?
What do the gophers eggs look like? We had fill/dirt bought in and we found several eggs, round and white. We thought they may be gopher eggs. If they are not, do you have any idea what they may be and then what do we do with them. Right now we have them covered with dirt, in a bucket.
Gopher tortoise eggs are round and about the size of a ping pong ball. Most turtle eggs are round, varying in size according to what species of turtle laid them. Snake eggs are oblong. If the eggs have been dug up and tossed around, it is not likely that they will hatch anyway as the temperature, humidity, etc., will have been totally disrupted. I would get rid of them before they get stinky.

Do you know where the fill came from? If there are tortoises there, the developer should not be digging up the habitat without a permit.

Date: Mon, 15 May 2006
From: Robyn
Subject: [baby]
I found a baby gopher tortoise in my yard. He is very small and all alone. I was afraid an animal would hurt it. Can it survive on it's own? I have it in my house in an open cooler with grass, water and some soft fruit. Should I keep him protected or just put him back outdoors? Will his mother be looking for him?
First, because gopher tortoises are protected, it is illegal for you to keep, move, or even feed the tortoise. The best thing to do is take it back where you found it and let it go out of harm's way. Tortoises, like the majority of reptiles, do not take care of their young, so no adult tortoise will be looking. Pat the top of his head, wish him luck, and turn him loose. It is hard to do, but we need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get.
Date: Sat, 06 May 2006
From: Itsme22752
Subject: emergency--injures gopher turtle
I hope you can help. We found an injured gopher turtle a few hours age. He is severley injured. The whole top of the shell crushed. He has lost a lot of blood, but still seems very allert. Is there any hope? What can I try to do to help this poor guy?
Please take the animal immediately to a veterinarian with reptile experience, or a wildlife rehabilitator. Write me back with your location if you cannot locate one.
Date: Fri, 05 May 2006
From: Lori
Subject: Gopher [shell damage]
My Australian Shepherd brought a small Gopher Turtle to me, in her mouth!! The shell is very damaged around the edges and seems to have a small amount of blood on it. What should I do? Will the turtle be ok if I just let it go? He seems to be ok ........... but I was concerned that he may have too much damage to his shell & possibly get an infection. Concerned animal lover!!!!!!
It is very important that you take the tortoise to a vet with reptile experience or wildlife rehabilitator. The shell is an outgrowth of the tortoise's bone, so any injury is serious.
Date: Sun, 30 Apr 2006
From: lizg
Subject: Gopher Tortoise habitat/food
Hi, we have about 4 Gophers Tortoises ranging from about 8 inches to 18 inches long, yellow/gold to brown on our property and really enjoy them. We have lots Wild lantana, grasses, grapes etc., but would like to plant other items that they like to eat and that is native to my area (Central Florida). I found this page, do you have other information.
The Ashton's have done more to identify tortoise food than anyone else. When people ask me for information, that is what I send them. I have attached another chapter from a training manual that the Ashton's wrote that you may find helpful. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only.
Date: fri, 28 apr 2006
from: celtictaps
subject: picture of turtle
Can you tell me what kind of turtle this is. Every year at this time it visits our yard and last year there were about 4 smaller ones too. I live in flagler beach florida two blocks from a1a and the beach, but this turtle seems to live in the neighborhood here in the brush
Gopher tortoise.Congratulations! You are the proud habitat-provider for a gopher tortoise! Sit back and enjoy, but don't mess with it or even do "nice" things like feed it. Gopher tortoises are protected and it is illegal to interfere with them in any way. Hopefully, it will stay off of A1A and continue doing what gophers do.
Date: Wed, 26 Apr 2006
From: Patty
Subject: Gopher Tortoise [transfer disease to humans]
Are there any diseases that a gopher tortoise can transfer to humans?
I have never heard of that happening, but you might want to check with a veterinarian familiar with reptiles.
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2006
From: Lynda
Subject: small gopher concerns [ground water]
I have enjoyed perusing your Q&A, and all of the info you have provided. It sounds like I am not the only one with a gopher concern. I did not see a satisfactory answer to my questions, so please help if you can.
I live in Ponte Vedra, about 500 yards from the ocean. This area floods with heavy rain, and the ground water about 18" down. I have never seen a gopher this far from the higher, drier, sandier habitat of Guana Basin, which is a few miles from where I live. Yesterday I found a small gopher (about 3") in the middle of my backyard. I am wondering if it had been dropped by a bird (I've seen this happen with turtles; most recently a red eared slider who ended up on the beach)
I realize relocation does not work very well, but should I just leave him in the yard (he is currently in a large red clay pot burried into the dirt) or call a licensed rehabber? (do you have a list of permitted rehabbers in this area that you could share?) I hope this is worthy of a reply & some direction. Thanks, Lynda
I suppose the tortoise could have been "transported" to your yard by a bird, but it is not highly probable. It most likely came from the dunes at the beach (are there any dunes left there?). The best (and legal) thing to do is let it be. It may actually decide to take up residence in your yard, so I have attached an article that will give you some helpful information if that happens. The material is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please. Letting the tortoise find his own way is preferable to either relocation or rehab. Write back if you need more information.
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2006
From: Héctor
Subject: Shell problems
I have a couple of land turtles in my garden. One of them is experimenting a shell problem. In its lower area it became almost white and it is also coming dust fron it. I don«t know if it is attaked by fungus or any other microorganims. At present I am brushing the area with a mixture of Iodium/Alcohol. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
My suggestion is that you get the animal to a veterinarian with reptile experience or a wildlife rehabilitator. Shell problems are often indicators of a serious problem. I am not qualified to give you advice on that, so please get the animal to someone who is qualified. If you need help locating someone, please email me back.
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
From: Igoftmyers
Subject: Hurricanes
What happens to the Gopher Tortoise during a hurricane..should the area flood? We have several in our area of Sanibel, FL.
with hurricanes, so they have the ability to survive. My guess is that they go to high ground and get in a burrow. The soils in these places are very pourous and do not hold water long. I also think that tortoises (and wildlife in general) know when a hurricane is coming and do what they can to get ready.
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
From: Martha
Subject: ornate wood tortoise
My question is not about the gopher, but an ornate wood tortoise. I hope you can answer it. I have an ornate wood tortoise that will eat NOTHING but strawberries. He loves them and can eat several in a day, but he won't eat anything else. We have tried every fruit and vegetable we can get a hold of. We have tried the tortoise food from the pet store (he won't even eat the strawberry flavored tortoise food). We have tried making a fruit salad with tiny chopped bits of fruits. He picks out the strawberry and leaves the rest. We have tried leaving out the strawberries but giving him other fruits and veggies, and just waiting him out. After a week, I couldn't take it and gave him his strawberries, he ate 3. My vet says he's just picky.
I'm worried that he won't get the right nutrients. His habitat is set up just like the books and vet said. He has a pond, and UVA and UVB lights, a heat rock, and it's between 82 and 84 degrees. What can I do to get him to eat something other than strawberries, or do I even need to worry about it?
The pickiness of your turtle may just be a seasonal thing and its diet may change as the climate changes. If you really want to do a good job, try to mimic the conditions during the year as they occur where the turtle is naturally found (Mexico and Central America). Even though the animal has likely never been there, millions of years of evolution have programmed it to certain climatic conditions and it will do best following those. Also, I have attached a good care sheet that has suggestions as to food and housing. It should give you some good ideas. Have fun!
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
From: Marie
Subject: send manual
Hi, Enjoyed reading all the questions and answers regarding gopher turtles.
A gopher turtle, I named it Sandy, has recently burrowed in my yard. I live about a block from the beach (new smyrna beach) and have a small yard, but he/she seems very happy. It dug it's burrow under my neighbors fence and concrete slab, but it's opening is in my yard. I think Sandy may like this site because I have dune daisies growing there in abundance. Anyway, I saw that you have a manual regarding the gopher turtle. I sit and watch Sandy every morning and afternoon. It is amazing how Sandy comes out like clockwork. Could you send a copy of the manual to me so that I can better understand my new neighbor. I'm thinking of planting some coastal prickly pear for Sandy. I didn't realize that I should not feed it. I'll stop, but it has been enjoying the carrots that I put out at 5 PM.
Here is the information you requested. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only. Congratulations on the new occupant, and enjoy!
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
From: Bob
Subject: Turtle sounds
Do gopher turtles have a mating call? Do they make any loud grunting noises?
The most common sound that they make that humans can hear is a grunting noise when they pull the head into the shell. This is caused by the air rushing out of the lungs and is not made intentionally or for a purpose. We are now finding out, however, that tortoises make a wide variety of sounds that are very low frequency and can travel through the ground between burrows. This is a new discovery and research is currently being done to learn more.
Date: Sat, 22 Apr 2006
Subject: estimated size and age
We have a gopher turtle that weighes 55+/- pounds that stays on our property. There is another one that is apx 40% larger but only see it every now and then. Question is how large will they grow and what would be the age of a turtle this size?
Gopher tortoises do not get that large. I suspect you have an exotic species that has been released. If you can send me a picture, I can help identify the turtles.
Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006
From: Kwelbrezz
Subject: Found
I just found a small Gopher Toroise baby, wondering in my yard i believe its mother has a nest under my pouch, will it wonder back to her or do they have to leave the nest she looks to be no more than a few days old, i have a pic of her that i will email you with this email. Will she be okk out there, we do have a very large Black Racser that also goes in and under our home, is it a danger to this little guy. I saw the mother pop her head out today but when i walked near not knowing she was out she saw me and ran back in. I am worried about the little for it is wondering out near the roads but i do not know if it is hers or there is a really big one that stays sometiimes over at the next trailer so i dont know where she belongs .
Juvenile gopher tortoise.That is a juvenile gopher tortoise, but it is a year or two old. The best (and legal) thing to do is let it go on its way. The parents do not take care of the young, so it doesn't really matter which tortoise it belongs to. Black racers typically do not eat tortoises, so that should be o.k. Hopefully, the tortoise will make it to somewhere safe, grow up, and make more tortoises.
date: mon, 20 mar 2006
from: anita
subject: eastern box turtles
i need help with my eastern box turtle, i live in ft payne, alabama, she has a problem, can you advise me if i tell you her medical problem?
I am not a vet, so my suggestion is that you take the turtle to either a vet with reptile experience, or a wildlife rehabilitator. Good luck and let me know if you need any more information.
Date: Sat, 18 Mar 2006
From: Danny
Subject: [Found: baby gopher tortoise]
I have found ( I think) a baby gopher tortoise in my yard any suggestions?
The only legal thing to do is leave it alone. If it is in imminent danger, move it a short distance into some natural habitat. Do this in the daytime when the temperature is warm, but not during the heat of the day or when it is raining. Put it in the shade and not direct sunlight. Good luck (to you and the tortoise!).
Date: Thu, 16 Mar 2006
From: mike
Subject: A baby gopher turtle was on our driveway, what do we do?
This little baby gopher turtle was on our driveway yesterday. My daughter put it near our pond. It stayed there all night and today. What do we feed this little thing? Is it endangered? Can there be more around? We've looked all around and have not seen any others, but there was a large turtle on the land behind us but no signs of babies.
Spring Hill, FL.
The best (and legal) thing to do is put it back near where you found it, out of immediate danger. Gopher tortoises live in dry habitats, not in water like most turtles. I would suggest you go to the land behind you where you saw the large turtle and put the baby there. Do this in the morning once the sun is up and warm; however do not put the tortoise in direct sunlight. Try to find some vegetation close to the ground and put it under that so it can hide.

Gopher tortoises are listed by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. It is illegal to keep, move, feed, or mess with them without a permit. Besides, it needs to be released so it can go about its tortoise business. We need all of them out there that we can get.

Date: Mon, 06 Mar 2006
From: tammydlai
Subject: Tortoises [research]
Hi, my name is Jonathan and I am in 4th grade. I am doing my research about tortoises. I have a few questions please help. Here are my questions:
1)How do tortoises care for their eggs?
2)What age do tortoises first mate?
3)Can tortoises live in their shells?
4)Do tortoises have mortal enemies?
Thanks for writing. I am glad that you are researching tortoises. These answers are related to gopher tortoises (not necessarily all the tortoises in the world), and I hope that they are helpful to you.
  1. Tortoises do not care for their eggs. Once they lay them in the nest and cover them up, they do nothing else for them or the young. Most reptiles are like that, except for the alligators and crocodiles whichwill guard their nests and young. Tortoises are very ancient creatures and do not think like we do. They live by instinct, not intelligence, so they do not "love" their offspring. Reproduction is simply another biological function for them, like eating and resting.
  2. The age at which they mate differs slightly depending on where they live. In cooler climates (north Florida, Georgia, etc.), they grow slower and mature later. In warmer climates, like central and south Florida, they mate sooner. The age ranges between 10 and 20 years old.
  3. The shell of a tortoise (and all turtles) is part of their body. It is an outgrowth of their bones and they never separate from it. That is why an injury to the shell is so drastic; a tortoise will often die from infection even if the initial injury does not kill it.
  4. When tortoises are young, they are small, soft-shelled, and very vulnerable to many predators (birds, raccoons, skunks, rodents, snakes, cats, dogs, etc., etc.). At about five years old, the shell gets hard and it then becomes difficult for most animals to eat them. As adults, the greatest threats are vehicles that run over them on the roads and destruction of their habitat.
Let me know if you have other questions. Good luck with your research.
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2006
From: laurel
Subject: Possible Respiratory Infection HELP!!!
About two weeks ago I exchanged a Russian Tortoise from a pet shop that had sold me a Russian prior to this thats shell was getting soft and he wouldn't eat. Now I have a new tortoise from the same pet shop and his skin is peeling and bubbling be the sides of his mouth, his neck is always fully extended from his shell, and he is making a very load weezing noise that can be heard from across the room, it even wakes me up from my sleep sometimes. Please help, I have wanted a tortoise forever but every one I get seems to have problems.
This problem is not uncommon, and I am not sure what to tell you. Pet stores often receive animals that are unhealthy, they keep them in poor conditions, and they sell them without giving the buyers sufficient information. Take the tortoise back and insist on getting a refund. Do some homework before you buy again. Try to find a pet store that specializes in reptiles, or look for a local herp society, university, or zoo with people that can give you advice. The internet has lots of decent housing and feeding information. Keeping turtles and tortoises seems like it should be easy, but it is actually complicated because they are cold-blooded. Good luck. If you cannot find anyone to help you locally, send me your town or city name and I will try to help.
Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2006
From: tom
Subject: Area
I live in lake county(central) Florida, right outside of Minneola. Right now, many residents of our area and I are trying to save about 5,000 acres of scrub land from development. The land is home to gopher tortoises, scrub jays and sand skinks. I am trying to gather as much information as possable. We have been trying to repel these developers for the last 3 years, each time they come back with a new tactic. Hhis time they say they are going to create a reserve for the gopher tortoises and scrub jays on part of the land. I expect this to be 10 or 15 acres. so my question is approx. How much land is needed to support each tortoise? If they get this through it could be dissasterous, putting hundreds of tortoises on 10 acres. Please reply quickly, as the next council meeting is this tuesday and this information could help greatly.
The home range size for a gopher tortoise varies with the quality of the habitat. When we radiotracked tortoises here on Kennedy Space Center, the average homerange size was between five and 13 acres for males, and 0.7 to almost 3 acres for females. The homeranges do overlap because they live in colonies, but each animal needs enough good habitat for food and burrows. The points you should stress in your argument are:
  1. If the habitat they want to save could support more tortoises, they would already be there. There is a concept called "carrying capacity" that states that the habitat will support a certain number of animals (or plants) based on the resources available; when the carrying capacity is exceeded, the animals will either not survive due to starvation, disease, etc., or they will leave the area (to be run over on the roads in the development). Overcrowding = stress.
  2. Ask the developer about the long-term management plan. Gopher tortoise habitat, particulary when it is small and isolated, must be managed with fire or by mechanical means in order to remain suitable. If it grows for too many years without being burned or cut back, the tree canopy gets tall and thick and shades out the food resources. The developer must be willing to commit to a perpetual management strategy, or the relocation will not be successful except in the short-term.

Here are some websites that should give you some more information you can use.;

Good luck and please let me know if I can help any more. It takes people like you to make a difference. Thank you.

Date: Wed, 08 Feb 2006
From: albernrock
Subject: sulcatta tortoise
I'm thinking about purchasing a sulcatta tortoise. It weights 125lbs. and is currently at a local pet shop. I been doing business with this pet shop for many years now. And feel comfortable with the owner. What I need to know from you is there any kind of wire I can use to prevent the tortoise from escaping. And are there any vitamin supplement I need to get for him/her. As well as any good advise.
Look at the websites I have listed below. They are reputable ones and should be helpful. I don't keep tortoises myself, but my advice is make sure you are ready for what you are getting into. Sulcattas get big and love to dig. Once it becomes 200 - 300 pounds, are you still going to want it? They are tough to find a home for at that size. Just be sure you really, really, really want it and are ready to do what it takes to treat it right.
Date: Mon, 06 Feb 2006
From: Tim
Subject: reptile career
I have loved reptiles, especially tortoises my whole life. I am interested in going to college in this field but don't know what to take. Any suggestions on were to go to school and what classes do I have to take to become a herpetologist or ecologist and such. Also what permit is needed to house gopher tortoises and how to get it for there is a large amount of gophers around here and the permit would be good to have in case of a emergency of a injured tortoise.
What classes you take in college will depend on where you go. You will need a basic degree in biology or wildlife studies of some sort, but you can take classes for your degree that lean toward herpetology and other vertebrates. The best thing you can do is look for opportunities to get involved with other herp people doing work if you can. Ask your guidance counselor at school if he/she knows of any mentors in your area. You can also contact colleges yourself and see if any of the teachers or graduate students could use some field help.

Here is a link to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tortoise permitting information:

Date: Sun, 05 Feb 2006
From: Vickie
Subject: Removing gopher tortoises
Evidently a goher tortoise has gotten into our back yard under the fence. He, she, or they have left many many mounds of dirt and have destroyed our yard. They seem to be going under the fence and then coming back in. We realy want to remove them from our property. How do we do it? We never see them and can not seem to find the main burrow. HELP!
It sounds like you have an armadillo problem, not a tortoise problem. If you had a tortoise, it would have one or two burrows and not be going back and forth on a daily basis. Contact your local animal control and ask them how to proceed.

If I am wrong, and you do see a tortoise, you will need to apply for a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to remove it. My suggestion is that if you are lucky enough to have a tortoise in your yard, you relax and enjoy it. Our fascinating wildlife is one of the things that makes Florida a unique and wonderful place to live.

Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006
From: Mjmrivas3
Subject: desert tortise upper respitory disease
I have a Sulcata Desert Tortoise and he is about 9 months. He is sneezing and breathing from his mouth. I was wondering if there was a home cure or a way to get medicines for him?
Please find a vet or wildlife rehabilitator to look at your tortoise. Diseases in reptiles are slow-developing, so once you start seeing signs of illness, the problem is probably already far along. He needs to be seen by a professional. Write back and tell me where you live if you cannot find someone to help you.
Date: Sat, 28 Jan 2006
From: Rebeltjc30
Subject: teressa in Florida
I am in college in lakeland, Florida and I am doing a project on Gopher Tortoise and I would like to know what they eat? I live near a scrub,and do they like living in the scrub or other places? It is a biological issues class so I am trying to explain in the class,how gopher tortoise and the scrub,and the plants all benefit each other. I was reading your site,and loved it. You talked about a plant list, can I please read it. I am also studying plants that are near the gopher totoise. How many gopher totoise are there in Florida? What other states are they in? what other countries do they in? Are they legal in any place to keep them? Any other info that I could share with the class would be helpful. I hope to beable to help them want to learn more. Why does the fires help in the scrubs? I would think it could kill some of the GT?
Here are a couple more websites that will help you with your research. I have also attached the list of plants that gopher tortoises are known to eat. The list is part of a training manual, so please just talk about it and don't copy it and hand it out.
Date: Fri, 27 Jan 2006
From: Tricialovespaul
Subject: sick tortoise ?
We have a tortoise that has been sitting on the apron and atop the mound right outside the hole for a week and not moving. Today, it was just barely inside the hole. We don't know if it is male or female. It does not respond to our approach, but does move (although not going anywhere) to touch on the shell. Is it possible that it is sick? Or, could it be protecting its burrow? Or, could it be a female with a clutch of eggs? Should we do anything? Thank you very much.
That does not sound good. Is the tortoise sitting out after dark? It probably needs some professional medical attention, either from a vet or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Please try to find one in your area that will look at the tortoise. If you can't figure out where to take it, write me back and tell me what town you live in and I will try to help.
Date: Fri, 27 Jan 2006
From: Jim
Subject: Injured tortoise
Hello I live in Kuwainow for two years . Unfortunately it was recentlt attacked buy a dog and appears to be dead. The shell has been ripped off ain a small place undernesth and flesh is exposed. i have treated it with a weak antiseptic solution but after 2 days the tortoise still appears to be dead. Could it be alive?
I am not comfortable proclaiming an animal dead or alive via a computer. Please take it to the nearest veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator for a professional opinion, and the sooner the better.
Date: Sat, 21 Jan 2006
From: Ron
Subject: law violation
living in central alabama over thirty years ago, i captured a young tourtoise crossing a road after a shower. i placed the critter in my back yard where he lived and roamed the yard held in by chain link fence. after a couple years a burrow was dug which he returned to each winter. we moved from the property in 1957; the new owners were told of the tortouise and they continued alowing him free reign. to make a long story short, recently visited the area, went by and found the tourtoise still there and still using the same burrow. my question are we breaking a law by keeping the tourtoise?
What an incredible story!!
No, you weren't breaking the law because tortoises weren't protected then.
Do you remember approximately what year you found the tortoise, and about how big he was (inches long)? We don't often have the opportunity to get such long-term data on individual animals. Any information you can share would be appreciated.
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 2006
From: Anna
Subject: Gopher tortoise law
I have recently heard of a law in Florida that a gopher tortoise can be removed from its burrow for 10 days (for construction of a nearby site, etc..) and then returned. This law seems unlikely to me. Any idea if it exists? And if so, do you know where I can find information about it?
Gopher tortoises cannot me moved without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. There may have been instances when a "move, hold for 10 days, and return" permit was issued, but that would be on a case-by-case basis, not because of a standing law.
Date: Sun, 15 Jan 2006
From: Steve
Subject: hibernation
Hello, I'm a canadian reptile educator and enthusiast and am planning a trip to Orlando area from April 4th to 12th. My question is whether gopher tortoises will have emerged from hibernation at this point. I have a trip to a state park planned just so we can see gopher tortoises in the wild. I'm assuming they'll be up but my experience with canadian herps is that sometimes animals are later than normal depending on the weather. Up here we have to wait til May for many species. Any info you could give me would be appreciated. Great site you have here by the way!
Hi, Your "luck" at seeing tortoises on your trip will be dependent on the weather while you are here. Our tortoises do not hibernate and will be active most any day when the temperature is more than 70 degrees F. Early April is an absolutely gorgeous time here, typically, warm and dry, so chances are you will see some tortoises. Have fun!
Date: Mon, 09 Jan 2006
From: Jessie
Subject: Illegal?
Hi. One day my mother and I were driving home when she suddenly jammed on the brakes. Turns out she bumped into a gopher turtle (good thing she didn't hurt it). We decided that it was better of to take it with us rather than leave it in the road to get injured (because two people before us almost ran it over) so we did. We were just wondering if it is illegal for us to keep it since we live in Florida. We probably aren't anyway since there is a lakefront about ten blocks down from us. Thank you
It is illegal for you to have the tortoise, or for you to release it anywhere other than where you got it. Please take it back and let it go. Look around for some woods or a field; gopher tortoises live on land and would not do well in the lake. It is hard to leave it somewhere that it might be in danger, but gopher tortoises have a home range and a group that they live with in a colony. It needs to go back home, and the sooner, the better for everyone. Write back if you have other questions.
Date: Fri, 06 Jan 2006
From: Fides Charisma David
Subject: Hi.. I need help pls...
Can i know the ovulation of a toroise? Pls repky as soon as u read this message... pls.. hoping for your kind consideration
Do you actually mean ovulation or how long it takes the eggs to hatch once they are laid? What kind of tortoise are you talking about? For a gopher tortoise, it takes between 80 and 110 days for eggs to hatch in the nest, depending on the latitude where the tortoise is located. If the tortoise is a different species, the time could be shorter or longer. Write me back with more specifics.
Date: Thu, 05 Jan 2006
From: AGleic
Subject: A possible Tortoise habitat
I work at Carver Middle School in Delray Beach, FL, and we were told that there's a gopher tortoise on a part of our land. We had the plot enclosed by a fence (years ago) and no one goes back there anymore. However, the area has become overgrown and litter is cluttering it. I'd like to clean it up, possibly make it a preserve for the tortoise, if he's still there, and make it a nature area we can all enjoy. Is this possible? How do you suggest I go about doing this? Are there any laws I need to know about before I start cleaning it up?
Thank you for any information /suggestions you may pass along.
Sounds like a great idea to me. Legally, you cannot move or interfere with the tortoise, but improving the habitat should not be a problem. Would you be opposed to letting me try to find a volunteer from either the Gopher Tortoise Council or the Florida Chapter of The Wildlife Society to come look at the site and give you some suggestions? Before we go too far with this, make sure it is all fine with the school adminstration and, if so, we will proceed.
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006
From: Birdwtchr
Subject: tortoise eggs
yesterday I found a tortoise just finishing and covering her eggs. she is in the back of a 5 acre fenced pasture. I have 5 llamas and 2 emus there. Soon to be a couple horses.
what can I do to insure that the eggs don't get damaged? and to help the little ones survive? will a fence structure around the nest be a good idea.? what about the young when they emerge? we recently burned a portion of the pasture so new growth should be present. I don't know if the right plants will be there. can I plant things? and what things do i plant.?
I checked around with some of my gopher tortoise contacts and none of them have seen or felt like gophers would be laying viable eggs this time of year. Still, it doesn't hurt to keep your eyes open because sometimes we get surprised. That is one of the fun things about this business: there is still so much to learn.
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 2006
From: Birdwtchr2
Subject: tortoise eggs
yesterday I found a tortoise just finishing and covering her eggs. she is in the back of a 5 acre fenced pasture. I have 5 llamas and 2 emus there. Soon to be a couple horses.
what can I do to insure that the eggs don't get damaged? and to help the little ones survive? will a fence structure around the nest be a good idea.? what about the young when they emerge? we recently burned a portion of the pasture so new growth should be present. I don't know if the right plants will be there. can I plant things? and what things do i plant.?
any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Claudia,
Because the gopher tortoise is a protected species, there is not much you can legally do without a permit from the State of Florida. It is actually very unlikely that the eggs are fertile anyway. Gopher tortoises typically mate and lay eggs in the spring, and it takes 80 - 110 days to hatching, depending on your latitude. This female is probably just shedding infertile eggs so that she will be ready for next year. She may be old, or young, or was not able to find a mate for some reason. My advice is to let things be. You could mark the nest somehow and keep an eye on it for signs of depredation or hatching, just to satisfy your curiousity. Hopefully, the female will do better this spring and lay a real nest. All that being said, I am still going to check around with some of my peers and see what they think about this situation. You are probably the 15th person or so that has written me this winter about tortoises laying eggs. I want to get some other opinions. It is going to be a scary thing if there are so many tortoises out there unable to find mates and reproduce. Not a good sign.
Date: Sun, 01 Jan 2006
From: jon su
Today we discovered a gopher turtle in our front yard that was apx. 20 inches long from front to back. It went into the woods on the side of our house, then about a hour later we saw her in the middle of the grass in the back yard. She had dug out a small area apx. 4" deep by 12" wide and 6" long and was laying eggs.
We did not disturb her and she finished laying the eggs (we only saw one at first then stayed away until she was finished), buried them and left back into the woods. We were considering removing the earth (intact) and placing it into an aquarium tank so that they will be protected then releasing the turtles after they hatch or contacting someone like yourself to find out what is best to do.
Our concern is that we have a three year old Jack Russel that is always digging and we are sure that he will not only dig them up, but probably destroy them as well. Or, one of the many raccoons will surely get them.
We understand from research throughout the Internet that this species is not only protected but also facing endangerment. What do you recommend as our best course of action to help protect these eggs and give them a fair chance for surviving?
First of all, because the gopher tortoise is a protected species, it is illegal to do anything to or with the eggs without the appropriate state or federal permit (depending on where you are located). That being said, it doesn't help with the immediate problem of protecting the eggs. You might try screening around them with some chicken wire or hardware cloth, but Jack Russels and raccoons are hard to fool. It is actually very unlikely that the eggs are fertile anyway. Gopher tortoises typically mate and lay eggs in the spring, and it takes 80 - 110 days to hatching, depending on your latitude. This female is probably just shedding infertile eggs so that she will be ready for next year. She may be old, or young, or was not able to find a mate for some reason.
My advice is to let things be. You could mark the nest somehow and keep an eye on it for signs of depredation or hatching, just to satisfy your curiousity. Hopefully, the female will do better this spring and lay a real nest.
Date: Fri, 30 Dec 2005
From: Coton
Subject: [looks sick]
i think my herman's tortoise is hibinating but he looks red on the shell and he is not moving once touched. he is 2 years old.
Please take him immediately to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator that has reptile (preferably tortoise) experience. Because they are cold-blooded, it often takes reptiles a very long time to look sick after they become sick, so it is important that you get help quickly.
Date: Sun, 25 Dec 2005
From: Daren
Subject: bedding for baby sulcatas trotoise
what do i need to keep my baby sulcatas tortoise in (bedding wise). i was told one thing but a website told me another please help me thanks
Here is a website that is very reputable and I would trust what they say. Sulcatas are not easy to take care of properly, so if you are not prepared or willing to do a good job, now is the time to get out. It is very important for a baby to have everything just right so that it can grow (and it is going to grow lots!) into a healthy adult. Good luck and write back if you need more information.
Date: Thu, 22 Dec 2005
From: carol t.
Subject: land development and GT
I read some questions and answers on your site, but there are so many questions there that it would take all night to finish them. I hope you can give me an answer to this in my email box so I don't have to search through all the questions again to find the answer. I saw a question about someone wanting to develop their property and thought they could not while the gopher tortoise had a burrow on the land. I saw your response that they could build on the lot and you have a link about permits, but the link is no good because I clicked on it and nothing is there.
We have a GT across the street on an empty lot that is up for sale. He/she has a big burrow right near the edge of the road. We live across the street, and we rent, so I want to know what we can do to let someone know the tortoise is there. I am concerned that we may not live in the house by the time the property sells and then maybe no one would know the tortoi! se lives there. I live in Hernando County, FL. Of course, if we still live here, I could run over when I see them begin to clear the lot (they just cleared the lot behind this one and are building a house), but I guess I could possibly be at work. It is very close to the road so I know the house won't be built right there, but they will probably mow the lot because it is so overgrown right now.
I would like to know what to do and who to contact if they can have it on record that a GT lives there (like maybe the place where the builders get a building permit, and maybe the fact the tortoise lives there can be recorded). I don't know if this is a possibility or not, but I do wonder what to do because when that time comes and the lot is cleared, they probably won't even know the tortoise is there. Please let me know if I can do anything because lots are selling fast and houses going up everywhere in Spring Hill. Thanks!
Concerned Tortoise Neighbor
There are a couple of things you can do. Take a stake and put it next to the burrow (not in front of the entrance) and tie some flagging tape on it. That way, if they come to mow or bulldoze, at least it will be obvious that a burrow is there.
Call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and report the tortoise (preferably to a wildlife person), with the address of the lot. Tell them you are also going to alert the local buildling permit office:
Southwest Region FWC
Greg Holder, Regional Director
Jeff McGrady, Wildlife Administration
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1299
(863) 648-3203
Call the local permitting people (either city or county) and tell them about the tortoise. When someone applies for a building permit, they should have to get a permit from the FWC for the tortoise. Tell the building permit people that you have spoken to the FWC and give them a name if possible.
If you are still living there when the property sells, show the real estate agent and/or the new owners the burrow. They may be happy to know about it and will try not to damage the burrow.
Good luck, and write me back if you need more information.
Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2005
From: jasmine
Subject: Do my tortoises like the band?
My husband and I recently became proud parents of two Russian Tortoises. We are housing them in our living room which is, coincidentally, the same room in which my husband's band usually practices. They're a pretty loud rock band. Will this bother Olga the Terrible and Oksana the Great (the tortoises)?
I can't say that anyone has ever asked me that question before!!! Tortoises do not have external ear openings, but they "hear" vibrations through their bodies. There is evidence that some species can communicate fairly long distances under ground. I would just pay close attention to the tortoises' reaction when the band practices. If they seem bothered, make alternate plans. If not, let them rock out! Good luck and have fun.
Date: Sun, 18 Dec 2005
From: c.
Subject: problem with swollen limbs
hi please can you help me I don,t know if in right place but just can't find the info anywhere if I'm not in the right area do you know someone i could get hold of as this problem has our vet stumped. I have a red eared terrapin who has become very swollen in the limbs and can not seem to be able to dive in water and has trouble moving on land it started with an eye infection which we fixed with eye drops from vet and then a week later the swelling started she is happy i.e. still eating well
If the vet you are using can't help, you need to find someone who has some reptile (preferably turtle) experience. Ask your vet and/or a nearby zoo to recommend someone. You might also ask around at pet shops that sell reptiles, or look for a local herp society and ask their members for help.

You should do something quickly, because reptiles usually take a long time to show the outward signs of physical problems. This could have been developing for a while. If none of these avenues work, write me back and tell me what city/state you live in and I will see if I can help.

Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005
Subject: Russian Tortoise
I adopted an adult female Russian Tortoise about 8 months ago. She is very happy and healthy. But, I noticed while soaking her tonight that her shell seems to be growing. She has a milky colored ring on her carpace in between the outer scutes and the inner scutes. I looked up pictures of growth on the web, and it seems to be exaclty what everyone else calls growth. My question is, can adult turtles still do this? I am worried that something might be wrong, because I have never seen her do this in all the time she has spent here. I feed her an excellent diet of collard/mustard/turnip/kale/green beans/radicchio/broccoli and desert tortoise dust her food. We don't know how old she is, but the previous owner had her for four years. What is going on? If something is wrong, what do I do about it? Thanks!
Tortoises, like most reptiles, will continue to grow throughout their lives. As long as she is eating and defecating normally, and shows no signs of distress, I think she is fine. However, if her shell starts to get soft, you should take her for a check-up. Try to find a vet that has reptile (preferably turtle/tortoise) experience. You might check at local pet stores or with a local herp society if you have one for a vet recommendation.
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005
From: Don
Can tortoises eat potatoe peelings?
It has been my experience that tortoises will eat whatever they want, and it is hard to predict. If it is bad for them, they probably won't eat it. Give it a try.
I assume that you are not speaking of a gopher tortoise. They are a protected species and it is illegal to keep them without the proper permits.
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005
From: WherestheWooWoos [sex]
Subject: tortoise
hello my name is Amy i have a 2 1/2 year old Hermannes tortoise. can you please tell me if there is any way that i can tell what sex it is. also at what size do you need to get it chipped . many thanks Amy.
Here is a website address that will help you with determining sex. I am not sure what you mean by "chipping". If you mean putting a PIT tag in so the tortoise can be identified, I would ask a vet for guidance on that.
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005
From: Beverly
Subject: land being sold
Becky - I recently bought a house in Deep Creek, Punta Gorda. We right away found that a large gopher tortoise lives across the road in undeveloped scrub jay land. I saw a real estate agent putting sale signs on the land. She told me that the land can be sold on speculation that the laws will eventually allow the developers to clear it. If the gophers are protected then why isn't their burrow protected? He crosses the road each day at mid-day and munches on grass in our yard. When we see him attempting to cross we go out and wave cars to stop . It makes me a wreck but judging from his size, he has been making this trip since before the road was ever there and he's not about to stop now. We love having him. Is there anyone to contact or is it just the sad plight of development? not to mention the poor scrub jays who are standing in the way of the land owners) Beverly
Dear Beverly,
Gopher tortoises are protected by the state and fall under the jurisdiction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC); scrub jays are federally listed under the Endangered Species Act which makes them the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The real estate agent/owner can sell the land, but whomever buys it should be told that protected species occur there. They will have to get permits and pay mitigation costs to develop. It will not be cheap. They could even be denied permits for the jays, but that is rare.
Below are the contact numbers for the FFWCC and USFWS offices in your area. I am not familiar with the "rules" regarding the responsibility of the real estate agent to inform potential buyers, but that is another avenue you might investigate.

FFWCC - Southwest Region
Greg Holder, Regional Director
Jeff McGrady, Wildlife Administrator
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1299
(863) 648-3203

USFWS - South Florida Ecological Services Office
Jay Slack, Field Supervisor
1339 20th Street
Vero Beach, FL 32960
Phone:( 772) 562-3909
Fax: (772) 562-4288

Good luck. My best advice is be persistent and don't come across as being overly emotional. Get your facts together and present them to the appropriate people. Many times, the only thing that makes a difference is the efforts of a concerned citizen.

Date: Mon, 12 Dec 2005
Subject: developement
I live around an area of SW Fla that is being bulldozed at an incredible rate. Much of it is tortoise habitat. I know for a fact that these developers just go in and bulldoze without even knowing if there are tortoises living there or not. I'm trying to find out if these developers are required to inspect the land first for tortoises, and if not, how to get into law that they should be. Thanks, Keely
Dear Keely,
Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida. Developers are required by the State, and often by the local county or city, to have a survey done to see if tortoise burrows occur on a site. If burrows are found, the developer must pay for a permit to either bulldoze the burrows (and presumably whatever tortoises are inside the burrows) or relocate the tortoises. However, if a developer goes in, bulldozes, and no one knows any better or says anything, they get away with it. Very often, the only thing that stops or catches the developer is a concerned citizen that takes the time to make the appropriate phone calls.
The first step is to find out if an impending development has already applied for and received their permits. If not, call your Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regional office. Below is the link to the webpage so you can figure out which region is yours. Also contact the local government that would have jurisdiction over building permits in that area. If you can, gather evidence that the tortoises occur on the property (pictures, other credible witnesses). Be prepared to be frustrated, but persistence often pays off. Even if the property gets developed, at least the developer will have to pay for the permit, and the money will go to manage gopher tortoise habitat elsewhere in Florida that is already owned by the State and is safe.
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 2005
From: Gigi
Subject: Gopher Turtle [in private development]
Hello Becky:
We recently discovered that we had a gopher tortoise living in our small back yard in our private development. I telephoned the Fish and Wildlife Commission in Ocala, FL and asked what to do about it. They told me to just leave it there. My problem is that we are now experiencing having a lot of poisonous snakes in our yard and they are also getting into our garage. We have many children in our neighborhood and we are all concerned about the snakes. So far, we have found 3 pygmy diamondback rattlers - one even in the next door neighbors pool, and 3 others that we could not identify.
Can't someone come and relocate the turtle so that our gardener can fill in the burrow and keep the snakes out?
Gigi, Leesburg, FL
Dear Gigi, It is very unlikely that the snakes have suddenly shown up because there is one tortoise burrow in your yard. Just like the tortoise, the snakes have probably been displaced because of development. When they do not find suitable conditions (lots of ground cover, food, etc.), they will move on and probably get killed by someone or run over by a car. Tell the kids not to touch or harass any snake. Please don't be afraid of the tortoise and its burrow. You are lucky to have been chosen for its home, so enjoy!
Date: Thu, 03 Nov 2005
From: Krissi
Subject: Florida Cooter Question
I live fairly close to the Enchanted Forest (in north Merritt Island), and I have a question for you, but it isn't a Gopher Tortoise question.
I went out my backdoor yesterday to take my dog for a walk, and there was a beautiful Florida Cooter laying eggs almost directly in front of me -- the front half of her body was over the porch and the rest of her over the hole! After taking my dog in another direction, I snuck up behind the cooter and took a look within the hole it had dug, and I saw one egg, but she could've been there for quite a while before I came outside.
I left her alone, and pretty soon, she covered up the hole and took off. I've read your posts and know it's best to leave the eggs alone, but I did want to double check with you as our house is quite a ways from water (more than the 100 feet that suggests, and there is a lot of brush to navigate to get to the water. I'm sure mama didn't have problems getting through because she was a good-sized turtle, but I fear for the babies, especially with possums, raccoons, and cats around. Anything I can do to secure their survival? I'm assuming they'll be born in 90-100 days, but since she gave birth rather late in the season, maybe longer? Any help would be suggested.
Sincerely, Kris
I am familiar with your area because I live near there, too. It is late in the season for egg laying, so my guess is that the egg was infertile and the female was simply getting rid of it. Just keep an eye on the spot and see what happens over the next few months, if anything.
Date: Mon, 28 Nov 2005
From: Kristyn
Subject: gestation and mating
how long is gestation for a gopher tortoise? all i can find is language that states "shortly after mating, eggs are laid..." i'd like to know how long my tortoise was pregnant. she just laid three eggs. we thought it was a boy! can it have mated with a much much smaller tortoise of another species?
The first thing I have to tell you is that gopher tortoises are protected and cannot be kept in captivity without a permit from the appropriate state or federal wildlife office.
Gestation takes between 80 and 90 days, depending on where you are located (colder climates take longer).
Gopher tortoises will not typically mate with other species.
If you are keeping a tortoise and do not have a permit, please write me back so we can figure out what to do.
Date: Wed, 23 Nov 2005
From: Messbar2
Subject: Question [snakes]
Hello, I live in an area of Florida that is densly populated with Gopher Tortoises.
My little mini Dachshunds like to go in the holes and hunt the turtles or whatever else it is that may be lurking below. I discourage this. They only do it at night which makes it really inconvenient to try to coax them out in the dark. Anyhow, on October 8th my momma Dachshund (8years old) and her daughter (3 years old) went out and momma never came back. Usually if they are into something I can hear them barking, if it starts above ground anyways. Well they have never left the yard (13 acres) and I am sure whatever happened to her happened involving a Gopher hole. Oh and we live in a very untouched part of Florida where the snakes are plentiful. (Rattlers among others)
My question is if She were to have been snake bit in a hole and were not eaten by the snake would the Gopher living there remove her remains from the den or move out or what? Do you have any idea? I really need some closure and if I even thought her remains may surface I would keep looking to have closure.
Thank you, Michelle, Branford, Florida
I am very sorry about your dog. The questions you ask are difficult, but I will give you my best guess. Dogs, especially dogs that mess with gopher holes and are in that type of habitat, often get bitten by venomous snakes. I don't think that if the dog died inside a gopher burrow that a tortoise would carry it out. In fact, the burrows usually used by snakes are not currently being used by a tortoise.

Hopefully, you can train the rest of your dogs to stay out of the burrows and avoid snakes. There is professional training available; I have seen it advertised somewhere, but can't remember where. You might check on some of the hunting websites or in hunting magazines.

Date: Sun, 27 Nov 2005
From: Joan
Subject: Questions [human friendly]
Hi. I have several questions: Are gopher tortoises considered 'bright' or 'simple minded' animals, or does anyone know? Can they become human friendly? Do they have good vision? Good hearing? One has established a burrow in my back yard. I once saw at a zoo very large tortoises being fed, so I offered similar raw vegetable and fruit scraps to this tortoise. I soon learned what items it likes and doesn't like. I have taken up eating some of my meals out in the yard near the burrow and 'chat' with her/him as it stares at me. Sometimes it will come very, very close to me (2 feet or less) to eat scraps as I throw them in its direction. Other times it freezes in place at a distance, staring at me, but will not advance to pick up the scraps. In fact, it will stay in this position for prolonged periods of time, not moving, even after I have gone in the house. It also seems to not be aware of food if it's not all in one pile/place. E.g., I will throw some grapes in it's direction and it will only go to one or two.
Good questions.
The first thing I have to tell you is that it is illegal to feed the tortoise. It is a protected species, and supplementing their food teaches them to depend on you instead of finding food on their own, which is not a good thing. I have attached a chapter from a training manual that has information for people who have tortoises take up residence in their yard. There are things you can do to make your yard an attractive, healthy place for the tortoise. The chapter is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please.
Tortoises are evolutionarily ancient creatures and, like most reptiles, have small brains. They operate on instinct, not intelligence. They can learn to recognize humans as a food source, but they are not "warm, fuzzy pets" that will love you in return. They are motivated by the needs for food, shelter, and reproduction. They can see well, but "hear" the vibrations of sound through their shells. Some of the behaviors you describe, such as sitting in a particular position for a long period of time may happen because the tortoise is cold-blooded. Reptiles do not have sophisticated ways to control their body temperatures, so when they find a situation that is good for digesting food or other life processes, they have to take advantage of it. They will often bask in the sun to heat up, or hide in the burrow to cool off.
I hope this has been helpful. The best thing you can do is adopt a "hands-off" approach, sit back, and enjoy.
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2005From: donna
Subject: [tortoise shell merchandise]
Hi, I have a question regarding tortoise shell merchandise. I am currently vactioning in the Bahamas and have seen some beautiful Bahamian Tortoise shell jewelry, however I would not purchase it before knowing if the tortoises are killed for their shells. Could you let me know that? Many thanks!
Your best bet to get a straight answer is to ask a customs official. Regardless, tortoises do not shed their shells, so the animal was either killed for its shell or the shell was taken after it was already dead. If you get a good answer from someone official, please let me know.
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005
From: Heather Ann
Subject: reptile data
Dear Becky Smith,
My name is Heather Doyle, and I am working with a team of scientists attempting to conduct a large scale quantitative analysis of global reptile population trends. My preliminary work suggests that reptile populations are declining but we require a much larger dataset before reaching that conclusion.
We are looking for as many reptile population data sets as possible that have been collected from 1940- present. The criteria are minimal - reptile abundance 2 consecutive years or longer, no experimental manipulations, and there must be no change in the methodology, including search/capture effort, for obtaining the reptile population censuses.
I noticed that you conduct conservation research on the gopher tortoise. If you happen to have abundance data on any reptile populations, would you be willing to include your data in this study? As well, do you know of anybody else who might have these kinds of data, especially outside of North America? Any help that can be offered would be much appreciated. If you have any questions or want additional details about the project please contact me.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Thank You, Heather
Heather, I do not have any data sets that fit your criteria. However,look at the website I have listed below. There are hundreds of herpetologists associated with that organization (PARC) and they have a listserve for requests such as yours. I would contact them.
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005
From: Ninette
Subject: nest in backyard
My Name is Ninette and I live in Port St Lucie Florida. My parents house has been a home for at least one or two gopher tortoises over the years. Now we have one that has laid some eggs right in our backyard. Just today as a matter of fact. My mom was a witness to the beginning and end of it. SHE ACTUALLY THOUGHT SHE WAS BUILDING A BURROW!!! Anyway, we were curious to know if there was anyway to help protect the nest from predators, or if we have to just let nature take its course. Please help us to help them!
Hi Ninette, This is not typically the time that gopher tortoises lay eggs, so they are probably infertile anyway. Did she dig a hole or put them on top of the ground? I would just leave them alone (that is the law, but also the best for the tortoises), but keep an eye out for signs of hatching in about 80 days. If they do hatch, please let me know.
Date: Tue, 15 Nov 2005
From: sweetweety
Subject: [eat-drink]
What do the gopher tortoises eat?
How do they drink?
Gopher tortoises are vegetarians. They eat low-growing herbs, flowers, seeds, and grasses. They get most of the water they need from their food, but I have seen them drink from puddles after it rains.
Date: Wed, 16 Nov 2005
From: maguire1
Subject: Torts & turtles in general
Hi there, I happen upon your Q&A page while doing a search and was very happy to find someone that is expert on Gopher torts. I often get questions and not being an expert on them look for outside help. I will certainly give the link to your page in the future. If I can ever be of any help with other species I do deal with quite a variety and with quite a few people that specialize in one specie or another. Thanks for the effort you put toward the torts. :-)
Julie - NYS Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator Turtle Rescue of Long Island
View our photos at:
Join our group:
Julie, Thanks for the kind words, and especially for the offer of help. I get all kinds of questions about other species. Many times, I don't know the answer and have to go hunting, which is a good learning exercise for me. I will definitely add you to my list of resources. Your website is very nice, too. Our webmaster does the voodoo; I just answer the questions!! Feel free to email me directly anytime. Thanks. Becky
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2005
From: DWisner
Subject: Mating behaviors of the gopher tortoise
Hi. I work for a wildlife rehabber and we have a g. tortoise who we think may be showing signs of wanting to mate. (We have him since he is missing part of his jaw--we fine-chop his food, he is doing better). Two days ago he began what looked like excess salivation, profuse salivation, somewhat slimy. Also he looked to be urinating profusely. Are these mating behaviors? When we put him outside each day with the 3 females we are working with, he mounts them. What are the mating behaviors of the male g. tortoise?
Thanks, Lisa, Altamonte Springs FL
Male mating behaviors that I am familiar with include chasing a female, head bobbing, and attempting to mount. The salivation and urination may indicate a serious health problem. Please take the tortoise to a vet that has some reptile experience. Because tortoises are cold-blooded, it takes a long time for illnesses and infections to get bad enough to be obvious. He may be showing signs of problems that he has had since before you got him.
Date: Mon, 14 Nov 2005
From: Bobandjanet
Subject: endangered
hey i am michelle i am doing a project on gofer turtles are they endangered or however u spell it lol
Hi Michelle, Gopher tortoises are federally listed as threatened in the western part of their range, and protected by the various states in the rest of the range. In Florida, they are listed as a species of special concern.
Date: Sun, 06 Nov 2005
From: brick
Subject: Possible Constipation
We have a 2 year old Greek Tortoise. We live in Florida. He has been very healthy and active up until the past month. When I clean his enclosure I have noticed his droppings have decreased in frequency. He still eats but not as much as normal and he hides in his shelter more. He still looks good but I am very concerned. Please give me some advice.
You need to take the tortoise to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator that has reptile experience. Because tortoises are cold-blooded, it often takes a long time for the effects of infections, diseases, or other problems to be obvious. Also look at the following websites and make sure that the temperature, housing, and diet that you are giving the tortoise are proper. Any of those could cause the tortoise to become ill after a couple of years. Please don't wait to do something, because by the time the tortoise looks sick, it will probably be too late to help.
Date: Mon, 07 Nov 2005
From: Halljfox53
Subject: greetings [study the gopher tortise]
id like to study the gopher tortise in the wildand am having problems locating in washington county north of panama city fl can you tell me where i might find some burrows in my area? also when are they active....? thx james
James, I am not familiar with that area of Florida. Please contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to get the information and any permits you may need.

Northwest Region
Lt. Col. Louie Roberson, Regional Director
3911 Hwy. 2321
Panama City, FL 32409-1658
(850) 265-3676
Date: Thu, 10 Nov 2005
From: Heather
Subject: Gopher Tortoises in my yard
I have at least two Gopher Tortoises living in my 1/4 acre yard. We have made arrangements with the fencing to allow them to get in and out and made a separate kennel to keep our dogs from bothering them. However, we have recently cleared out all the trees and low brush to make it an open grassy yard and I'm afraid we may have destroyed some of their food sources. I pretty sure they like the open yard better as they visit more frequently (one makes a daily 2:30pm cruise through the yard, you could set your watch to him) and the newest burrow inside the yard was dug after the clearing. Our thoughtful GT friend dug the new burrow next to a tree stump to save me the expense of having to hire a stump grinding company.
We will be planting in the yard as time goes on and I'd like to be as considerate to the GT's needs as I can. One website I read mentioned blackberries and blueberries. I will do my best to include any suggestions you can make when I am choosing plants for our yard.
I haven't touched them, so I'm not sure of their gender, but do they mate at a certain time of the year? I want to keep an extra eye on the dogs and watch my step if there are going to be little ones about.
One other question, how strong are these creatures? I came home last week to find the walk-through gate to our 6 foot chain link fence had been lifted off the hinges and was laying on the ground. My first thought was that someone broke into our yard (we keep it locked), but I'm wondering if it was just a GT who was trying to get under the gate and lifted it enough to pop it off the hinges.
Dear Heather, This is great, and it sounds like you are doing all of the right things. Attached is a chapter from a training manual that will help answer many of your questions; it includes a plant list. There are many plants on the list, and the key is providing a diversity for the tortoises to choose from.
They typically mate in the spring and the eggs hatch about 80 days later. The exact timing depends on your latitude.
I don't know what to say about your gate. My first reaction was "No way!", but I have seen tortoises do some amazing things. They are mini-bulldozers!
Below is the result of your feedback form. Thursday, November 10, 2005
name: Faniel
Hallo , I need to know how many years live in average in the world, what health kind of Tortoise.
Thanks, Faniel.
There are many different kinds of tortoises and their health needs, feeding and temperature requirements, habitats, etc. vary widely. Here are some websites that may help you:
Date: Tue, 01 Nov 2005
Subject: Do Gopher Tortoises? [prickly pear cactus]
Do gopher tortoises have any special protection mechanisms for dealing with the spines on prickly pear cactus? Does their mouth or face get injured in the process? Seems silly, just trying to figure it out :) Thank you, Kristin
Hi Kristin, That is a great question! Tortoises have scales that protect the soft parts of their face from the spines. The inside of the mouth is hard, not soft like ours, so the spines do not penetrate. I have seen tortoises chomp down on prickly pears with no problem. In fact, all parts of that plant (pads, fruit, flowers) are favorites.
Date: Mon, 31 Oct 2005
Subject: Gopher Tortoise Eggs
After speaking with individuals at the State and National Wildlife Offices, I was finally informed by Mike Chambers at the NWS in Merritt Island WHY the eggs of a gopher tortoise cannot be moved. I have a nest in my driveway. We watched her lay the eggs on 10/29/05 and put a wire dog cage w/o a bottom over the nest once she left. We are unable to drive on our driveway now and would like to know what is the average gestation for the eggs?
Hi, This is very interesting. It is incredibly late in the year for gopher tortoises to be laying eggs. Are you sure it was a gopher? Were the eggs laid on the ground or did she dig a cavity and lay them in it? It takes about 80 days for a nest to hatch, so that puts us into late January. Where do you live? Unless you are in south Florida, it is not likely that the eggs will survive the winter anyway. What is NWS?
Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005
From: Marlene
Subject: found hatchling gopher?
I am in Brooksville, Florida and I found a hatchling all by itself. What can I do for it to make sure it has a safe longlasting life?
The best (and legal) thing to do is take the hatchling back to where you found it and release it out of harm's way. Find a burrow or place it under vegetation or root stump so that it has shelter from weather and predators. Do this during the warm part of the day so that it has plenty of time to get safe and comfortable before it gets dark and/or chilly. There is no way we can say that it will have a longlasting life, but it knows much better than we do what it needs to be healthy. It is very important that it remains free so it can add to the population in the future.
Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2005
From: Foxymoo2u
Subject: when should my tortoise hybernate?
Could you tell please at what age a do you hybernate a tortoise for the first time and how long should they hybernate for???
and where is the best place to keep him when he is hybernating?if you could help me i would appreciate it thankyou.
What kind of tortoise is it, where do you live, and does the tortoise stay outside all year?
Date: Thu, 20 Oct 2005
From: Sheila
[Subject: baby in danger] I have found a baby gopher in the front yard yesterday a bird was trying to get it so I put him in a cooler with dirt and grass but I'm not sure the correct way to take care of him or rather I should just let him go he is small he fits in the palm of my hands and I am only 5'3. If you could please give me some information on the care I would be thankful,
Please put the baby back near where you found it, but under some vegetative cover so it can hide. You might also look in the area for a small burrow; sometimes they will dig one. He will do best on his own, even with the predators out there.
Date: mon, 17 oct 2005
from: arlinethequeen
subject: (no subject) [babies eat?]
what do they eat when the are babies?
Tortoises are vegetarians and eat low-growing grasses and herbs. They may eat certain plants when they are young, but we do not have data on that. It is important to let them have access to a wide variety of plants so they can choose what they need to eat when. In other words, they do best free in the wild finding their own food, so if you are holding a baby tortoise, please let it go where you found it.
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2005
From: bobi
Subject: Pet Store Tortoise Abuse
Hi Becky. This is not a Gopher Tortoises only question, but I'm hoping you are still able to help. I have an 8 yr old Russian Tortoise that is part of our family. Recently, my family was relocated to a small town in Idaho, and I went to a local reptile petstore to purchase a new UVB bulb......and left utterly sick. This closet of a store had approx. 100 tortoises of all species, and they were stuffed into little buckets piled about 2 to 3 deep. The only torts that were in an aquarium (a 10 gal GLASS aquarium no less with a heat lamp and no UVB lighting or available water) were 8 little sulcatta's hatchlings. I have called every department. I can think of in this area, and have gotten nowhere.

Are you aware of any watchdog groups or departments that I could report this to and get results? I am just sick at what I saw in there. He was feeding 2 Russian Torts crickets and iceburg lettuce - and told me that tortoises only need UVB lighting when they first come out of hibernation, not in captivity unless the owners want to hibernate them.....not to mention a 10 gal bucket with 2 to 3 torts in it!

If you could point me in the right direction of who to report this pet store to I would certainly appriciate it. Thank you.

Hi, I would suggest you contact the nearest chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). They should be interested in checking it out, or at least be able to give you some guidance. If there is a local herp society, that might be another avenue to try to get some support. A little public outcry can do wonders. Keep me posted.
Date: Sun, 16 Oct 2005
From: Jim
Subject: determining age
How is the age determined? By counting growth rings on the carapace? Is this an accurate method?
There is not a good, accurate method for determining age in a tortoise. The growth ring counting doesn't work because there is no guarantee that a tortoise lays down a ring every year. In warmer climates they may lay down more than one, and in colder climates, they may have less than one ring per year. Hatchlings can usually be distinguished from older juveniles by size and/or an scar on the plastron (bottom shell) from being attached inside the egg. Juveniles are soft-shelled until they reach about 5 years old, but that is also variable. Once they reach adult status, it is all guess work. They do continue to grow, albeit slowly, throughout their lives, so a really big tortoise is likely very old.
Date: Thu, 13 Oct 2005
From: Dvfonner
Subject: Do/Can Gopher turtles swim?
I am curious if it is common for gopher turtles to swim?
They can swim for short distances (across ditches, etc.), but it is not their strong point. They are much better suited for crawling!
Date: Wed, 12 Oct 2005
From: Linda
Subject: baby tortoise
Hi, I'm the Director for the Lowndes County animal shelter. A citizen brought this baby gopher T into our shelter. Can you sex them at an early age? This baby has a flat underside like a female.
Our Vet will be taking this little one to his farm for release.
Young gopher tortoiseTortoises cannot be reliably sexed until they reach, or are near, sexual maturity. That takes at least 10 years. The tortoise in the picture is definitely too small to have the sex determined.
Date: Sun, 09 Oct 2005
From: Amy
Subject: sulcata
Whould like to no if thre is any plant life that should be avoided in feeding.Thank You Amy
Tortoises are usually pretty smart about avoiding things they shouldn't eat. Here is the address for a good, reputable website with a sulcata care sheet.
Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005
From: GPurcell9
Subject: found one in georgia
We found a gopher turtle and have him in our classroom. Is it legal to keep them in Georgia?
The gopher tortoise is a protected species throughout its range, including Georgia. It is illegal for you to keep the tortoise. Besides, turtles are generally much more difficult to take care of than people realize. They have complicated dietary and housing requirements, and, because they are reptiles, they should be kept at particular temperatures and humidities. You could probably keep the tortoise alive, but it is doubtful that you could keep it healthy. Another problem is that if you have it in captivity, it will not get the chance to reproduce; we need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get. So, for lots of good reasons, you need to take the tortoise back to where you found it, put it out of harm's way, and release it.
Date: Wed, 05 Oct 2005
Subject: gopher turtles
what do they eat
Tortoises are vegetarians and eat low-growing grasses and herbs.
Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005
From: MissKittieInFl
I wanted to know what I should feed a baby Gopher I have one in my yard and would like it to stay
Gopher tortoises are protected and it is illegal to feed them or keep them enclosed. The best thing to do is make your yard attractive, and maybe it will stay. I have attached a chapter from a training manual that should help you. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only. Thanks.
Date: Tue, 04 Oct 2005
From: Jackson
Subject: Characteristics of tortoise
Please i just want to know the characteristic of a TORTOISE.
I think what you are asking me is "what makes a tortoise a tortoise"? The word tortoise is a layman's term (i.e., not scientific) for a turtle that spends its time on land. Because they do not live in the water, they have some physical traits that are different, such as claws suitable for digging in soil, and scales that help keep them from drying out in the hot air.
Date: Sun, 02 Oct 2005
From: Russell
Subject: gopher tortoise [hatching eggs]
My husband and I was driving down the road, and we saw that someone had ran over a turtle. We could also see that she had eggs inside of her. So we turned around and picked the eggs out and brought them home and washed them off and buried them in sand in an old refriedgerator drawer. We found out how long it would take for them to hatch, there was 3 of them. Well, 1 has hatched believe it or not! My quistion is what do they eat when they first hatch. We live in south Ga and we know it's a gopher tortoise. We also know they are protected now since reading your site. Any help you can give us is appreciated.
That is really incredible that one hatched. Keep watching, because the other two might as well. We really don't know much about what hatchlings do, but they will absorb the yolk sac on the belly for nourishment for the first few days. The best thing to do would be take the hatchling/s back to near where you saw the female, find a dry wooded area and release them out of harm's way. Put them into an adult tortoise burrow if you find any, or underneath vegetation where they can hide. After a while, they will dig their own burrow or find a place to hang out for a few years until they are bigger. It may feel like you are abandoning them, but they are much better at finding the proper food, temperature range, humidity, etc., than we are. Besides, we need all of the new tortoises out there that we can get. You have done very well for them, and it is time for them to take care of themselves.
Date: Fri, 30 Sep 2005
From: Vickie
Subject: gopher and desert tortoises
is there difference between a gopher tortoise and desert tortoises? They look very similar. If there are differences, what are they?
They are the same genus (Gopherus), but separate species (gopher is polyphemus and desert is agassizii). There are some physiological differences, and many ecological and behavioral differences. They are difficult to tell apart if you are not familiar with both.
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005
From: Thebiter06
Subject: from kayla [male or female]
How do tell between a male and female tortoise.
The female's plastron (bottom shell) is perfectly flat, while the male's is slightly to very concave at the back end near the tail.
Date: Thu, 29 Sep 2005
From: Cheryl
Subject:[male or female]
How can you tell if it is a male or a female because we have one living on our property.
Females plastron (bottom shell) is perfectly flat, while the male's is slightly to very concave at the back end near the tale.
Date: Mon, 26 Sep 2005
From: Kandra
Subject: Backyard Friend
We discovered we have a new neighbor a gopher tortoise. We are not disturbing her, but my kids think it is neat that we have wild life in the yard. I have warned them that she might move on. I think that she has made her burrow under our shed. I was curious how long they stay in an area? Thank you.
It is really difficult to predict what the tortoise might do. Typically, in the wild, they dig several burrows throughout their home range and use them whenever they are nearby. Some are only used during certain seasons; this may have something to do with the food resources in that particular spot. However, in suburbia and other "unnatural" situations, the tortoises often behave differently. They appear to have fewer burrows, maybe because there is not enough room to have many. So, it is difficult to say. Just enjoy watching the tortoise while it is there. Keep track of when it comes and goes, if it does, because it may very well come back at the same time next year. Have fun!
Date: Sat, 24 Sep 2005
From: Kathy & Mickey
Subject: [found baby]
I just found a very young gopher tortoise. eyes closed still has part of cord . I only picked it up because it was on the road and ants were starting to attack. What can I do with it and what do I feed it? We have about 10 holes on our 20 acres and several on the 5 acres next door. Should I just return it and let nature take its course.
The best thing to do is take it to one of the adult burrows on your property and let it go in there. Juveniles often use those for refuge until they dig their own burrows. The temperature, humidity, and food supply should be o.k., and certainly better than we can do trying to guess what the little guy needs. Thanks for saving it. Kiss it on top the head, wish it the best of luck, and set it free.
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2005
From: Dogs4cats9
Subject: hurt gopher tortise
when coming home from work i seen a car swerve and hit a gopher tortise i pulled over and it was alive but the shell on the back is smashed in there is no blood coming from the mouth or anyplace else i put nepsporin on the shell to help with infection and put it out side in my screened in porch with roman lettuce what else can i do i would like to release it in the feild next door when i know other gopher tortises live any help will be great thanks
The best thing you can do is get the tortoise to a wildlife rehabilitator. Reptiles are cold-blooded and contract infections very slowly. Their shell is an outgrowth of their bone, so any injury to the shell is serious. If you can't find a rehabber in your area, please write me back and I will help locate one. A vet with reptile experience would be fine as well, but they may charge quite a bit of money. Some vets will take care of wild animals free-of-charge, so it doesn't hurt to ask. Rehabbers typically work for donations. Please do not release the animal in the field next door. If you don't want to get medical attention for it, take it back to near where you found it and release it out of harm's way.
Date: Tue, 20 Sep 2005
From: Gary
In my yard I have several gopher turtles that wonder through and one that lives there. After mowing the lawn the other day we found a nest with some eggs and small turtles, we left the eggs alone but one of the gophers was hatched with 2 heads. I called fwc and all they want is a few pictures of it, did not give any advice on what to do with it. I have read that it will not survive in the wild because it can not retract into its shell all the way. Just wondering what i should do with it. In our yard we have about 15-20 new borrows between the front and back yard. The few that I have seen, seem fine, but I have a bounch of piles of dirt all over my yard. Let me know what you think I should do with it.
Two headed baby gopher tortoise. Click to enlarge.Gary, It probably would not last long in the wild; even normal hatchlings have about a one in one hundred chance of making it to reproduce. I would love to take it and have the permits I need from the Wildlife Commission. If I could get it eating, it would be quite the attraction for my educational talks at schools and festivals. If you are willing to give it to me, let me know where you are located and we can figure out how to get together. In the meantime, you might bring the little guy/girl/s inside to protect it from predators. Put it in a box with a moist sponge or cloth in one corner, out of the direct sun, and preferably in ambient temperature. Write me back!
P.S. Great pictures!
Date: Sun, 18 Sep 2005
From: Jodi
Subject: Turtle [near road]
We moved into this house about 3 months ago and I kept seeing this turtle near the road. We mowed the weeds along the road and found the turtles home. I am assuming this is a gopher turtle. Since it is near the road, what if anything can I plant closer to the back of the property so hopefully he will not get hit by a car.
Gopher tortoises are legally protected, so you cannot relocate it. It looks like an adult tortoise and has likely been living near the road for a very long time.
Date: Wed, 14 Sep 2005
From: mab64
Subject: gopher tortoise [sun]
I have a question about a gopher tortoise that has burrowed in our yard. It has been here about 3 months. We have a chain link fence so I am not sure if it can get out. It obviously got in by itself but maybe it wandered in through an open gate that isnt usually left open. I noticed that the information on the website said that they use several burrows. We see it out on the mound around the burrow daily so it isnt going to any other burrows yet. We lost our childrens playhouse during the hurricane last year and are going to rebuild. Of course it originally was right near the burrow. Right now the burrow gets sun all day long. If we build the playhouse near it (the playhouse is 5 ft off the ground) it would block the sun from the burrow. Would that cause a problem for it?
Hi, Those are all excellent questions, and I hope this will help you. First of all, tortoises are mini-bulldozers, so a regular chain-link fence will not deter it from leaving if it wants. It will simply dig under. I can usually spot a "fence-in" gopher by the scratch marks on the top of its shell.

In the wild, gopher tortoises do dig several burrows throughout their home range. However, in suburbia where conditions are more crowded and there is less habitat, it appears that tortoises have fewer, or even only one burrow. It is hard to say about your tortoise; if it has only been there three months, it may move on during another time of year because they will use different burrows (and habitats) during different seasons.

It is hard to predict what shading the burrow will do. Obviously, it will affect the temperature at the burrow, but may not so much that the tortoise will care. If you are interested in keeping your new neighbor, I would try to put the playset somewhere else.

Date: Tue, 13 Sep 2005
From: twiggy
Subject: soft shell turtle
hi im not 100% sure which type of soft shell i have but i am quite worried, i brought it last week and it seems like it is either shedding the outer layer of its shell or got a fungal infection. do soft shell turtles generally shed their skin or shell which ever is appropriate? and if it is common place is there any thing you recommend doing to help it along?
It sounds as if your turtle has a health problem. I suggest that you take it back where you got it, if that is possible. If not, try to find a vet that has reptile experience or a wildlife rehabilitator to look at it. The problem could be disease, parasites, nutrition, temperature, light, water quality, etc. The best thing to do is get professional help.
Date: Sun, 11 Sep 2005
From: Wanda
Subject: gopher turtle [ant bites]
I found an injured gopher in my yard and the ants was eating him alive. I took him to the water hose and washed off the ants and I found several holes on his shell where it looked like an animal may have clawed him. I found a gopher hole on my property also but it was so far from where the gopher was, I just suspect it was his.? Anyway, what should I do for him? I called my fish and wildlife and they gave me another number to call and it was a dead end, no one really wanted to act on this! I am to tender hearted to let the poor creature just die of ant bites. Please help and soon!
If the tortoise has injuries, the best thing to do is get it to a wildlife rehabilitator. What city/town do you live near and I can try to find someone for you to take the tortoise to, unless you can find one yourself.
Date: Fri, 09 Sep 2005
From: Carol
Subject: Gopher Tortoises - Adoption
What a great website!
I have been corresponding with Joan Berish with the FWC about giving a home to gopher tortoises who cannot be returned to the wild because of injury or sickness. Joan sent me the information about the "enclosure" requirements as well as informed me about the need to get a permit. I am willing to create an enclosure that fit the specs and get a permit.
I honestly must say that I would prefer one (or two) who have been hurt and cannot return to the wild versus gophers with mycoplasma. To tell you the truth, I think it would break my heart knowing that my gophers would die soon - however, it would be nice to give these sick tortoises a nice home to enjoy while they can. I have a couple of questions please:
1. is mycoplasma contagious to humans, dogs, iguanas (we had a wild one in our yard) or lizards (we have lots of adorable lizards in the yard)
2. Joan indicated when we last corresponded that she knows of no injured gophers that need homes right now - do you know of any - or an organization that places them with homes.
I will look forward to hearing back from you!
The answer to your first question is no. So far, the only other species (besides desert tortoises) that has developed URTD from Mycoplasma bacteria is the box turtle.
I do not know of any tortoises needing homes right now. Florida does not have an approved "adoption program". However, the laws governing the conservation and protection of gopher tortoises in this state are currently being overhauled. Adoption by citizens may become an option for animals that cannot be released into the wild for any number of reasons.
You might consider writing or calling the Executive Direcector or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Ken Haddad, to express your support for an approved adoption program. The contact information is below:

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Farris Bryant Building
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600
(850) 488-4676
Fax: (850) 488-1961

If you do end up being able to get a tortoise, having one that has tested positive to URTD does not mean that it would be dead very quickly. These tortoises often live for many, many years.
Good luck and thank you for your efforts.

Date: Tue, 06 Sep 2005
From: Nanny
Subject: (no subject) [baby found]
we have found a baby gopher turtle about 1 in. long what do they eat and who do we call about this??? thank you
Hi, If the hatchling is only an inch long, it is too small to be a gopher tortoise. There are a few species of turtles that are that small when hatched, such as mud turtles. The best thing to do for the turtle is take it back where you found it and release it out of harm's way. They are much better at taking care of themselves than we are of trying to figure out how to do it well. Besides, keeping it in captivity will remove all of the reproductive potential that animal has for the future, and we need every single new turtle out there we can get. Try to place the turtle under some vegetative cover, not in the direct sun, but let it go during the day while it is good and warm. Are the feet of the turtle webbed? If so, it is probably a freshwater turtle that could be released into the water in a ditch or on the shore of a lake or borrow pit. If you have a digital picture you can send, I would probably be able to identify the species for you.
Date: Mon, 05 Sep 2005
From: Greg
Subject: County is disturbing habitat
Who do I call to notify that there is a Gopher Tortoise living in the area?
A while ago I wrote you that I had a GT living in the area, and I thought it was probably not a very good place for it to be living. I've followed your advice and left him alone however I cant say the same for the County. The area the GT is living, is a green space, or an easement between two housing developments that is very sandy and a former orange grove. The county has the responsibility for mowing, or at least keeping towering weeds under control. On a recent visit they parked their truck on top of the GT's entrance and collapsed his burrow. They proceeded to mow the area. I came home to find the area all mowed, went to check on the GT and found his home collapsed with tire tracks over the sand.
I immediately got a spade and began to dig, and finally opened up the tunnel to what seemed like a larger underground cavern. I could only hope that he was still alive and had not ran out of oxygen. A few days later I noticed fresh footprints and skid marks where the GT had been coming and going. I felt relieved that he survived but I need to notify the county that there is an endangered species living in the area so I don't have a repeat.
I live in Polk County.. whom should I contact?
Thank you for all of your efforts. Somewhat frustrating, isn't it? I suggest you call the Polk County Natural Resources office (contact info below) and tell them. They will have to get the lawnmower folks to stop parking and mowing over the burrow, but will probably have an easier time making that happen than you will. It probably wouldn't hurt for you to put a couple of little flags on sticks or pvc pipes with flagging near the burrow to mark it. The mowers were probably clueless that it was there. Make sure not to put anything in front of the entrance where the tortoise sees it when he's coming out.

If the County Natural Resources people do not respond satisfactorily, tell them you are going to call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (contact info below as well). Get the County person's name that you talk to and document when you call, etc. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State as a species of special concern, and the County is responsible to uphold those laws, especially when it is their own people breaking the laws. When you call the County, just state the facts of the situation (without getting angry, yelling, or being emotional) and they should respond appropriately. (Forgive me for telling you how to behave, but I have seen well meaning people be completely disregarded by government officials/employees because of the way they handle the situation. You are right to inform them of the circumstances and have options if they choose not to comply with the laws.)

This should make you feel better: There have been several studies that show that tortoises can easily dig out when their burrows are collapsed and that they can live in a collapsed burrow for many, many weeks. I am more concerned that the mowers will hit the tortoise when he is out feeding. When you talk to the County Natural Resources people, tell them to ask the mowers to watch for tortoises outside burrows. They should look around for them before starting to mow.

Good luck and let me know if you hit a brick wall, or if things go well.

Natural Resources - Admin Office
4177 Ben Durrance Rd.
Bartow, FL 33830
(863) 534-7377

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Southwest Region
Greg Holder, Regional Director,
Jeff McGrady, Wildlife Administrator
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1299
(863) 648-3203

Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2005
From: Jean
Subject:[get a permit?]
How do I get a permit to relocated a gopher tortise?
All you need to know is on this website:
Date: Sat, 06 Aug 2005
From: Elaine
Subject: [Gopher tortoise?]
I found this tortoise in my yard in Rockledge. My husband says it's a gopher tortoise. Is he right? I just let him be (he quickly disappeared into the brush) since we know he's protected.
Elaine's gopher tortoiseElaine, Your husband is right. It's a gopher. Thanks for letting him go. You wouldn't believe how many people take them and put them in pens or the garage, etc. Hopefully, he will go on about his tortoise business and will stay out of trouble.
Date: Fri, 05 Aug 2005
From: Pamela
Subject: [Is this a Gopher Tortoise?]
Please find the attached picture and advise if this is a gopher tortoise. My husband found it in the parking lot a work. He brought it home and we have been feeding it lettuce. It is about 3 inches long. If you think it is a gopher tortoise, should we just put it back in the area we found it?
Pamela - baby gopherHi, Yes it is a young gopher tortoise (1 -2 yrs. old). They are legally protected, so please take it back to where you got it and release it. Look for some natural habitat around the parking lot and put it in a burrow or underneath some vegetation so it is covered and not visible to predators. It is difficult to turn such a small, helpless thing loose, I know, but it is really the best thing to do for the tortoise. Hopefully, he will grow up and make more tortoises.
Date: fri, 05 aug 2005
from: ops
Subject: [Horsefield Tortoise]
im thinking of buying a horsfield tortoise out off the paper. The tortoise is 10 yrs old, but her shell looks a bit flat at the back and has a very long nose and her nails are very long, can you give me any imfo on her
The tortoise does not sound like it is in particularly good shape. Here are some websites that might help you decide.
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2005
From: Louise
Subject: re: Gopher Tortoise Removal
I am not certain who can help in this situation. I found your email address and thought you might be able to give me some guidance.
I work in a warehouse in Central Florida, behind which is a thriving gopher tortoise colony. Many mounds are visible and ocassionally the gopher tortoises will leave the sandy, hilly area they live in which borders the property and traverse the paved parking area used by employees in this building. They like to nibble on the grass found in the small islands between the parking space sections. My coworkers and I have seen all sizes -- from larger adults to small babies to medium-sized tortoises. It appears there are several generations thriving in this colony.
A few months ago one of the larger tortoise females was crushed as it unfortunately got under an SUV. The driver did not intentionally kill the tortoise, they just did not know it was under the tire when they started leaving the parking lot. Every day there are large delivery trucks, dumpster emptying trucks, supply trucks, not to mention the 50 or so cars from the people who work here, that run through this parking lot. It is a miracle more tortoises do not get killed.
The worst thing I have witnessed lately is when large trucks actually drive right onto and over the gopher tortoise colony. Today, they are resurfacing the parking area closest to the gopher tortoise colony and they set all the very large and heavy dumpsters right on top of the tortoise colony!
A coworker of mine who, like me, loves the gopher tortoises, tried to reassure me today that the tunnels in their mounds are extensive enough in this area, to where they can just tunnel under and ignore all the commotion going on above them. I wonder if this is the case.
I would like to ask your recommendations on this matter. My position is that I care deeply for the gopher tortoises and am concerned they are being inundated with too much commotion and situations that can endanger their well being in the current scenarios.
I wondered if finding someone to remove as many of the tortoises as would be possible is a solution. Maybe by relocating some of the animals, the population here would be reduced and therefore they would have more space and have less chances for being hurt or killed. It would probably be difficult to get them all as who knows the lengthy extent of their tunnels, but maybe we could save at least some of them.
Any advice or commentary you can offer is appreciated.
I thank you sincerely for your time and consideration.
Dear Louise, The situation you describe is all too familiar. As we take more and more of the natural habitat, wildlife is forced into crowded quarters and usually lose out in the end. You probably will not find my advice very satisfying, but it is the best I can do. Perhaps you and others of like mind could improve the habitat in the natural area so the tortoises are not so interested in going to the parking lot. I have attached a chapter from a training manual that might give you some ideas. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only. Doing anything on that property would also require owner permission, and lots of people are not the least bit interested in encouraging tortoises to stay on their land. Putting up a barrier of some sort may also help. Even if some of them dug under it, tortoises are generally lazy and a barrier might be enough to discourage most of them. Regarding the trucks driving on burrows, etc. I have listed two websites below that have lots of good tortoise information, including legal protection status. You should be able to tell someone in charge that laws are being broken, and hopefully, that will be the end of it. If not, contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

Northeast Region, Dennis David, Regional Director
1239 S.W. 10th Street, Ocala, FL 34474-2797
(352) 732-1225
24-Hour Law Enforcement: 352-732-1228

If you do not feel comfortable doing that, should it become necessary, let me know and I will.
The problem with relocation is that there is not really anywhere to take them that doesn't already have tortoises. Then you get into many biological issues, such as disease transmission, social structure, genetics, carrying capacity of the habitat, etc., etc. Unfortunately, there are not many good answers.

Date: Mon, 01 Aug 2005
From: Carl
Subject: Russian Tortoise interval between mating and egg-laying?
Hi... my girlfriend has a pair of Russian Desert Tortoises and witnessed them mating tonight. Interestingly, there was a tiny, empty bottle of Russian vodka found in the corner of their enclosure and no one seems to know where it came from ;-)
In all seriousness, any clue as to the frequency of successful matings, and the interval between mating and egg-laying in these torts?
Should we be knitting little booties any time soon?
You are so funny!! Did you find any cigarette butts afterwards?
Here is a website with lots of good information on Russian tortoise reproduction and general care. It looks like you will have a few months to get the booties ready. Good luck and congratulations.
Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005
From: thomas
Subject: question on incubation of red-eared sliders
thank you for running the site. This is not a gopher turtle question, but... on mothers day I saw two different turtles in our yard laying eggs. They must have come up the hill from the creek in the back. It was an overcast day and had been raining and the ground was soft and afterwards the location had been covered up and you would never know it was a nest if you hadn't been watching. We live in Austin texas and it gets very hot here and the location was in a spot which gets a lot of direct sun. By the middle of summer (now) the ground is pretty hard. I have placed a little bit of brush over the spot to shade it and mark it. My quesitons are (1) Give the hot temperatures here when would i expect the eggs to hatch. I read that it can be anywhere from two months to ten months, but that was Los Angeles and not nearly the weather as Ausitn. (2) is it common for such turtles to lay eggs in the direct sun? Maybe the turtle woudl not have selected that spot if it had been a sunny day. should I do anything to help other than keeping away cats and dogs. water it? shade it? remove the brush I put on top? (3) any signs to watch for to indicate the impending hatching? we would like to see them come out if at all possible. thanks.
You ask lots of good questions and some of my answers will have to be vague without knowing exactly what species of turtle you have. My best piece of advice is to not do anything (i.e., no watering, brush, etc.) because the turtles know what they are doing. Many species have temperature-dependent sex determination (the temperature of the substrate where they are incubating determines if the young hatch as males or females), so the adults have evolved to pick just the right spot for the nest to produce the proper sex ratio. I would look for the eggs to hatch within three months, depending on species and your location. In my experience, there is no sign that hatching is soon. Apparently, some predators (raccoons) can tell, probably by hearing the hatched babies crawling around in the nest chamber waiting for their brothers and sisters before emerging.
Date: Sat, 30 Jul 2005
From: Barb and Art
Subject: ticks
4 years ago I found a baby gopher tortoise that had eye problems ( His eyes froze because he was hatched in the severe freeze we were having, this was according to the authorities I called in Hernando County ) Well, long story short - we nursed him back to health ( yes, he can see ) and has made a home in our yard. As a matter of fact, he has now started digging his second burrow!! He was feeding in the yard today and I went out to visit with him and I noticed he was holding his right front leg in the air. Upon closer inspection I noticed an engorged tick on his leg. I fought like heck to pull the tick out and I think I got the head out. Of course "Baby D" was not happy with me. Do you think that his leg might get infected? I sure do worry that perhaps I didn't do the right thing but I know that ticks carry disease and can paralyze animals.
We often see tortoises covered with many ticks. Just one tick is probably not dangerous and the animal should be fine.

I am glad that you are enjoying your neighbor, but I have to tell you that gopher tortoises are a protected species. It is illegal to mess with them in any way, even to help them. Try to let him go about his tortoise business with as little interference as possible. I have attached a chapter from a training manual that has good information you might be able to use. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only.

Date: Mon, 29 Aug 2005
From: Lisa
Subject: gopher tortoise seen!
I live in Malabar (south of Melbourne, FL) on 5 acres of pine and scrub flatlands which is covered in saw palmettos and lots of other native plants. Recently we have been seeing a gopher tortoise coming into the area near our house; he eats a little and then wanders off again. My children and I are enjoying watching him from a distance. We think he is a male (we saw a slight curve underneath him one day when he was walking on some sand) and he is a big one - definitely an adult. We have been trying to keep our property as native as possible and do things to help the wildlife without disturbing it. After all I feel like we are living in their habitat!! I noticed that you have mentioned in several of your answers a "training manual". Do you teach a class or workshop on gopher tortoises? What can I do to help out with our tortoise? We have recently had a dirt road put in beside our property and the contractor was not plant or animal friendly!! But I noticed yesterday that "our" gopher crossed over this dirt road to get to the other side. By reading your other emails I think this might mean that his habitat has been split by the road. I would like to encourage him to make more of his home on my property. What plants can I put in for him? And could I supply any areas of water or cover for him? Part of our property has a stream and wetlands on it; so combined with the palmettos I would think this is an ideal place for him. Months ago we also saw an old (abandoned?) burrow so I hope this means we will have lots of gophers around. Any advice you could give us would be wonderful.
Hi Lisa, I do not teach classes myself, but have a friend that teaches agency people and consultants about how to do research and surveys with tortoises. I have attached a chapter from his manual. It is copyrighted, so please keep it to yourself. Below is the website for his organization (Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative) and an address for the Gopher Tortoise Council. Both have lots of information that I think you will enjoy.
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005
From: Kelly
Subject: Gopher Turtle in Hurricane Season
We have a gopher turtle that showed up right before Hurricane Dennis and has been happy in our yard now for over a month. The kids are attached to him now and I would hate for any harm to befall him if we could prevent it, which brings a dilemma during hurricane season. I am concerned not only for his safety, but also the possibility of him becoming a projectile during hurricane force winds. Is there anything we can do to help shelter him during the worst of the storms when they hit?
If what you have is a gopher tortoise, then there should be a burrow or two around that he has dug. When bad weather hits, that is where he will go. Gopher tortoises have been around a very long time and evolved with hurricanes, as well as fire, drought, flooding, etc. If a hurricane is coming toward you, the tortoise's safety can be the least of your worries.
Date: Sun, 28 Aug 2005
From: robert
Subject: Found gopher
Hi I found a baby gopher turtle in my front yard.He seems to be healthy and alright but we kept him. Is that alright that I kept him because I live in eastern florida? I also wanted to know how to take care of him can you tell me?
It is not alright to keep him. Please take him back to where you found him and release him immediately. There are several good reasons for this. First of all, gopher tortoises are a protected species and it is illegal for you to have him in captivity. It is also bad for the tortoise because taking care of him is difficult. They have very specific food, heating, humidity, etc., requirements. You may be able to keep him alive, but not healthy. If you are lucky, he will live 60 -70 years, at least, so what happens when you get tired of him or you move or die? How will he find a mate and reproduce to make more gopher tortoises (which we desperately need out there) if he is living in your house or yard in a pen? So, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do the right thing and let him go. Thank you.
Date: Sat, 27 Aug 2005
From: Rose
Subject: Painted turtle
Have a painted turtle from birth. The shell seems to be getting soft. Is this normal? If not can I do anything to help it by food?
The shell should not be getting soft, but I can't tell you for sure what the cause might be. Diet is one, but so is temperature, water quality, light - you see my point. If you can find a vet or wildlife rehabilitator that knows about reptiles, I would ask them to look at the turtle, or if you have a local herp society, check with them.
Here are a couple of websites that might be useful (although they won't take the place of actually talking to an expert):
Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005
From: Raissa
Subject: Is this a gopher???
This tortoise showed up in my front yard last night. I live in a busy little neighborhood in Louisiana. I would like to know what kind of tortoise it is and what it is doing here. I live in south Louisiana. It is not exactly tortoise habitat. There are many rivers, lakes, bayous, marshes, and swamps in the area. The ground here isn't exactly dry either. Most of the land is made of clay and mud. I am not sure what to do with this tortoise. It is currently in my backyard. I looked at pictures on the internet and I think that it may be a desert tortoise or a gopher tortoise. Thanks for any help you can give me.
Dear Raissa, It looks like a gopher tortoise to me, and they are native to extreme southeastern Louisiana. If you are located in extreme southeastern Louisiana, I suggest you release the tortoise near where you found it out of harm's way. They are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act in your area and it is illegal for you to have it or mess with it in any way. If you do not feel like you can release it, I would call your state wildlife agency at 225/765-2346 and get advice from them as to what to do. If that doesn't work, write me back and I will work on more options.
Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005
From: LvBbBLoO
Subject: [boy or girl]
how can i tell if my desert tortoise is a boy or a girl
The plastron (bottom shell) of a male is concave near the tail. The female's plastron is perfectly flat.
Date: Wed, 13 Jul 2005
From: "N. J."
Subject: Lots of House Guests!
Hi, my family & i just bought our dream home on 1.25 acres. It was originally a wooded lot and the previous owners had the house moved to the land. We have been in the house for only one month. We woke up our first morning to find a 8" Gopher Tortoise peeping in our french doors. We were surprised and delighted but had no idea at the time that it would not be our last encounter. It has turned out to be a daily sighting of not just one Gopher Tortoise, but at least 6 different Gopher Tortoises ranging from 6" up to 12" in size. We have several burrows on our property and more appearing weekly. For all the land we have, the Gopher Tortoises have made all their burrows within a 10' radius of the house.
We were wondering if it was normal for Gopher Tortoise to be so fearless of humans and other creatures (dogs)?
They don't seem at all bothered by our presence and infact make daily visits right up to the back and front door of the house.
The other day we came home to find the 12" Gopher Tortoise sitting right on our front door stoop clawing at the door as if he wanted in. We took a picture as we knew none of our friends would believe us.
We are animal lovers and know not to feed wild creatures, but i am curious why these tortoises are so obsessed with us?
Do Gopher Tortoises nest in the same area every year? Maybe our house was moved ontop of their nest site!
Thank you - Nusi - Orlando, FL
Dear Nusi, What a terrific situation you have. It sounds like these animals must have been fed before or had other encounters with people, because they are not typically so fearless. Nests are usually laid in the apron of a burrow (sandy spot in front of the mouth of the burrow). Even if the house was placed on top of some burrows, the tortoises would dig other burrows elsewhere and would not insist on trying to find the old ones. I have attached a chapter from some training materials that should help you. This information is copyrighted, so please use it for your own education only. Below are a couple of websites that you might enjoy. Best of luck and feel free to write me back. - Gopher Tortoise Council - Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative
Date: Tue, 12 Jul 2005
From: Jani
Subject: Gopher Turtles - can they cause serious damage?
Hello - I have a question. A friend of mine has what he thinks is a gopher turtle - what kind of damage can they do? Can they destroy for example a sprinkler system enough to where it can cause it to stop working? Can they be fed or should it be left alone, does he call animal control - whatever this thing is, it is causing a huge hole under a fence and into the yard - causing the earth to some what sink - it is also burrowing it's way smack into the well pump. Any suggestions, answers, ideas will be appreciated so I can pass this information along. Thank you, Jani
Dear Jani, There are several animals that will do what you are describing, including gopher tortoises. Gopher tortoises are legally protected throughout their range, federally under the Endangered Species Act, or by the various states, so you cannot move it or harm, harass, etc., in any way without a permit. It is doubtful that the tortoise will cause any serious damage to structures. Once they hit something hard under the ground, they will stop digging or dig around. Tell your friend that if it is a tortoise, it is a lucky thing and to sit back and enjoy!!
Date: Sun, 10 Jul 2005
From: Gary
Subject: Can you keep them?
Dear Turtle Expert
I was wondering if it was legal to keep a baby gopher turtle, if you know the answer, please write back! From, Turtle sitter
Gopher tortoises are legally protected throughout their range, either federally under the Endangered Species Act or by the various states. If you still have the baby, please take it back where you got it and release it out of harm's way. Feel free to write me back if you need information or help figuring out the best way to do this.
Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005
From: TandKsMom
Subject: What do Gopher Tortoise Eat?
Hi my name is Angela I am from Citrus County Florida, We have 3 or 4 Gopher Tortoise in the wood next to our house. They graze on out grass but now that I have to cut the grass 2 X a weeks they are not grazing as much.. I wanted to know if there are any plants I can plant for them to have more to graze on. My kids love to sit and watch them eat and we take photos of then as well.
Thanks for the help
Hi Angel, The tortoises should like the newly cut grass. It is more tender than old grass. Maybe they are just not out as much right now because it is so hot. I have attached a chapter from a training manual that has good information for you, including a list of plants that tortoises are known to eat. The material is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please.
Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005
From: fnljoy
Subject: tortoise
O my god it's so cute
I know. You gotta love 'em!!
Date: Thu, 07 Jul 2005
From: Annie
Subject: Question on Gopher Turtle...[male/female]
How can you tell the difference between a male and a female Gopher Turtle? Can you send pictures?
Female gopher tortoise (plastron)The plastron (bottom shell) of the male is concave at the back end. The female's plastron is perfectly flat. Pictures attached. Male gopher tortoise (plastron)
Date: Wed, 06 Jul 2005
From: umar
Subject: HELP!!! [from Pakistan]
Hello, i'm an 18 yr old boy living in Pakistan and my home is at the coast. I have three gopher tortoises who laid eggs 5 yrs ago and they had 8 kids but they slowly died painfully. they seemed to swell up and their colour changed to yellow. Now i think that they are again about to give eggs so my question is that what are the necessery conditions for the newly hatchlings and what is their diet. I heard that they are to be kept in a fish tank with newspaper shreddings to act as ground and also use a sun lamp but i know that you are the expert so please answer my question as i will be eternely grateful.
Have you gotten eggs yet? Can you tell me the scientific name of the tortoise that you have (genus and species)? Gopher tortoises are native to the southeast U.S. only. If you don't know the scientific name, can you send me a picture?
Date: Tue, 05 Jul 2005
From: michell
Subject: gophers [as neighbors]
I have at least 15 gopher tortise on my land that my husband and I just bought . We LOVE them and do not want anything to happen to them. My kids are just amazed with them. We try to make sure they are ok. We have caught them and claened the ticks off of them and made sure they are healthy. We love to see them. We have even seen a baby one. This is just amazing to us. We would like to find out more about them and we have been told that there is a federal progeam to help you with them. Can you direct me in that direction? We have made sure they have plenty to eat and no harm, to come to them. They are just amazing animals. They live so long and are so strong and free. Like I stated they are NO problem to us we want to see about getting help for them.
I thank You, Michell
Dear Michell, It is so nice to hear from someone that has gopher tortoises and is so enthusiastic about it. The first thing I must tell you is that they are a protected species, and the level of protection varies depending on your location (federal under the Endangered Species Act or state-protected in the rest of the range). The laws state that you cannot harm, harass, kill, or mess with them in any way. This includes picking off ticks and feeding them. However, there are lots of things you can do on your property that will benefit the tortoises and help keep the population healthy and reproducing (the young one is a very good sign). I have attached a chapter from a training manual that contains good information that you can use, including a list of plants that gopher tortoises are known to eat that you can plant for them. The material is copyrighted, so please use it for your own education only. Also, here are some websites that you can look at that will explain much about gopher tortoise biology and how you can be a good steward of your land for conservation. - The Gopher Tortoise Council - Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative - Partners for Amphibian and Reptile Conservation
Feel free to write me back if you have further questions. Congratulations on your good fortune, and enjoy!!
Date: Tue, 05 Jul 2005
From: Sheryl
Subject: age
Is there any way to tell the age of a gopher turtle?
Getting an exact age on a tortoise is very difficult. When they are hatchlings or very young, you can tell because they are small and the shell is typically orange and soft. At around five years of age, the shell is hard and has become increasingly brown. After that, the growth rate depends on many things, such at latitude (they grow slower in the northern parts of the range) and diet. I usually just classify them into these categories: hatchling, juvenile, subadult, and adult.
Date: Tue, 05 Jul 2005
From: JSloan
Subject: gopher tortoise [hissing]
Do gopher tortoises make a hissing sound when angered?
Gophers make a hissing sound when they are startled or afraid and pull their heads into the shell. This is not because they are angry, but because the air is forced out of the lungs when the head comes in. Thanks for the good question.
Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2005
From: Gisela
Subject: Gopher in my back yard [competition]
We built our house in Sebastian about two years ago. There were vacant lots with dense vegetation on both sides of our lot, and many more just like it in the neighborhood.There is a ditch in back of the lots. Shortly after landscaping our yard, and trying to use as many native plants as possible to create a more "natural" environment rather than a manicured yard, a gopher turtle made its' burrow in the back. We love it, and attempt to make our neighbour as comfortable as possible by not disturbing the surroundings. We named it "Lucky", and it is doing well. We noticed other, larger gophers crossing our yard or street. As a matter of fact, I noticed once a larger gopher trying to get into Lucky's burrow. It was too big and didn't maket it Lucky was close by.
Now the lots on both sides of our home have been cleared for construction. The larger gopher survived but seems to have a small crack in the shell near the neck area. It seems totally confused, frantic and fearless, approaching anything that moves.
What should we do?. I informed the builder and the local building department when clearing began, that there was a gopher's burrow on the property. I don't see that anybody cared.
Can the larger gopher take up residency with Lucky?. Being larger, will it evict Lucky from its existing home? What do they do in a case they lost their burrow to development?
Any suggestions or help is appreciated. We don't want to loose Lucky.
Regards, Anna
Dear Anna, Your story is all too common. It is great that Lucky is with you, but it is hard to predict what might happen. In the wild, where they have plenty of room to roam, gopher tortoises dig many burrows throughout their home range. However, I have seen tortoises use only one burrow in more urban conditions where the amount of habitat is limiting. The larger tortoise may dig a new burrow, find another of his old ones, or he may try to move in and kick Lucky out. If that happens, hopefully Lucky will just dig another burrow nearby in your yard.

The laws governing burrow destruction are different in each state. If you tell me your county and state, I may be able to give you more information.

Attached is a chapter from a study guide that was written by a friend of mine. It has a plant list and other things that you will find to be helpful. The material is copyrighted, so please use it for your own education only.

Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2005
From: Mickey
Subject: Turtle/tortoise
Can you tell me what kind of turtle/tortoise this is. Over the years I have seen several on my property near Poplarville, MS. This one was seen yesterday in a sandy wooded area after a rain.
Mickey's box turtle It is a box turtle. Thanks for the pictures; that makes identifying it easy.
Date: Tue, 16 Aug 2005
From: Ted & Karen
Subject: protection laws
Since the Florida Gopher Turtle has been put on the "species of special concern" list instead of the "endangered" list are there still laws protecting them? If so, where can I find the laws and the penalties for violations? In the last couple of years an influx of ATV's and off road motorcycles from nearby cities have been coming to the country, rural area where we live and are destroying their burrows, habitat and the turtles themselves. I'm also seeing the number of many species that were once plentiful only a few years ago drastically decline or like the armadillo, completely disappear. Thank you, Ted & Karen
Dear Ted and Karen, The laws governing the protection of gopher tortoises are specific to your location. In some parts of the range, tortoises are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. In the rest of the range, they are protected by the various States, and the policies differ. Visit the Gopher Tortoise Council website for maps of ranges and other useful information. One avenue you might explore is your local government. Some counties have good protection measures for wildlife.
Date: Tue, 16 Aug 2005
From: Cindy
Subject: Territorial GT
We have had a gopher turtle for about 5 months that has made him/her a home behind our house. Recently (within the past 2 months) she/he has become extremely protective of any things that even walks 20 feet from the burrow. Our dog lives in the back yard as well and is very passive for other creatures but the turtle will come charging out of the hole hissing and snapping. I think our dog is more scared that the turtle is of the dog. Are gopher turtles that territorial or is a female protecting eggs. We don't mess with the turtle so we can't determine the sex. Thank you. Krystle
Hi Krystle, Sounds like an entertaining situation. Gopher tortoises are typically only territorial toward other gophers. However, they are not smart; they operate strictly on instinct, not intelligence. The tortoise may think your dog is another tortoise. Males and females will display the charging and hissing behaviors, and may bob their heads at the "intruder". They rarely bite, so your dog will be fine. In fact, when tortoises fight, they usually just try to turn each other over onto the back, which can be fatal in extreme heat or cold. Tortoises, as with most reptiles, do not show parental care. My advice is make sure the dog doesn't suddenly find courage and harms the tortoise, and sit back and enjoy the show.
Date: Sun, 14 Aug 2005
From: Marc
Subject: Gopher?
Could you tell me if this is a gopher tortoise. i have seen it in my yard for some time now, but am not sure what type it is could you please reply to inform me. Thank You attached are the pics that i have taken hopefully they are good enough to tell.
young gopher tortoise Yes, it is a young gopher tortoise.
Date: Sat, 06 Aug 2005
From: Elaine
Subject: [Gopher tortoise?]
I found this tortoise in my yard in Rockledge. My husband says it's a gopher tortoise. Is he right? I just let him be (he quickly disappeared into the brush) since we know he's protected.
Score one for your husband. It is an adult gopher tortoise. Thanks for just letting it go on about its business.
Date: Thu, 04 Aug 2005
From: BUGZ10
Subject: hey [eat]
what do they eat.
A wide variety of low-growing herbs and grasses.
Date: Sun, 31 Jul 2005
From: Greg
Subject: What to do?
While walking my dog, I found a giant hole.. which has a big Gopher Tortiose inside it. The problem is, it's probably not a very good place for the tortiose to have taken up residence. Is there someone I could call to have a conservation person come and relocate it or should I just leave him alone?
The best thing for the tortoise (and the legal thing to do) is leave it alone. If the area is developed, the tortoise is probably the remnant from a population that has died out. Tortoises can live 60 -70 years in the wild under good conditions. Just enjoy him on your walks, move him out of the road if you see him there (back to his burrow), and wish him luck living out his days undisturbed, fat, and happy!
Date: Wed, 27 Jul 2005
From: Raissa
Subject: Gopher Tortoise Pics [Louisiana]
I sent you some pictures over the weekend of a tortoise that I thought was either a gopher tortoise or a desert tortoise. I called a local zoo and sent them the pictures. It was identified as a gopher tortoise. I found the tortoise in my yard in southern, coastal Louisiana. I know that this area is out of the gopher tortoise range, so I contacted the Audubon Society. Miss Ma'am (that was what we called her) now lives at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans with some other gophers.I took some more pictures and a film of her eating. I was wondering if you would be interested in these.
Raissa's tortoiseDear Raissa, A story with a happy ending! Good job, and thanks for caring enough to take your time and do a good thing. I would love to see the pics and film. Thanks.
Date: Mon, 25 Jul 2005
From: Robert
Subject: Tortoise advice [back yard]
Hi - I live in Atlanta GA and found a tortoise in my back yard. I've been checking on line and believe that it may be a gopher tortoise but all of the information that I can find says that they are in southern Georgia. I live in a very busy area of town and would love for the tortoise to stay in my yard where he would be safe. I also see that I am not allowed to touch or feed them. My yard is fenced in and I don't know how or when he got there. I'm concerned that it may have been someones pet. I'm trying to positively identify it. What can i do? Could I plant things that it would like to eat? Could I prepare an area in my yard to encourage it to stay?
The best thing for the tortoise is to call your local office of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Ask for a biologist and tell them what has occurred. I am not very familiar with the laws in Georgia, but the DNR biologist shoud be able to help you. If not, write me back and we will try another route.
Date: Fri, 22 Jul 2005
From: Julie
Subject: [African Spurred]
My teenage brother is off to college and he wants me to adopt his African Spurred Tortoise. I'm willing to do it, but only if he can be kept in a pen outside. Would he be o.k. outside in South Florida year round?
Julie, Sulcatas are not my specialty, that is for sure. Here are three good websites that will help you with specific care information. Tortoises are great to keep if you do it right, but it by no means easy or cheap. My advice is to think about it very seriously before commiting. Becky
Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2005
From: jeanene
Subject: tortoise rescue?
My husband works for a land developer . This morning at the new "subdivision" where he works I was there on an errand with my 7 yr old child. All of the avaliable land has been stripped up to and touching a very busy street. Upon leaving the area we saw a gopher tortoise in the road. We picked it up. after arriving home we found out that the tortoise is a male and an adult from your web site. Where I come from folks raise these animals to eat. He has already eaten 1/2 an apple ...quite a treat for my child to watch. I do not feel badly for taking the turtle from an area that has been bulldozed and has a lot more dozing to go. I would like to know ; when i rerelease the fellow in a nonpopulated not to too overgrown area if he will survive...We live not to far from the Eglin Air Force Base Reservation (we actually live in the outskirts of pensacola city limits, still too populated) Just wanting some advice. thank you. Jeanene & Jenna
Dear Jeanene and Jenna, This situation is one of the most difficult for wildlife lovers. Because the gopher tortoise is legally protected, you should not move it anywhere, and you are not supposed to keep it, feed it, etc. This is so hard when you have seen the habitat bulldozed all around and realize that the animal is probably doomed if it stays where you found it.

I do have a couple of suggestions. The best option is to take it back as near where you found it as possible and release it into habitat, if there is any. Tortoises will often adapt to be "suburban", digging burrows in yards, golf courses, and fields. There are small, reproductive populations of tortoises that hang on in these situations, and they provide an up close encounter with wildlife for many people that don't often get that experience. My other suggestion is that you find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and take it to them. Please do not take it a long way and relocate it. Besides being illegal, it is also not a good idea for several more reasons, such as genetics, disease transmission, and social heirarchy disruption.

Date: Sat, 16 Jul 2005
From: sandi
Subject: help, please [box turtle]
i need to know the gestation period for a box turtle. i live in north georgia and a lovely lady turtle has laid her eggs near my back door and i wonder how long it will be before they hatch. if you can help, i would appreciate it! thanks,
The gestation period for an eastern box turtle is 70 - 90 days. Enjoy!
Date: Mon, 04 Jul 2005
From: Jenni
Subject: Want backyard friend]
I don't have a gopher tortoise question, but we are looking into a tortoise as a backyard friend and would like an opinion. As of now, we are just checking the internet and gathering info on turtles and tortoises. If you have any advice for us, please write back.
Gopher tortoises are legally protected and cannot be bought,sold, possessed, or kept in captivity without a permit. It is legal to keep other species, but you need to be very careful before buying. Some tortoises get very large and dig holes that put any dog to shame. Most have very specific feeding,housing, lighting, temperature, and humidity requirements. It is easy to keep turtles and tortoises in captivity, but it is not particularly easy to keep them healthy. Educate yourself well before jumping in
Date: Mon, 04 Jul 2005
From: PrtBar
Subject: [spur-thigh hatching] tortoise
my freind has a spur-thigh tortoise which had siblings on christmas day , my freind thinks this is strange as they hatch in the summer, is this uncommon ? please could you send me some feedback as to why this has happened
Dear Barry, If the conditions in captivity were right and simulated breeding season, it is not surprising that they could reproduce at "weird" times. There is flexibility in the system to allow the animals to take advantage of good conditions.
Date: Sun, 03 Jul 2005
From: Stephen
Subject: Tortoise eggs
My female just laid eggs...she laid them in the entrance to her is 107 degrees here and the sun shines on the opening most of the day....what should I do?? They are only about 3-4 inches under the dirt...
Mama knows best. If you can keep cats, dogs, etc., away from the area, that would be good. Besides being a bad idea biologically, it is illegal for you to mess with the eggs in any way.
Date: Sat, 02 Jul 2005
From: CrcCrocodile
Subject: [russian tortises]
I have two russian tortises a male and female but they won't breed is there any thing I can do to enduce the breeding process.
I am no expert on keeping tortoises, but here are a couple of websites that should help. Also, if there is a herp club in your area, there might be some folks there that know how to keep Russian tortoises healthy and happy.

Date: Fri, 01 jul 2005
From: Toni
Subject: unknown turtle
I had a turtle of some kind lay eggs in my yard two weeks ago. She was around 6" long and her shell was about 3" high (she was a little thick for what we usually have around here.) the color was odd too. She was a goldish beige with brown or black markings.
My question is what is the gestation period for turtles and what do i do with them when they hatch. We have a ditch nearby - thought i would take them there if i'm around when they hatch. She laid the eggs directly under a bird feeder. I'm afraid the birds will get the babies not the mention all the cats in my neighborhood.
Gestation period will depend on the species of turtle. It would probably be best to let the hatchlings figure out on their own where they need to be, especially if you don't know what kind of turtle they are. They may need to find a place that has very specific requirements (temperature, light, food, shelter, humidity, etc.). Predators are a problem, but hopefully, at least some of the hatchlings will make it to safety and grow up.
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005
From: Parker
Subject: Request for document on Yard Turtles
Hi, I see that you sent a document to the person below about "backyard" turtles. My neighbors watched a turtle lay eggs in my yard in front of my side gate yesterday- they were unable to identify the turtle so I'm going to treat it as though it were a gopher turtle- in other words, lock the gate, stop mowing that area, and ignore it. Can you please send me the backyard turtles document?
My property backs up to a swampy refuge so the turtle doesn't surprise me, but we have MANY raccoons. I wish I were allowed to protect the eggs from them.
If there is no burrow in your yard, it is not likely a gopher tortoise. They typically lay their eggs in the apron (sandy mound) in front of the burrow. If the habitat around you is wet, the turtle was probably some species of freshwater turtle. They often come up onto to higher ground, dig a hole, deposit the eggs, and go back to the water. Keeping the predators away is a good idea, but tough to do.
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005
From: will02amanda
Subject: Need help with my [spurred] tortoise
Hello, I hope you can help me. I have a spurred tortoise she is about 6 - 10 pounds. We live in Alabama. Her name is Molly. We just put Molly out side. We had a dog kettle and she has a houes. She did very well when we 1st put her out there. The last month she want come out of her houes at all. If she does it is at night dont know. she has lot of grass to eat and see dont eat. I got so rom.lettus and she eat a little bit not must. she used to eat more. I dont know if she dont eat more b\c of the heat. The high is around 90's and lows is around 70's. I just dont know . We get her out and put her in her water and she get out and goes back to her houes. the houes has a floor in it . I hope you can help me. thanks
Dear Amanda, I am not well acquainted with the needs of spurred tortoises, or the conditions in Alabama. My guess is that it gets pretty hot there. Turtles and tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles, so the temperature of their environment greatly affects their behavior. Here are websites that should help you properly care for your tortoise.

If there is a herp club in your area, they usually have many experts on reptile care that could also help you.

Date: Wed, 29 Jun 2005
From: Dee
Subject: Juvenille Red Foot Questions!
We recently purchased a baby red foot tortoise. She is 4 mos old. She was the runt (3" long). Though she wasn't the most active, she did eat and soak herself to drink. After a about 2 weeks, she stopped eating. We took her to the vet and he treated w/ Parazap and an antibiotic after taking blood. She started eating again, but all she does is sleep all day. Is this normal for her age. Most of the time I have to take her out of her hide box and put her right in front of the food so that she will eat. The setup we have is as follows: A box that is approx. 24"w x 16"w x 6" tall. I have a shoe box upside down with a opening cut out and moist sphagnum moss in it. We put a glass pie plate with water in it for her. I have a heat lamp at one end that gets it about 85-90 degress. The cooler end is about 75 degrees. I have a UVB bulb over her box and a food bowl. She is kept in my sons bedroom. We keep the air conditioner on 74 degrees and his room is upstairs, so it probably is a bit warmer in there. Should she sleep most of the day because of her age? I feed her an assortment of collard greens, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, squash, corn and some melons and fruit. I mix calcium powder w/d3 in it just about every day. Does this sound ok? Thanks
Dee, It sounds like you are doing lots of good things, but I am not familiar enough with red-foots to know their specific requirements. Here are a couple of websites that should help.

If there is a herp club in your area, they are often a good source of experts in captive reptile care.

Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2005
From: Shelia
Subject: eggs
we have at least 4 seperate holes on our property. the one that we have confirmed as being male is now coming out to protect himself against the dog. we think there may be eggs in the burrow, but i could not find any information to support my theories. if you could, pease e-mail back or we will check the website.
Gopher tortoises often lay their eggs in the apron of the burrow (pile of sand at the mouth), but not down inside the burrow. The environment around the eggs if very important, so please do not disturb the sand looking for eggs, or they might not hatch. Also, please try to keep your dogs away from the tortoises and burrows. The tortoises are legally protected and are not to be harmed or harassed in any way.
Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2005
From: April
Subject: Daytona Beach [new landlord]
Hello, As the rest of Florida, Daytona is becoming more crowded daily. Recently a baby gopher turtle has claimed my yard as his home. I am thrilled to be chosen as his new landlord as I already house and feed the birds and squirrels. He has built his slide next to my deck where I just planted a new tree (soft sand).

I have a couple of questions... 1. What can I plant near his home when he gets the munchies? 2. Do I need to have a supply of water available for him? 3. How can I prevent his slide from caving in every time it rains? Can I use some type of tubing to keep the hole open? 4. Will he eat my flowers such as periwinkles and sunflowers? 5. Since he made his home next to the tree, when it grows and the roots spread, will it disturb his home?
Thanks, April from Daytona Beach

Dear April,
The tortoise knows best what it needs and will be able to maintain its burrow suitably. Don't put anything artificial into the burrow. If the burrow collapses or roots grow into it, the tortoise will dig another. Adult tortoises typically have several burrows within their homerange.

I have attached a chapter from a training manual that you should find helpful. It is copyrighted material, so please use it for your own education only.

The biggest concern you should have for the tortoise is predators. Be sure that you keep, if possible, dogs and cats away from the little guy. He would be a nice snack.

Congratulations and good luck.

Date: Mon, 27 Jun 2005
From: Sarah
Subject: Sulcata tortoise
I bought a sulcata tortoise at a pet store and it died. I just bought another one about 2 months ago. He is a hatchling and only about a inch in diameter. I have a basking bulb on him and one that is coiled and is supposed to have all the vitamins essential for tortoises. I feed him lettuce or dandelion greens about two times per week with calcium supplement. All the other days I feed him grass or dried grass. I took the one that died to a vet and she had said he was perfectly healthy but he died a couple weeks later. I will do any thing to take care of him correctly, I just can not find any one that knows. He was in only a 20 gallon tank but we just bought one in a yard sale that has to be like 70 gallons. I still have the little heat pad from his small tank and we put that on the huge one. How hot should I keep him, at what humidity level, and what should I feed him? . The pet store said just romaine lettuce, but I know that is not true. Anything you know about this little fellow would be helpful. Sorry I am asking you about sulcata tortoises instead of gopher, I know you must be busy and I really will appreciate it if you respond. I feel that if you do not know about sulcata tortoises you will at least refer me to someone who will tell me only t things that are true about my sulcata.
Sulcata tortoises and gopher tortoises look extremely alike. How can you tell the difference?
Thank you so much, Sarah
Dear Sarah, Here are three websites with lots of good information. Best of luck and thanks. Becky

Date: Mon, 27 Jun 2005
From: VanesW5
Subject: [found]
we found a turtle it looks like a gopher tortoise, but it has under its neck on his shell what looks like a spike on both sides. whats that and can we keep it?
Can you send me some pictures so I can try to identify it?
Date: Sat, 25 Jun 2005
From: Jarvis
Subject: Eggs?
Hi, we found an egg in our back yard almost 4" long. Could this be a turtle egg? It's all white, & we do have a turtle hole in our back yard. However the egg was on the opposite side of the turtle hole location.
If the egg is more oblong than round, it is likely a snake egg. Turtle eggs are round.
Date: Sat, 25 Jun 2005
From: Linda
Subject: [eating bedding plants]
We live in the country in Georgia and have lots of sand, therefore Gopher Tortoise in quantity. In the past we have just enjoyed them but now it seems this summer they are eating my bedding plants. Can you tell me any natural, safe way to discourage them? I don't want to eliminate them if possible. Thank you so much for your help.
Linda, I have attached a chapter from a training manual that will give you some useful information. Perhaps you can plant some things that the tortoises will prefer to eat besides your landscaping. The material in the chapter is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please.
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2005
From: Thomas
Subject: Tortise food question
I reside in Hernando County Florida, North of Tampa.
What can I grow to provide food for the tortise? My yard is an oasis and I would like to cater to the tortise. I had a small tortise move in the yard the other day.
Any information you can provide would be appreciated.
Dear Thomas, I have attached a chapter from a training manual that will give you some useful information. The material is copyrighted, so use it for your own education only, please. Thanks for writing and for your caring!
Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005
From: Jared & Haley
Subject: gopher tortoises and flower beds
Our family lives in southern coastal Georgia and are sharing our land with 3 gopher tortoises. Two of them have burrowed in the woods right at our property lines but the third one has chosen to burrow under our house. We have named him Yertle. I have read the posted question regarding problems with the foundation and am no longer concerned about that.

What I am concerned about is Yertle's love of my flower garden. I currently have "feathers" (common name not scientific..), colanchoe, gerbera daisies, lantana and moss roses that he seems to be feasting on. His burrow is in the flower garden so the flowers are the first food source he comes upon. I am concerned that these plants are bad for him or that by filling up on them he is not getting the nutrients he really needs. Is there any kind of treatment for the plants that would make them unappetizing for him but not harm him? Or could I plant something just for him?

Or maybe I should catch him and try to move him to the wooded area that the other tortoises occupy. If I did that, would it be okay to put him in/around the other burrows? Or should I put him in a place where he could dig his own burrow. I really don't know what to do for this little guy. Any suggestions would be great! Thanks so much for the great website. It is wonderful to have information at your fingertips so that good decisions can be made on behalf of those who share our land.

Dear Haley,

What a great story!!

So many times people are aggravated that the wildlife is eating their garden. Your attitude is very caring and refreshing.

Don't worry that Yertle will eat something harmful. Tortoises are not smart, but their instincts would prevent them from poisoning themselves. As long as there is a wide variety of food offerings, Yertle will get what he/she needs. Good luck and have fun!

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005
From: Lisa
Subject: Gopher Tortoise needs sanctuary...
I need to find a place to relocate a Gopher Tortoise...too much development in our area.
This Tortoise needs room to grow and to be around it's own kind, without fear of being mowed down by a truck, car, etc. Or becoming another tourist's castoff, one time I tried to just set her "free", someone in a truck was just going to pick her up as a "curiosity", a couple of other times she scratches at my fence to get back in. There is just no where out here that they (mostly St Joe/Arvida) are not developing, roads and traffic are everywhere.
She was was sick, and malnourished when I first found her, she is frisky and happy now ... I have searched the the internet without much luck.
Who/ where is the VERY BEST ( think/protected) site that I could bring her to, I am approximately 7-8 miles east of Destin, Florida. Can you please help me i.e. the tortoise??
Thank you, Lisa
Dear Lisa, Nothing I am going to tell you is good news or will make you happy. First, it is illegal for you to move the tortoise, or mess with it in any way. I know that is extremely frustrating when the poor thing is likely going to become road kill. You might try contacting your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to see if they can help:

Northwest Region FFWCC
Lt. Col. Louie Roberson, Regional Director
3911 Hwy. 2321
Panama City, FL 32409-1658
(850) 265-3676
You might also try to reach a biologist at Eglin Air Force Base. That is the closest large area with tortoises.
Good luck and I wish I could help more.

Date: Thu, 23 Jun 2005
Subject: can a tortoise die if flipped onto its back?
Can a tortoise die if it is flipped onto its back? if so, what causes it to die and how long does it take? my african spurr thighed tortoise sometimes flips himself and we are afraid to leave him alone for extended periods of time.
Tortoises often flip each other over when having territorial or mate disputes. A tortoise can die if it is left in temperatures that are too hot or too cold and it can't escape. This takes a very long time. So, if your tortoise is turning over, but you are not leaving it in the sun or cold overnight, it should be fine. Try to figure out how it is flipping. Are there structures in the pen that it gets onto and then flips, or is it trying to get out and falling over backwards? Whatever you can do to eliminate its ability to flip itself would be good.
Date: Wed, 22 Jun 2005
From: Nwhuntbch
Subject: california desert tortise upper respitory disease
looking for antibiotics to cure my tortise of cold in may
The first thing I need to tell you is that desert tortoises are federally protected and it is illegal for you to have one without a permit.

I am not familiar with the antibiotics used to treat URTD. Look at the Desert Tortoise Council website and contact someone from there. They will be able to direct you to some help.

Date: Tue, 21 Jun 2005
From: MelTurtle
Subject: what kind of tortoise is this?
Could you please tell me what kind of tortoise this is? I have been researching for years and cannot find out what this is! I really hope you can help me. Thanks - Melissa
Melissa's tortoise Dear Melissa, I cannot figure out what it is either, but I know that it is not healthy. Please get it to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator. Tortoises do not do well in water. They need a very specific environment with the right temperature, substrate, light and dark, and food. This animal will not live if you do not get it some medical attention.
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005
From: Mørkeste
Subject: What kind of turtle?
Well I found a turtle in my back yard and I want it as a pet. But I have not researched enough about turtles to know the kind, what they eat, and even if I should keep it.
Anyways I cannot get a picture right now, but I can try to describe it: It has orange spots on its legs and skin, and on the shell it is like regular dark greenish but each of the little pieces has a orange/light brown spot/design on them... Hm, that isn't a very good description but I tryed... If you can help me, thanks!
What state do you live in, and do the turtle's feet have webs between the toes?
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005
From: calaridom
Subject: I may unknowingly have a gopher
Hi Becky I hope you can help me. About two years ago a friend of the family came up unexpectedly from Florida bearing my children a gift : a small turtle.At first I was hesitant to accept the beautiful creature but as he began to tell me how they just need lettuce and don't drink water, I thought to myself, this little guy won't make it very far if I leave him with this guy. As an animal lover , I took him in. The pet shops I took her to. ( that;s what the vet thought it was) told me it was a box turtle. She didn't look like the ones I've seen in photos so I did a little research and thought she might be Sulcata.

The person who brought her up to NYC said he found her in a house so I thought she might have escaped from a breeder or afficionado. I've done everything I can ti make her comfortable. I have the largest tank I can fit in my porch, I 've taken her to the vet and had her tested (positive) and treated for parasites and when it's warmer I put her in a large molde! d kiddie pool with lots of reptile sand and bark, feed her tortoise food as well as give her semi rotten fruit, dandelion leaves, collard greens and plenty of fresh water.

At the end of last summer we had some weird, and by that I mean both disgusting and violent things happen in our as well as neighboring back yards. I don't dare leave Beni( that's her name) in the yard. So She's bored and frustrated all the time. Now, I've recently come across the Gopher turtle website.I'm afraid I may have a protected species. I already saw on a previous question that Florida will not take in a turtle from outside of the state. I'd love Benni to have the best chance for a happy life but since I have been feeding her, she might not do well in the wild, as well as possibly infecting other creatures. Please help me with this dilemma. The NY Dept. of Conservation only takes native species.
Upset in Brooklyn

Unfortunately, I hear stories just like your's all too often. The first thing to do is get the animal positively identified. Can you email me some pictures?

As you are probably aware, turtles/tortoises have fairly specific temperature and light requirements because they are reptiles (cold-blooded). They need the proper amount of sunlight and those frigid NY winters are just not tolerable.

After we figure out what Beni is, I will better be able to help you figure out the best way to care for her.

Write me back. If you cannot send a picture, we will move on to other options.

Date: Sun, 19 Jun 2005
From: Jean
Subject: Gopher tortoise eggs
Dear Rebecca, a Gopher tortoise lives in the lot next door to my house. Today, it dug a hole and layed eggs in a nest just under my living room window. I read that the eggs will hatch in 80 days. Is there anything I can do to protect these eggs and the baby turtles when they hatch. Or should I do nothing?

Also, someone has just bought the lot next door and if they decide to build on that lot, can the turtle be relocated? Thanks for you info. Jean

The best (and legal) thing to do is leave the eggs alone. If you see a predator such as a dog or cat in the area, try to keep them away, but that is difficult unless the animal belongs to you.

As far as the lot being developed, the developer is responsible to apply for a permit to either relocate or take (not relocate and develop anyway) the tortoise. In some cases, a lot can be developed without disturbing the animal, but if the food source is destroyed, it can't stay around long anyway. If you see development activity, check with the appropriate permitting agency for building permits (most likely city or county) and find out if they have gotten their tortoise permit. I would try to document that the tortoise and burrows are there, because very often, the lot will get developed quickly and there will be no proof that the animal ever existed.

Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005
From: Kevin
Subject: Moving Gopher Tortoise eggs
I have several Gopher Tortoises that frequent my property in the Canaveral Groves area of Cocoa. Yesterday I went to level a truckload of dirt that has been sitting in my yard for several months and discovered several Gopher Tortoise eggs buried in the dirt. The eggs have not been moved and remain covered by about 6 inches of dirt on the side of the pile. Can they be relocated to a safer area without endangering them?
Because gopher tortoises are a protected species, it is illegal to move the eggs or disturb them without a permit. If you can possibly wait, just leave them alone and see what happens. Incubation takes about 80 days, so they will either hatch by early September, or they aren't going to hatch. If they do, the young will crawl off and look for a place to live in the vegetation or in a burrow.
Date: Mon, 13 Jun 2005
From: Alejandro
Subject: gopher [pet]
Hi, my friend brought me 2 gopher tortoises 2 years ago, i didn't know what kind of tortoises he brought to me. i take them to a pets store adn the owner told me is illegal to keep them i didn't know that. Could you please tell me what can i do?
Can you send me a digital picture of the tortoises? Often times, people working in pet stores misidentify wild animals. If you do have gopher tortoises, I suggest that you find a local wildlife rehabilitator to take them to. They likely will need some health care, and they should not be released into the wild. Rehabbers can occasionally find permitted people to take tortoises that come from situations such as yours. Send me a picture if you can, or let me know if I can help you find a rehabber.
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2005
Subject: GOPHER TURTLE [Eat]
Congratulations! If there is a tortoise in your yard, then the things it needs must be there also. They eat low-growing herbs, grasses, and other plants. It is illegal for you to feed the tortoise, and it isn't healthy for them anyway. Just sit back, watch, and enjoy.
Date: Sat, 11 Jun 2005
From: arron
Subject: gopher turtles [eat]
what do gopher tortoise eat
They are vegetarians and eat low-growing herbs, grasses, and other plants.
Date: Wed, 08 Jun 2005
From: Shari
Subject: Fwd: possible gopher turtle in my yard
My backgate was left open overnight and this morning I noticed a very large (approx 12 -15 inches) turtle/tortoise walking around. It moves pretty fast for how I thought a turtle would move. I was concerned it might be a gopher turtle and have spent hours searching the net & checking out all t he photos for florida species. He doesn't look exactly like any one particular picture. His shell is quite weathered and the pattern on the shell is very faded, it looks like faint outlines of geometric shapes. He has some thin yellow green stripes on his head and neck, but doesnt look like any of the photos I saw of the stripped turtles. I contacted the zoo, the wildlife sanctuary, Turkey Creek Sanctuary, all thought it could be a gopher turtle and said the markings can change when they get very big.

My problem is what to do with him if he is a gopher turtle. It was suggested to let him go wherever he wanted because no one has room for him. I have a neighborhood with a lot of dogs and feral cats running around, not to mention neighborhood kids who do not leave the wildlife alone, I am worried for the turtle's saftey. Is there anyone I can contact? I am leary about contacting Animal Control, a few years ago when I volunteered for an animal rescue group we were told not to contact Animal Control for wildife rescue because the animals usually ended up being killed. I would appreciate any information you can give me.

I am Palm Bay FL and contacted you because you are local. Thanks.

Dear Shari, No gopher tortoise ever has yellow and green stripes on its head, no matter how old it is. Look up a picture of a Florida cooter on the websites below. If that is not it, can you send me a picture?

Regardless of what it is, just leave your gate open and it will likely wander on soon. Or, if it is a cooter or other similar water turtle, you can take it to the nearest borrow pit, pond, ditch, or other source of fresh water and let it go.

Date: Tue, 07 Jun 2005
From: janet
Subject: jaw
hi i have a little gopher turtle at my house ive been taken care of for 2 yrs.his lastest problem is his jaw use to have black now bright white looks swollen.not sure what to do he lets me touch it feels ok but im not sure he is still a baby i think about 4 inches long was eating good and drinking about once a week that i saw now i cant get him to eat or drink help thanks j.c
Dear J.C., Please get the tortoise to a wildlife rehabilitator as quickly as possible. First of all, if it is a gopher tortoise, it is illegal for you to have it without a permit. More importantly, it sounds like the little guy has a serious problem that you will not be able to fix. If you cannot find a rehabber in your area, write me back, tell me what town you live in, and I will try to locate one for you. Thank you.
Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005
From: ashleya1
Subject: [tortoise not moving]
Hi my name is Ashley and I recently found a very small gopher tortoise (2.5-3in long ) in a sandy spot in my yard. I live in south GA and this sant is similar to beach sand and sticks out in our grassy yard, but whats so weird is she just sits there and she doesn't seem to eat much well I've never seen her eat. we've offered her lettuce, watermelon, cantalope, and i even bought her a small reptile lamp and arranged it for her at night b/c she doesn;t seem to move much. I bought her some food ath the pet store and offered her some in a small lid. (All of this i know know is illegal.) but her eyes are always closed.

I've heard of URTD and i know that swollen eyelids are a symptom, but she doesn't have a runny nose or wheezing, but her lids don't look swolen just closed is it possible she may have phenomona , because we have been getting rain ans I set a large patio table over her to keep her dry, but its pretty cool (for south GA) its warming up now but I guess what I need to be asking is how exactly do I attempt to get a permit? I have a vet coming to look at my horse Tuesday and I want her to look at my little neighbor and see what she thinks is wrong with her can you help me in the meantime??

THANKS SOOO MUCH!!!!!! Great site!! P.S. I stop to help turtles as much as possible!!

Dear Ashley, See if the vet will take a look. They will be able to help you more than I can. Good luck!
Date: Mon, 06 Jun 2005
From: Phillip
Subject: gopher tortoise protection
I've lived in my home in a wooded subdivision for 28 years without any neighbors. We have tortoises coming in our yard daily to graze on my lawn, weeds and flowers, so I know there are many gophers living on the vacant lot next to my home. Babies have hatched and passed through my gardens every year for as long as I can remember. Some stay a while in little dens they dig and then when they are larger, they move on. This winter I saw a mating pair in my yard. One large female has been passing through for over 20 years.

Is there anything I can do to protect the dens on the vacant lots before developers show up with their tractors? I can't bear the thought of any of them being bull-dozed away.
Sincerely, Pamela

Dear Pamela, Your story is sad and all too common. As more and more people move in, wildlife loses out. The only thing you can do about the lot next door is make sure that if the developer does show up, the company acknowledges that there are tortoises present and gets their permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. At least then they must pay to bulldoze the lot (the money is used for tortoise conservation elsewhere in Florida) or they have to relocate the tortoises. Relocation sounds good, but it rarely works and has lots of associated problems. You can check on the permit situation through your local government. You might take pictures or otherwise document that there are burrows, just in case things happen quickly. Once the lot is cleared, it would just be your word agaisnt theirs. Hope this is helpful, and feel free to write back.
Date: Sun, 05 Jun 2005
From: victoria
Subject: Baby Gopher Tortoise needs HELP!
i found a baby gopher tortoise in my driveway and it's back legs are not moving. I have watched closely and he is only moving himself with his front legs. His back legs have no movement, they are hanging straight out. What can i do for this little guy? Help!
Please take it to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator immediately. If you can't find one in your area, please let me know and I will try.
Date: Sun, 05 Jun 2005
From: Gcgc725
Subject: Greek tortoises
I have a greek tortoise and wanted to know if it was a male or a female, how would i be able to tell which it is?
I could not find that specific information for the Greek tortoise. I suggest you ask a veterinarian, wildlife rehabilitator, or someone that belongs to a reptile club. Good luck.
Date: Fri, 03 Jun 2005
From: John & Traci
Subject: food
I have a gopher tortoise in my yard and I would like to put some food out for it. I live in Citrus County, Florida and there are a lot of new homes going in and I would like to help him to stay by my house so I know he won't get hurt.
My question is what do gopher tortoise's eat?
Thank you, Traci
Dear Traci, I have attached a list of plants that tortoises have been documented eating. You can plant some of these in your yard. Because tortoises are protected, you cannot legally leave food scraps out for them. Besides, it's not really a good idea for their health anyway.
Date: Thu, 02 Jun 2005
From: Judy
Subject: Just to Let You Know

I don't have a question. This is just for your enjoyment. Let me know if I can be of service to you.

I thought that you might enjoy seeing some photos of two of the gopher tortoises that live in our yard. I haven't gotten a picture of the third one that lives to the side of the path down to the pasture. I'm sure there are more on the farm, but these live in our front and back yards-quite independently. We're just happy when they come out to eat food or drink water. We enjoy quietly watching them and snapping their picture, but sometimes these "slow turtles" (not-haha) plop down into their holes so fast that I can't get a picture quickly enough. :D Mrs. Judy, GA

Dear D, Very cool website and great gopher pictures. I particularly like the one with the mouth open and greens inside. Would it be o.k. for me to forward your message to my friend that is the State's herpetologist in Georgia? He would love to see your pictures and know that you are in Georgia.
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005
From: Ben
Subject: salvaged eggs from scattered clutch
While walking in long leaf pine - turkey Oak habitat, we discovered four of 9 gopher Tortoise eggs ahd been eaten. These had been scratched out at what looked like a new burrow opening. The remaining five have been salvaged along with soft sand from the site in hopes of incubating and returning them to the site when they have hatched and would have a better chance for survival.
Is all we have to do is place them in a bunch of sand and wait...? How do we protect them from the raccoons and Opossums in my back yard.
Thank you for your reply. Ben
Dear Ben, I know this probably a moot point by now, but the best thing to do is take them back to where you found them and rebury them. It is very difficult to reproduce a natural nest for many reasons (temperature, humidity, soil moisture, hours of sunlight vs. dark, etc.). If you found the eggs above the ground, they likely will not hatch anyway. Please feel free to write back if I can provide any more information.
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005
From: Christean
Subject: I dont know what kind of turtle I have
I recently found a turtle and decided to keep it for my nephew we went out got it a tank and some reptile pelets. We were wondering what kind of turtle it was. On the bottome of the shell it is a redish orange color and on the top it is smooth. you can feel where the lines are that outline the boxes on the top of the shell. The turtle is still very young he is only the size of a quarter. so if you can help me that would be great if you need me to I can send you a picture so just write me back and let me know something. Thank You, Christean
Christean, If you still have this turtle and don't know what kind it is, please send me a picture.
Date: Mon, 30 May 2005
From: Mrs Raina
Subject: Oh man...[highway]
Hello- great site by the way.

Today my husband and I found 2 of these beautiful turtles walking down the middle of the highway. We got out and put them in the back of the vehicle and drove to a lake (on a Wildlife reserve- far away from traffic and humans). Only now I have learned that they like sandy dry places- Are they going to be okay? I felt so good about saving them from the traffic- I sure hope we didn't hurt those little guys. Here are some photos. The older turtle had a bum front leg-and the little guy was quite fast for a turtle! Please keep me updated.

Hi, I cannot tell you for sure that the tortoises will be o.k. They typically live in high, sandy places, but they often use wetlands for feeding. If they can find a place to dig burrows, they should be fine. Tortoises are typically pretty tough. We can hope for the best. In the future, it is better when you find a tortoise in trouble to just remove it from harm's way and not relocate it a long distance (that is also illegal to do). Thanks.
This is where we released them.
Raina's gopher tortoise #1
Click to enlarge.
BACK to return.
Raina's gopher tortoise #2 Raina's gopher tortoises #3
Date: Sun, 29 May 2005
From: Taylor
Subject: Red Ear Slider
I know its not a gopher turtle but still I sometimes let it out to walk on the cement he always seems to enjoy is it bad for his shell or his health!
It should be fine if you don't let it sit in the direct hot sun for too long.
Date: Sun, 29 May 2005
From: GottCoffey
Subject: Years of enjoyment [fence]
My name is Angie & I live in Jupiter, FL. We moved into our home 11 years ago. Next to our development was a nursery/farm that was home to many gopher tortoises. The farm was bought & has since been developing rapidly. My husband & I used to take the kids through this area just to observe the wildlife before it came under construction. We witnessed many gopher tortoises and infact, have taken 2 that were found there to release them. I am very aware that they are illegal to keep. However, about three years ago, the empty lot behind my house was cleared & there now stands a house. To my surprise, there must have been a gopher tortoise living there that sought sanctuary in my back yard. He has enjoyed our herb garden, banana trees and hibicus shrubs for nearly all three of those years and has built himself quite a large burrow. We have put a koi pond in our yard recently which has brought four turtles ( 3 sliders and one soft shell ) into our pond and they have called it home. Now we find that due to the depth & size of our koi pond, we are required to fence our back yard. What do I do about "GROUCHO"? Will I be fined for containing him within this fence since he has made his home here and been free to come & go as pleases or should I contact our local wildlife center to have him removed? We have really enjoyed him & we would hate to see him go, but I'm not sure it's worth getting in trouble over. Thank you for your help. I think GROUCHO has been happy but I want to do what is best for him and stay within the limits of the law. I eagerly await your reply as we only have 30 days to start constructing the fence.
Go ahead and do the fence. As long as you do not bury it underneath the ground, Groucho can dig out if he so pleases and you will be legal. Look at the following website for more useful information regarding "backyard" tortoises:
Date: Sat, 28 May 2005
From: koreyci_b
Subject: [female or male?]
How can you tell if your turtle is female or male?
It depends on the kind of turtle. Sometimes it is the shape of the plastron (bottom shell is concave in males, flat in females) as in gopher tortoises. In many aquatic turtles, males have longer tales and claws. Sometimes it is body size. If you are asking about a specific species, write me back with its name.
Date: Sat, 28 May 2005
From: Stackpoles
Subject: found baby
We found a baby in the mouth of one of our cats. It is unharmed but do not know who to contact. We live on 20 acres in Marion County, Florida. We would like to take care of him until we know that we can release it. Stackpole family
Dear Stackpoles, The best thing to do (and the legal thing as well) is to release the tortoise near where you think it came from underneath some vegetation or in a burrow. Try to keep your cats inside so they do not capture or kill wildlife. If you still have the tortoise, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator and take it to them.
Date: Sat, 28 May 2005
From: kelly
Subject: sick bay red slider turtle
Hello. I got a bay red slider turle one week ago. Its birth date was May 18, 2005. He was very active and eating well, until last night. He didn't want to eat and today he hasn't ate at all and he acts sick. (not eating, not active, and barely opens his eyes, and his shell had a white scale to it this morning, but that has improved.) I have followed the directions carefully that the seller provided. He told me to change the water twice weekly and I did that but he was not specific on the kind of water. I used distilled. Is that my problem? I am very concerned. Thanks for your help. It is Memorial Weekend and I can not find a pet store open to look at him. Britney
Either take it back where you bought it and see if they can help you, or find a wildlife rehabilitator to look at it. Write back if I can help.
Date: Wed, 25 May 2005
From: coridon
Subject: I think my Gopher needs a pal.
Hello, We moved in one year ago and the turtle has always been here, but the property was in really bad condition. Now that we are hear, I worry she's not getting the right enviorment. There was always a fence, but it had holes in it and we had it fixed. I don't want to keep her somewhere she doesn't want to be. Yesterday, the gate was open and I found her in the front yard. I don't know if she's looking for a man or just more food. Help, maybe there is a better place for her where she will be happier. Thanks Cathy
Dear Cathy, The gopher tortoise is a legally protected species, so you cannot move her or keep her somewhere by force. If she is staying in your yard, that is fine. Believe me, unless you buried the fence underneath the ground, it will not keep her in. Just enjoy her company and she will take care of the rest (including finding a mate if there is one around to be found).
Date: Thu, 26 May 2005
From: Alexandra
Subject: species!
Hi, Sorry to bother you - I have recently got a baby pet tortoise, s/he is very sweet but... we do not know what kind of tortoise it is!!! We know it's a fresh water turtle, but do not know the scientific name and couldn't find on the net anything resembling our tortoise.
I am attaching a picture, maybe you can help me.
Many thanks, Alexandra.
Softshell turtleDear Alexandra, This is a softshell turtle, but the species depends on where the turtle is from. Do you know? Thanks for sending the picture; that helps immensely.
Date: Thu, 26 May 2005
From: Jamie
Subject: gopher turtles [space needs]
We recently moved and have found 9 gopher turtles on out property. About 1 1/12 acres. I have read about them and I think this is a large number for such a small area. Can you give me a little info on how much space they need and is this a large amount for this area.
Thanks, Jamie
Dear Jaime, The number of tortoises that can live in an area is dependent on how good the are is for them, i.e., how much food is available, how much room for burrows, etc. There are things you can do to increase the carrying capacity of your land if you want to make sure the gopher tortoises have what they need.
Date: Mon, 23 May 2005
From: Arthur
Subject: Building a fence
I've been told by the previous owner of the house we now live in that a golhper turtle has a home on our neighbors property.The neighbor is planning on putting up a privacy fence right in line with the turtles home. Is there a law that protects the golpher turtle. Art
The gopher tortoise is legally protected, so the property owner should not do anything that harms the tortoise or its burrow without getting a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (assuming you are in Florida). I believe that the distance that must be maintained from the burrow is 25 feet.
Date: Mon, 23 May 2005
From: Jacob
Subject: Gopher Turtle Spotting
I am a college student and a recent graduate just this term! Just today as I was coming home I spotted a turtle and I was curious as what type it was. After I took a picture with my camera phone I did some internet research and found out that it is a gopher turtle. I came upon your website and I thought you could help me out. Since it is a gopher turtle what protection does it have if any in Florida? I don't understand what special species of concern means. Am I to understand its habit is protected? If so something has to be done to stop all this destruction of its habitat now.

As my neighbor hood is developing like crazy. I am afraid that all the species will be wiped out. They are putting up some condos across the street where I spotted the gopher turtle and I believe they have plans to build another project in front of our community entrance where I saw the turtle today. My parents have once even seen a bobcat in the area before all this building started to take place last year. As I don't know what to do I am looking forward in getting some answers from you.
Sincerely, Jacob

Dear Jacob, You are seeing what is the most common hazard facing Florida's wildlife: loss and degradation of habitat. Quite frankly, worrying about one turtle here, one bobcat there, etc., is not going to solve the problem. Currently, there are hundreds of new residents moving into the state every day. They want houses, schools, stores, and roads. These things take space. Development is rampant, and until we have elected officials that care as much or more about quality of life as they do making a dollar, we will continue to lose our natural resources. If you really want to help, educate yourself and become involved in the political process, even at the local level.
Date: Sun, 22 May 2005
From: hipple9
Subject: what can i do
i dont know what kind of tortoise i have in my yard it looks like a box turtle but its not and how can i keep it safe ?
Dear Tati, Look on the internet or in books to try and identify the turtle. If you have a digital picture, send it to me and I will try to help. The best thing to do with any wild animal is leave it alone and enjoy watching it from a distance.
Date: Sun, 22 May 2005
From: Yvonne
Subject: red-eared slider
how do you tell the difference between a male or female slider
Males have longer tails and claws than females. That is difficult to tell when you only have one turtle and nothing to compare!
Date: Sun, 22 May 2005
From: Tuckers
Subject: will u anwser my ? please
how can u tell the difference between a male and female turtle?
Kaci - Ark.
Dear Kaci, It depends on what kind of turtle you are talking about. With many turtles, especially those that live in the water, males have longer tails than females. With gopher tortoises, the bottom shell of the female is completely flat, and the males' bottom shells are slightly concave. In some species of turtles, males have longer claws; in other species, the main difference is the size of the entire turtle.
Date: Sun, 22 May 2005
From: hipple9
Subject: had a tortoise lay eggs
a tortoise came in my yard and layed eggs in it . how long before they hatch and what do i do . please i want them to live.
The incubation period for tortoise eggs is 90 days, give or take a few days depending on the latitude of where you live (shorter time in the south). The gopher tortoise is a legally protected species, so you should not do anything to the nest or eggs. My suggestion is that you keep dogs, cats, etc., away from the nest site if possible, and then watch to see signs of hatching. The young will be very vulnerable to predators until they find a place to burrow or hide.
Date: Sat, 21 May 2005
From: VickyL3270
Subject: Tortoise Under Pool Deck
We have a large turtle burrowing under our pool deck. We live in Floirda on the border of Tree Tops PArk. In a telephone conversation to park personnel they have indicated the possibility of this being a Gopher Tortoise. I am concerned that the burrowing is going to damage my concrete pool deck. Also, my dog goes crazy everytime this turtle appears. Finally, I am concerned about the turtle and the possibility it has layed eggs. Park personnel have advised to watch for the turtle to leave the nest, check for eggs and if none fill in the hole using dirt and gravel and maybe a little concrete. This seems to be a good solution. What do you recommend?
Thank you David
Dear David, The first thing I need to tell you is that the gopher tortoise is a protected species and that it is illegal to do anything to it or its burrow. The park personnel should not have suggested that you fill in the burrow, eggs or no eggs. Please don't let your dog hurt the tortoise. It has been my experience that sooner or later, the dog will get used to it and quit barking when the tortoise comes out.

Tortoises very often dig next to decks, air conditioning units, fences, porches, etc., because the dirt is already soft there and it is easy. I have never seen them crack concrete or cause other damage.

My suggestion is that you consider yourself fortunate to have the tortoise and enjoy him. He may or may not stick around, depending on if there are enough food resources. Development in Florida is taking away the habitat for tortoises and most other animals, so they are forced to live in places they would not normally occur. I have attached a document that talks about "backyard" tortoises. It is copyrighted, so please use it only for your own education. Feel free to write me back if I can answer other questions or concerns.

Date: Sat, 21 May 2005
From: Angela
Subject: [male / female]
how can u tell a male tortois from a female tortois?
The bottom shell of a female tortoise is absolutely flat. The bottom shell of a male tortoise is slightly concave.
Date: Fri, 20 May 2005
From: amy
Subject: questions [won't move]
we just got a gopher turtle and he wont stop going to the bathroom , and he wont eat , and he wont move , its like he's in shock or something plus i dont know how to take care of it . Can you help me.
sincerely, Jazzmyn
Dear Jazzmyn, The first thing I have to tell you is that the gopher tortoise is a protected species, and it is illegal for you to have one. More importantly, you need to get the animal to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. If you can't find one, write me back and tell me what town you live in, and I will find one for you.
Date: Mon, 16 May 2005
From: Harbach
Subject: Gopher Tortoises [developing a property]
We are planning to developing a property in the Melbourne Beach area and have found a gopher tortoise on the property. We understand that the lot cannot be cleared while the tortoise is burrowed on the property. Can you give us any information on tortoise relocation/permitting and, if possible, offer any assistance in this task? Since we live in South Florida at this time, any personal involvement over a period of time would be difficult to schedule. Any information/help would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Al, It is not true that you can't develop your property because of tortoises. The information you need can be found at on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. The best scenario would be if you can develop without disturbing the tortoise. I have also attached a document that would help you coexist with your "backyard tortoise". This is a book chapter that is copyrighted, so please use it for your own education only. Good luck, and feel free to write back if you have more questions or need more information.
Date: Sun, 15 May 2005
From: Jessica
Subject: Found hurt Gopher Turtle
I live in a neighborhood with new construction going on. I found a gopher turtle that had been hurt from a bulldozer or other large machinery most likely running over him. He has a cracked shell and was bleeding from two spots. I found him over the weekend and do not know if I should just leave him or take him to a vet or wildlife rescue on Monday. I would need to move him tonight (Sunday) before the workers come back early Monday morning. Should I do this? Besides a reptile vet is there a better place to take him?? I live in Orlando Florida. Thank you, Jessica
Dear Jessica, You might call the reptile vet and ask them what they suggest you do. The tortoise needs to be taken there or to a rehab place. Thank you so much for helping.
Date: Sun, 15 May 2005
From: Jo
Subject: gopher holes
Do gopher tortoise enter and leave the same hole or do they enter one hole and exit another?
A burrow being used by a tortoise typically has one opening that they use to enter and exit. Sometimes, when other animals begin using a burrow, they will create new holes to use as escape routes.
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005
From: IAN
Subject: what do you call a male and female tortoise
could you pleasetell me what you call a male and female tortoise as you would say ie. a dog and bitch in the dog world
Male and female are all I have ever known, used, or heard.
Date: Thu, 12 May 2005
From: Kathy
Subject: Desert Turtle Question
Do Desert Turtles have teeth? Thanks in advance for your answer. Kathy
Dear Kathy, Turtles do not have teeth, but have a hard palate and beak that is used to crush their food items.
Date: Thu, 12 May 2005
From: Eric
Subject: return to wild or not?
for four years we have maintained a 3 toed and a gopher tortoise together in a fenced/concrete block pen (about 100 ft sq) in our yard in new orleans. they appear to be mature, healthy and 'happy', digging in each winter, and coming right back in the spring: once they appear it is a sure sign that the cold weather will not return. they get along as well as such creatures might. the gopher has laid eggs twice, most recently this week. (I see that we cannot hope for a box/gopher hybrid). the pen is semi-overgrown with weeds and a few herbs and pepper plants. we feed them worms, grubs (their favorite) bananas, melon, grapes etc. the soil in the pen is built up above the yard's ground level about 8" (height of the blocks).
both were discovered in our yard, to our amazement. the 3 toed was found while landscaping, and so we built the pen for it. the gopher simply walked up to the pen one day, about a year later. our area has been urban (with large yards) for more than a century so I presume they were wandering pets.
we know it's illegal to keep them - but it would have been wrong to let them wander back into the busy streets.
as fond as we are of them, we want to do what's best for them and their populations.
should we maintain the tortoises in our yard return them to the wild (if so, where?) or bring them down to you?
In a case like this, it is best to leave well enough alone. To return the gopher tortoise to the wild is risking disease, social, and genetics problems. It is not legal to bring a tortoise into Florida. Have the eggs ever hatched? Sounds like you are doing well for the animal given the situation.
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005
From: Terra
Subject: identity crisis
I have a tortoise in my yard that I cannot identify. Could you help?! I want to try to plant some vegetation for him since I fear some new homes have limited his territory. Your help is much appreciated! Sincerely, Terra.
box turtle in yard Dear Terra, That is a box turtle. Check out this website and there are many more if you search on box turtle care. It would be good to let it roam free instead of keeping it captive; that way it will at least have a chance to breed.
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005
From: Nicole
My dog bit a gopher tortoise. I am trying to find out if they are poisonous???? He bit into the shell.
Gopher tortoises are not poisonous, and I am much more concerned about the tortoise than I am your dog. That animal needs to be taken to a wildlife rehabilitator or vet so it can be properly treated. The tortoise's shell is an outgrowth of its bone and any injury to the shell is potentially serious. Also, gopher tortoises are legally protected. Please control your dog, because any harm your dog causes is your responsibility.
Date: Mon, 09 May 2005
From: Robyn
Subject: turtles
show me turtle!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!let me see turtle pictures bigger!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!thanks that was all...
Baby gopher tortoise. gopher tortoise #1
gopher tortoise #2 gopher tortoise face
Click on the thumbnail for an enlargement. Use the BACK button of your Browser to return.
Date: Mon, 09 May 2005
From: lynn
Subject: [keep?]baby gopher
thank you for maintaining such a wonderful information site. you have helped me greatly with my decision on what to do with this hatchling gopher that some people gave to me about half dead. it is doing very well now with a special reptile lamp, small cut romaine every day, then sprinkled with reptivite once a week. it gets twice daily warm water soaks to ease the scabs from cuts about the head and eye. one eye lid was scraped up pretty bad but is returning to normal now. just recently i have started taking it out in my yard to freely graze on the greens of its choice and it really chows down. it will be released into a wildlife preserve in weeki wachee in about a week in a half. this is pretty close to where it was found. i am sure it will be plenty strong by then.
the people who gave it to me want it back as a pet if i could help it get better. i will be able to convince them now about how it is illegal to keep thanks to your website. i have been taking care of box turtles for a long time and will come visit your place one day when i make it to the other coast.
Dear Lynn, Thank you. It is good that you are releasing the tortoise near where it was taken. Please do that as soon as possible.
Date: Sun, 08 May 2005
From: Sharon
Subject: tortoise
I have just bought a Herman tortoise, called Blossem. he is only small, two years old
He eats, but very little. is this ok
Sharon, I am not familiar with the dietary requirements of Herman tortoises, but what and how much they eat will partly depend on the temperature of their surroundings. Make sure you are not keeping the tortoise at too low of a temperature. I suggest that you search on-line to find out the best way to feed the tortoise and the most favorable temperature for it.
Date: Sun, 08 May 2005
Subject: hello [sick box turtles]
hi my name is Audrey. I have 3 baby eastern box turtles in my house. i have looked up all they need and they have the proper environment and food. REcently my turtles look sick, one of the past away and its shell on the bottom especially is soft. do you have any idea what this means or how i can help the other ones survive?
Even though you think you are providing the best environment for the turtles, it sounds like they may be having diet problems. You should take them to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator and let them tell you exactly what is wrong and how to fix it. Keeping turtles seems like it should be easy, but it is often more complicated than people realize.
Date: Sat, 07 May 2005
From: Debbie
Subject: Age
Good Day,
Can you please let me know, how old can a tortoise get and how can you see the age? My sister got a baby and she love him so mush and we want to know more about the berg tortiose.
Thank you so mush.
Debbie and Francis, South Africa
Debbie and Francis, I am not familiar with the "berg" tortoise, and couldn't find anything about it on-line. Can you give me the genus and species names?
Date: Wed, 04 May 2005
From: ang
Subject: horsfield tortoises
hi there, i have just brought two tortoises i would like to know what plants, herbs and weeds they can eat as i would like to make a nice rockery for them. The picture i am sending is this tank ok for them to be in at night? I have a thirmal thing on the bottom with sand on the top then a heating mat then sand on top of the heating mat, then wood chippings and the rest you can see in the picture.
Tortoise husbandry is not my strong point, so here are two good web sites to help you. Best of luck and enjoy.
Date: Tue, 03 May 2005
From: Charles
Subject: can Gopher Tortoises swim?
Resource Teacher,Environmental Education Program
Dear Charles, I have seen them swim short distances (across ditches), but doubt that they could keep themselves afloat for a long period of time.
Date: Sun, 01 May 2005
From: JanisME0115
Subject: [crushed shell]
I have a gopher that I picked up from the roadway, and has a crushed shell. What do I do??
It is very important that you take it to a vet or a wildlife rehabilitator. If you cannot find someone to take it, please write me back and tell me what town you live in, and I will try to help.
Date: Sun, 01 May 2005
From: garyshon
Subject: teeth
Do desert tortises have teeth? Thank You Gary
Turtles and tortoises do not have teeth, but have a hard palate and beak that they use to "chew" their food and defend themselves.
Date: Thu, 28 Apr 2005
From: gary
Subject: what do i do [with eggs]?
What do I do if a wild red eared slider turtle lays eggs in my backyard - do I take them in?
Leaving them alone is risky because of predators and other potential problems, but that is still the best thing to do. Many turtles have fairly complicated needs when it comes to incubation and it might be worse to try and hatch the eggs yourself.
Date: Tue, 26 Apr 2005
From: steve
Subject: male or female
My turle is a painted turle and I do not know if it is female or male?
Hi, Male painted turtles have long foreclaws and long, thick tails. Females have shorter foreclaws, shorter and thinner tails, and tend to be larger. It might be hard to tell a male from a female if you don't have the other sex to compare. Search on-line for more information and pictures, or look in field guides.
Date: Sat, 23 Apr 2005
From: FISHNGUY4300
Subject: hello. I have a question Please help me [identify} - no one else seems to know?
My daughter rescued a turtle from the road, which was sure to be road kill. She has brought it home and we are trying to identify it, and also trying to find the correct food. Let me give you some information . We live in South Carolina, it is about the size of a softball, has a black shell with yellow spots. Can you please help me identify it and give me some information about its diet. Thank you very much for any help you may give me. Thanks Again!!!
You need to i.d. it. Go to the library or bookstore and try to find it in a book. Make sure that you are looking at pictures of animals that potentially occur in your geographic region. You can do the same type of research on-line. If you can send me a digital picture, I can tell you what it is as well. Once you know what kind of turtle it is, there are plenty of resources that can help you take good care of it.
Date: Thu, 21 Apr 2005
From: Elibetteg
Subject: how many gopher turtles are left
That is a good question. Unfortunately, there is not a good answer. I can tell you that the populations are declining in many areas because of the loss of habitat.
Date: Thu, 14 Apr 2005
From: kelly
Subject: tortoise burrow question
I hope you are still answering questions. I recently moved into a townhouse that is located on a slight hill and therefore is completely elevated by support piers. I was under the house this weekend and noticed what looks very much like a gopher tortoise burrow. I haven't seen a tortoise the 3 weeks I've been here. How do I know if this burrow is being used or has been used recently, or even if it is a burrow?? We are about ready to lattice in the underside of the house and I'd hate to trap a tortoise in or out of its burrow.
Thanks for any advice you can provide!
There are a number of animals that dig burrows and could potentially be living under your house. My suggestion is that you put the lattice up, but leave an escape route so that your "neighbor" can come and go.
Date: Tue, 12 Apr 2005
From: Linda
Subject: Gopher Tortoise [when & what eat?]
My granddaughter has a project she is doing in her 4th grade class on Gopher Tortoise and she needs to know when they eat and the consumption of what they eat any information you can send me will be appreciated. Thank you Nonnie
Nonnie, Your granddaughter can find all sorts of good basic tortoise biology information by searching the web on "gopher tortoise". Gophers are vegetarians and eat low-growing plants, grasses, and herbs.
Date: Sun, 10 Apr 2005
From: Rebecca
Subject: [come out]
when the turtles come out
They come out during the day when the temperature is warm enough. How warm the temperature has to be depends on the kind of turtle you are talking about.
Date: Thu, 07 Apr 2005
From: chriskimc
Subject: Found Gopherus Berlandieri
I live in Corpus Christi, TX. While I was clearing some high grass in my back yard I found a Gopherus Berlandieri. I had some experts tell me that is what he is. He has some red paint on the side of his shell. This area is not a very safe place for him. I can't figure how he got here unless someone had him and he got out. Does he even belong in this area? I would love to adopt him if at all possible. If I can't I am going to have to give him to the right people. I do have two acres of land, but if he gets out he will run into trouble. I have been trying for days to find out what I can do with him and have got no where. Can you please help me find some information on adoption. Thanks a bunch, Kimberly
Gopherus Berlandieri - Corpus Christi, TX Gopherus Berlandieri #2 - Corpus Christi, TXDear Kimberly, The tortoise you found is protected by the state as a threatened species. My suggestion is that you call or email the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. see website: They must have a local office somewhere near you. I also found this phone number on the website for more information about listed species. (512) 912-7011 You might try that as well. Another option is to give the tortoise to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator that has a permit to keep tortoises.
Date: Wed, 06 Apr 2005
From: scott
Subject:[red ear sliders]
hi my name is scott and I have 5 red ear sliders in a 90 gallon pond and I have recently noticed little worm like things swimming in the water. I drained the pond and cleaned really well and cleaned the filtration system really good and they came back in about a day, do you know what this might be if so please email me back thank you.
Dear Scott, I haven't a clue, but the worms might not be a bad thing. Why don't you collect some of the water and worms in a jar and take it to your local county agricultural office and see what they say?
Date: Tue, 05 Apr 2005
From: Philana
Subject: gopher tortoise question! [Museum]
Hello, I am writing from the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History. We have an 82 year old gopher tortoise (Gus) who has been living with us for 62 years. We were just wondering if you had any information on indoor enclosures, as the museum is thinking about changing Gus' "home" and we were hoping to find out a bit more before anything gets built. Information on anything including recommended size of enclosure, substrate, built-in burrows, etc. would be useful. Thanks for your time. Philana
Dear Philana, I have already heard about Gus (and seen pictures) via Ray Ashton with the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. Ray is really the best person to give you the information you need. I work with gophers in the wild and rarely keep one in captivity. Ray's website address is
Date: Mon, 28 Mar 2005
Subject: gopher tortoise question!??
what do gopher tortoises eat???
Gopher tortoises eat a wide variety of low-growing grasses and herbs. The key is diversity in their diet. Research has shown that they not only vary the foods they eat with season, but also with time of day.
date: thu, 24 mar 2005
from: diane
subject: tortoise mating
hello, can you tell me if a female tortoise can after mating, store the sperm until she is ready to fertilise her eggs? And still keep some of the same sperm back for future fertilisation and egg laying sessions, if so can she keep the sperm for a year or more? I think i read this somewhere but has not been able to find this information again, so perhaps i have imagined it. Can you help? many thanks, diane
Dear Diane, One thing I love about doing this "Ask the Expert" thing is that I get to learn so much! I had to go ask a friend of mine the answer to your question. The answer is that no one really knows. It is likely that gopher tortoises can store sperm over the winter, because they are often seen mating in the fall and don't lay eggs until spring. However, there are no data to show that they store sperm any longer than that. If you don't mind my asking, why do you want to know? This is not the typical kind of question that I get. Thanks.
Date: Sat, 19 Mar 2005
From: Frankie
Subject: Help! [watery eyes]
My question is this, today I had to give my leopard tortoise back to where I first bought him 3 years ago, but the thing that is bothering me so much, is when we were driving him to the store, he was peeing and pooping real bad, I am sure that it has to do with the ride, but what bothers me the most is when I looked at his face, he was crying. Yes, tears were comming down his face, and again I am sure it has to do with the stress of the ride, but seeing that really hurt me and my girlfriend. Can you please let me know if this is a common thing? Because if isn't then I am going to get him back. Thank you for your help.
Dear Frank, It is common for turtles and tortoises to have watery eyes when they are stressed. It sounds to me like you are doing the right thing returning the tortoise; it apparently needs professional medical care.
Please don't think that your tortoise was "crying" because it was sad. Tortoises are evolutionarily ancient creatures and have small brains. They don't have feelings like we do, and work primarily on instinct. The best thing you can do for the tortoise is what you have done - get it to someone that can take care of its physical problems.
Date: Thu, 17 Mar 2005
From: mdeeyore
Subject: Tortoise found
I live in the south Florida area. As I was comming home from work yesterday afternoon I saw this gopher tortoise walking in the middle of the road, mindful that there is no undeveloped areas in my community I went ahead and placed him in my fenced back yard to avoid having a car run over him. Bottom line is that I know these animals are protected, I will like to release it somewhere that is safe, but I do not want any wildlife officers getting any wrong ideas if they see me with him. Have any suggestions? Michael
Dear Michael, The best thing to do is call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and ask them what to do. They should come get the tortoise and give it to an educational facility. That is preferable to it becoming road kill or you harboring an illegal animal.
P.S. If an officer does come get the tortoise, please try to get them to tell you what they are going to do with it and let me know. I like to keep up with these things whenever possible. Thanks.
South Region Office - FFWCC
Chuck Collins, Regional Director
8535 Northlake Boulevard
West Palm Beach, FL 33412
(561) 625-5122
Date: Tue, 08 Mar 2005
Subject: Gopher Tortoises Conservation
My husband and I are in the process of having a house built in FL. It was just discovered that there is a gopher tortoise on our property. Will the construction of the house disturb the tortoise? Do you know of somewhere where we can donate(move) the tortoise for its safety?
Dear Christeen, The best thing to do is look on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website to find out the legal aspects of developing the property. If you have five or fewer tortoises, the permitting process is very straightforward and can likely be done on-line. If you are interested in existing with the tortoise, it is very possible, but you need to take an active role to make sure that the developer honors your wishes. It is often easier to just blast the land without regard to the animals living there, but that is not the way it has to be. With your involvement and some planning, you can probably build your house and let the tortoise go on about its business. Another web site that might be helpful to you is the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. Website addresses below. (FFWCC) (Look at the section for homeowners; there is good information for people in your situation.)
Date: Mon, 07 Mar 2005
From: Gollis53
Subject: GiantTortoise Basic question
What is the Giant Tortoises Life Cycle? What does it eat and How does it Protect itself?
Giant tortoises are not my area of expertise, although I think they are very cool. Look at the following websites for lots of good information.
Date: mon, 28 feb 2005
from: ksawdydawg
subject: save tortoise for me
got tortoise in local area . Empty lot next door will be building new home soon by new owner
location port st. Lucie
please help, capt. Sawdy
Dear Capt. Sawdy, If the developer has a permit to either take (kill) or relocate the tortoise, there is little you can do. Call the local building permitting office (city or county, depending on where you are) and ask if the developer has their gopher tortoise permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If they do not, tell the office that there are tortoises present on the lot. Then call your regional office of the Commission and give them the lot address. Be persistent. Even if you cannot, in the end, save the animal, the developer or owner will have to pay some money that will be used for tortoise conservation elsewhere. It is not a good solution, but the best option we have now.

South Region Office, FFWCC
Chuck Collins, Regional Director
8535 Northlake Boulevard
West Palm Beach, FL 33412
(561) 625-5122

Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2005
From: Diane
Subject: What can we do for our Gopher Turtle?
I'm so glad I found your site. We have a Gopher Turtle that has lived on our property since we moved here. We live on ten acres and have a few Gopher holes. They are fairly close to the whole that the turtle in question lives in.
We had some work done on our property, and even though our Turtle's whole is marked, a heavy truck ran over her whole, just back from the opening. It caved in the entrance to her whole, and caved in the earth about 2 ft. Is there any way we can save her? Or will she come out of another whole close by, or dig her way out of the same whole? I think they are just now waking up from their hibernation period. We so much want to help her and hope we can get some answers from you.
It is very possible that the tortoise was not home when the burrow was collapsed. Every tortoise digs several burrows throughout its home range, so it may have been somewhere else. Also, if it was inside the burrow, it probably could have dug its way out if it was not injured. Studies have shown that they can dig out of many situations, although they may not do so for several weeks.
I hope you have a happy ending for your story.
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2005
From: caru-1
Subject: when they come out
when do the gopher tortoise come out mostly.
As a general rule, they are active when the temperature is above 70 degree F. However, if it is raining, or extremely windy they likely won't venture out. Also, even it is warm enough, they are not as active in the winter months, especially in the more northern portions of their range. If there is one thing I have learned about gophers over the years, it is that they don't often follow the rules!
Date: Thu, 24 Feb 2005
From: ANNE
Subject: Your website
Good morning I have just come across your website and found it absolutley wonderful. I have kept tortoises for 35 years and run the Cheshire branch of the British Chelonia Group, a registered charity for the conservation of chelonia worldwide.
My sister and I were lucky enough to visit Egmont Key some time ago and see the Gopher tortoise, a wonderful experience. Once a year my group hold a tortoise day(May 14th) to make people more aware of these creatures needs, this year our funds raised are going to the ShellShock campaign.
May I take the liberty of asking yourselves if you could support our day by way of posters or such like, which we would either raffle or auction to boost funds. We could promote your work throughout the day, we have an attendance of around 250 people. I will certainly direct colleges to look at your website, which again I must say is super. very best wishes
Anne Campbell, Cartref Grosvenor Drive, Poynton, Cheshire SK12 1JF
Hopefully, I can get some material sent to you that would be helpful for your tortoise day. There is a group here called the Gopher Tortoise Council. I think our education person probably has something (posters, brochures, etc.) that we can get to you before May. Let me check with her and I will get back to you as soon as I know something.
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2005
From: juana
Subject: red ear slyder how can I tell the difference between a male and a female?
Males typically have a longer tail and/or longer claws. However, both of those characteristics are hard to determine when you only have one turtle (i.e., nothing to compare it with). These also won't work if the turtle is young. Not very helpful, I know, but the best I can do!
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 2005
From: TinaKeen6171
Subject: have a question [mating, feeding]
We have 3 gofer tortise that we know of live on our property, our question was. when is there mareing season, as we have observed 2 in one burrow, and they have had alot of head movment as if to be talking, or mateing, just not sure witch one. Also we have been giving them lettuce, romane lettuce. We just wanted to make sure that we are not doing anything we should not be doing. If we can give them any other foods please let us know. We love and enjoy watching them from a distance and are only up close when feeding them, but they dont seem to mind us helping with there food supply, as we have 1/2 acre of woods on our property.

thank you,Mark and Tina
Dear Mark and Tina, It is illegal to feed gopher tortoises, but it is also not a good idea for health reasons. It is sort of like kids and candy; if they fill up on junk food (lettuce doesn't have the proper nutrients), they won't be interested in finding the foods that they really need. Since you have them on your property, it is fine for you to plant foods that would be good for them. A variety of low-growing grasses and herbs is best. Make sure the plants are native species. There is information on native plants available on-line or through native plant nurseries.
When I was radiotracking gopher tortoises on the Space Center, I occasionally found two tortoises in the same burrow. One would assume it was a mating behavior, but most of the time, the tortoises were both males. The head-bobbing thing is also typical behavior for males that are challenging each other. The tortoises you observed were probably two males inserting their dominance over each other in preparation for the spring mating season.
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005
From: Blondindstyx
Subject: [soft shell]
Is a soft shell of a young gopher turtle normal?
Young gopher tortoises' shells are soft when they hatch, and slowly get harder as they mature. The shell will not be totally hard until they are around five years old. No wonder they are such easy munchies for so many predators!
Date: Wed, 23 Mar 2005
From: Ann
Subject: Gopher Tortoise in my yard [G.T. ?]
I believe I had a female Gopher Tortoise lay her eggs in my front yard. Please verify.
Beaufort, SC
BerthaIt is definitely not a gopher tortoise. As best as I can tell, it is either a slider or a cooter. Both are water turtles that can grow fairly large. Based on her dull markings and size, I would guess she is fairly old. The eggs should hatch in 8 - 10 weeks. Congratulations! Here is a good website with some natural history information.
Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2005
From: Roomaster04
Subject: [weight of egg]
what is the average weight of a desert tortoise egg?
I don't know and couldn't find the answer to your question. The eggs are about the size of a ping pong ball, and may change weight over time as the tortoise grows inside. Search on desert tortoise; there are lots of web sites out there with information, and you may eventually find the answer. You might also contact a desert tortoise researcher who might know.
Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2005
From: Millie
Subject: who do i call
We have some gopher tortises in our area, i am afraid when they sell the land on the side of me they will harm them as we have an acre on each side that is not cleared and we see them there all the time. This is in saint cloud florida. millie
The first thing to do is determine if the property developer has permits to either move or destroy the tortoises. Call your local building permitting agency (probably county or city) with the address and ask about protected wildlife permits. If the owner or developer has a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there is little that can be done. If not, call your regional office of the Wildlife Commission (see below), ask to speak to the wildlife biologist or director, and tell them your concerns. You might also email or write them a letter so that your communication is documented. Be persistent. Many times, the only thing that stops a developer from destroying a tortoise colony without penalty or mitigation costs is one concerned citizen.
Date: sun, 06 feb 2005
from: iazia
subject: difference between female & male painted
how can you tell the difference between a female and male turtle. I believe i have painted turtles. Thank you
Look at the following website for some information on telling males from females. Most of the characteristics are comparative (i.e., males have a longer tail), so it might be difficult to determine sex without having one of each.
Date: Thu, 03 Feb 2005
From: Shedogg86
Subject: Gopher tortoise [eggs]
I had found a gopher tortoise digging in my yard in early November and it was laying eggs so I guess they should be hatching in march sometime. I was wondering what to do when they hatch because the nest is right by the road? and I was also wondering because of the temperature dropping so low I was wondering if it would effect the eggs any way?
Did the eggs hatch?? We can only assume that the turtle knew what she was doing when she put them there, at least as far as temperature goes. Often when the tortoise habitat in an area is overgrown (due to lack of fire) or is developed, the only open space to dig a nest cavity is on the road shoulder. Because the tortoise is a protected species, it is illegal to move or disturb the nest. My suggestion is to watch and see what happens. If you see tortoises (adults or young) wandering in the road, just carry them to the closest place where they will be out of imminent danger and release them. Don't put them in a car and take them a far way; that is also illegal. Hopefully, the nest will hatch (or already has), and there will be more tortoises out there. We need them.
Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2005
From: Ginny Subject: gopher tortoise nest
I was delighted to find your site. I live on a 3 acre wooded parcel and over the years have seen many different types of wildlife. Yesterday, to our delight, we found a turtle making a nest and laying her eggs. After taking her picture, we researched and found that it is a gopher turtle and is protected. Since she made her nest in the driveway and once she left the area, we put a small visible fence around the area simply to prevent anyone from driving on it and to keep the dogs away. Once the babies hatch - in 80-110 days they are welcome to make themselves at home where ever they choose. We will be awaiting the blessed event, hoping that all her eggs are fertile and knowing that we have done the only thing we could do to allow them to hatch and have a chance for survival. Once there are signs of life, the barrier will be opened up and the dogs will be confined and we will make sure everyone who comes by is awar! e of the turtles and watches for them to prevent accidents.
I am happy to do my part by living and let live the creatures that make their way through my land. There are two very large indigo snakes that wander through...alarming at first...but then going their way. We have seen wood storks, roseate spoonbills and a bobcat. There is a large female deer that visits every year between Christmas and New Years. We believe we have seen a Florida panther as well, but will reserve confirmation until we can actually identify it clearly.. In addition there are armadillos, raccoons and squirrels as well as some wood peckers..pileated, I believe.
We delight in watching them all and are very careful not to startle or interrupt when possible. My 18 years here have been a learning experience and we have fournd that just letting things be, you can find and enjoy the most amazing things.
I never realized when we moved here how important our decisions would be. We cleared only enough land for the home and cleared the widest open space, removing only a few trees and left the rest pretty pristine.
Just thought you might enjoy knowing that some of us really do care...I STOP FOR TURTLES !
It sounds to me like you are living in Eden, and it is so nice that you feel that way, too. Keep up the good work and know that you are appreciated.
Date: Fri, 28 Jan 2005
From: Jamtam90
Subject: baby tortoise
In 2003 a tortoise made a nest on the south side of my house. I watched it deposit the eggs (probably only 3) in April and waited (nervously) for them to hatch. One day in Sept. I came home and noticed the ground opened up. They had hatched! But I never saw one until April 2004. It always came around our house and seemed to approach us when we were outside. May 30th I had a large party at our house and was in the backyard when I told everybody to watch where they stepped because we had a new baby walking around. Well my cousin picked it up and moved it to the back part of my property and we haven't seen it since! My question is - do you have any clue as to what might have happened to it. Only ask because from early April until late May we saw it almost everyday. Now I am saddened because now it is almost 9 months since we last saw it. Thanks.
PS Riverview is losing so many it is really depressing. I am a letter carrier and I see a lot of them. But this past summer I saw too many dead ones!
It is unusual to see hatchlings in the wild because it is smart for them to stay hidden for several years to avoid predators. The vast majority of them don't make it to adulthood for a variety of reasons, so I cannot tell you that the young one you had is still alive. However, hope for the best and keep your eyes open. He may turn up!
Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005
From: Harris
Subject: [pets?]
do gopher tortesis make good pets
Gopher tortoises are legally protected in all the states where they occur. It is against the law to keep one, harass, harm, etc., etc. Please just leave the tortoises alone where they hopefully will survive and find mates to help keep the species from becoming extinct.
Date: Sat, 12 Mar 2005
From: Jacksonscalling
Subject: I'm from Florida
Hello, on my property I found a perfect, large, dirty gopher shell. We have a lot of gopher holes on our 9 acres, and I hope one day I see live gophers to observe and admire.
Do you know how I could clean this empty shell and how I could preserve it to use in our log cabin my husband and I are building here in Chiefland, FL??
Because gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida, you cannot possess pieces or parts without a permit. My suggestion is that you leave it outside and let the sun/wind/humidity clean it up and just enjoy it there.
Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2005
From: Scaglionepr
Subject: What Kind of Animals Are in Gopher Holes?
Hi I live in Port Richey Florida.
We have many, many Gopher Turtles in our rented area. I have no problem with the turtles. The problem is we are so near fast traffic the poor animals are constantly hit. Plus, the babies are also found run over in the parking lot. They really need to be moved. We have rather large gophers. Some up to 17". I did try to contact the State but they just gave me the run around. Since the Hurricanes, I haven't seen as many. But the question is my dog did get bit by a snake a few weeks ago. I know rattlesnakes go in the burrows. My home is surrounded by at least 5 huge burrows about 50 feet away on a sandy hill.
I wish they can move the turtles for thier protection.Plus, I would hate to see the next snake be a rattle snake and bite one of the children that play here. (There are more burrows here-these are just in my back yard).
The main thing is, I am really curious as to what other animals live in turtle holes.
Thanks. Donna
The problem you describe is, unfortunately, very common. The reason that the State did not come out and rescue the tortoises from a bad situation is because they have nowhere to put them. Development in Florida has/is taking the last remnants of habitat for tortoises and most other wildlife, and soon these animals will only be able to survive in protected parks.

Regarding rattlesnakes: The chances of the kids getting struck by lightning or hit by a car are many, many times greater than they are for getting bitten by a rattler. Tell them to leave all snakes alone, just to watch and enjoy them. Your dog probably got bitten because he was messing with a snake. Snakes will always choose not to fight unless they are forced.

There have been over 300 different species of animals documented using gopher tortoise burrows. If you search on the web for "gopher tortoise burrow commensals", you will get to some good sites.

Date: Sat, 22 Jan 2005
From: Rowdychyna
Subject: Egg shell texture
A young neighbor boy came running up to me, all excited; " look what I found! Clutched in his small 8 years old hands was an egg. I smiled and said "Oh, you must have found a duck egg. No! it's a turtle egg." I looked at it (without touching it) and said, "I'm not so sure. I thought turtle eggs were a little on the leathery side." He was pretty adamant, and said, "uh huh. My neighbor told me it was one." I looked closely, It was elongated, oval with a thin paper shell.
From your description, the boy's egg was likely from a snake. They are usually elongated with a thin, flexible shell. Turtle eggs are round, and more sturdy than a snake egg, but not as hard as a bird egg.
Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2005
From: Snakewoman007
Subject: gophers [holes dangerous?]
we have several holes in our property we are just started to clear how do we know if these are holes being used or simply old unused holes. we have never seen a turtle here ? if they are here is there a way of relocating them. trying to used this for horse pASTURE BUT WOULD LIKE TO LEAVE THEM EXCEPT THE HOLES LOK TO DANGEROUS for the horses. please give me what innfo you have thank you
Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida (and other states where they occur), so it is illegal to relocate them without a permit. If you are wanting to put horses in the pasture, they should be o.k. if you mark the burrows with stakes and flagging tape so that the horses can see them. Just be sure you don't block the burrow entrance with a stake.
Date: Mon, 17 Jan 2005
From: Bernadette
Subject: [sea turtle offspring]
On average,how many offsprings does a sea turtle produce each year?
There are five different species of marine turtles that occupy Florida waters; four of them are known to nest here.
  • Atlantic Ridley: nests only in Mexico; nest each year; 1 -3 clutches per season; ave.110 eggs per clutch
  • Hawksbill: 2 or 3 clutches per season; nests every 2 or 3 years; ave. 115 eggs per clutch
  • Green Turtle: 2 or 3 clutches per season; nests every 2 years; ave. 136 eggs per clutch
  • Loggerhead Sea Turtle: 2 to 6 clutches per season; nests every 2 to 4 years; ave. 115 eggs per clutch
  • Leatherback Turtle: up to 10 clutches per season; nests every 3 years; ave. 83 eggs per clutch
Date: Sun, 16 Jan 2005
From: Redcometcd
Subject: (no subject) [Long Leaf Pine]
Why is the Long Leaf Pine so important to the "Gopher Tortoise"..???? they eat parts of it???.....WHAT? Thanks, Eva
It is not specifically the pine itself that is important to the tortoise, but the entire longleaf pine ecosystem. That tree grows in high, dry sandy soils with lots of low-growing plants and openings on the forest floor. The canopy is not dense, so there is plenty of sunshine. All of those characteristics (and others) make the longleaf pine habitat exceptionally good for tortoises. It provides a place where they can easily dig burrows and find abundant food.
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2005
From: Cien
Subject: carissa
What is a gopher tortoise?
A gopher tortoise is a reptile. Is that what you mean? Search the internet and you will get loads of information.
Date: Wed, 12 Jan 2005
From: Mizgator2000
Subject: (no subject) [treats]
We have a gopher turtle in yard and would like to feed it treats. What can I feed it, it like banannas and lettuce but don't to feed it something harmful. Please help. I really enjoy having it around. Thank you, Lori
Dear Lori, It is illegal to feed a gopher tortoise "treats" because they are a protected species under Florida law. However, if you plant low-growing, native vegetation, your yard will be more attractive to the tortoise. Plant a variety of things so there is plenty for him to choose from. That way, you will be legal, and the tortoise will be healthier.
Date: Tue, 08 Mar 2005
From: "rdperry5
Subject: Found Hatchling
Our next door neighbor found this hatchling in his backyard when he was using the weedeater. We live in a suburb in NW Florida. Can you help us to identify it? I thought it might be a gopher tortoise, but now I'm really not sure. Thanks for your help.
eastern box turtle hatchlingIt is an eastern box turtle hatchling.
Date: Mon, 07 Feb 2005
From: Millie
Subject: who do i call
We have some gopher tortises in our area, i am afraid when they sell the land on the side of me they will harm them as we have an acre on each side that is not cleared and we see them there all the time. This is in saint cloud florida.
Call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Ask for the biologist when you call. If that doesn't work, ask for the director. Be persistent!
Date: Sun, 09 Jan 2005
From: DanKitt
Subject: Gopher [remove shell?]
How do gopher tortoise's remove there shell when they get to big for there old shell? And how long do they live? And how do you tell how old they are?
Thank you Andrew 11 years old
A tortoise keeps its shell from the time it is born until it dies. The shell is an outgrowth of its bones and grows as the tortoise (and other turtles) grows. Gopher tortoises are thought to live around 70 years in the wild. Once a tortoise is an adult, you can't tell how old it is. Thanks for the good questions.
Date: Thu, 06 Jan 2005
From: Charles
Subject: gopher tortoise
Are the gopher tortoise nocturnal??
Tortoises are thought to be strictly diurnal (out only during the day). However, a good friend of mine that works with tortoises has seen one out at night on a couple of different occasions. That is definitely the exception.
Date: Sun, 02 Jan 2005
From: Gary Smith Subject: Gofer Tortoise [fence]
My friend is buying a new house and she wants to have a fence installed. We found a burrow marked w/flags about 15 feet from where her property ends and where the fence will be installed. Can she install her privacy fence even though is not 25 feet from the burrow? The burrow is not on her property, it's behind her property in a wooded empty lot. Thanks!
It doesn't matter if the burrow is on her property or not, it is illegal to disturb the area within 25 feet of the burrow without a permit. If your friend goes online to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website, she can get the information she needs and even apply for a permit online (I am assuming you are in Florida; if not, contact your state wildlife agency). It will be an easy process and will save problems later.
Date: Sun, 02 Jan 2005
From: Patty & Larry
Subject: Leopard tortoise
Hi. My name's Alex and I have realized that my baby leopard tortoise's bottom shell is softer than usual. Is this normal?
A soft shell is a sign of something being wrong. It could be the diet, housing, light, or heat. Try to get some professional help, like a vet or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to look at the tortoise. Also go on-line and look at information on proper care so you can figure out what you are missing.
Date: Wed, 29 Dec 2004
From: rachael Subject: gopher tortoise question [baby]
We found a baby gopher turtle a few months ago in the middle of the road in the neighborhood we live in and some teenage boys were messing with it. We brought it home and have been feeding it because we were afraid to let it go- there are also train tracks right behind our house where it could get run over. I was reading your website and learned that it is illegal to keep one and that we should let it go near where we found it. We would like to let it go. Will it be okay since we've been feeding it several months? Also should we let it go near our home or can we let it go in a safer place with not so many dangers of getting run over, etc.? Please let us know so we can do the best thing for it. Thank you.
The best (and legal) thing you can do for the tortoise is release it near where you found it, out of immediate harm's way. Look for a burrow in the vicinity, or place it under some vegetation, like palmetto fronds. It should be able to eat on its own; tortoises work more on instinct than brains and when it gets hungry and sees food, it will eat.
Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004
From: Vickvanlegal
Subject: Russian Totrtoise
I have a question that I am hoping you can help me with. I have a Russian tortoise "Rosie" who has become a big part of our family. We had Rosie for three years and two weeks ago noticed that Rosie was acting strange. Her shell became softer, she was eating much less and sleeping most of the time. Its almost impossible to wake her up and she only eats a little when I hand feed her. I was told that her tank was too small for her so we quickly changed it and improved her lighting system. What can be possibly wrong? I tried to find a tortoise vet in my area but I am having a difficult time finding one. Can you give me any ideas of what might be wrong? Thanks Vicky
Dear Vicky,
There are all kinds of possibilities that might be the cause of her distress, and I can only suggest that you keep looking for professional medical help. If a vet can't be located, try a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, a local "herp" club, or a university with a reptile person.
Date: Mon, 27 Dec 2004
From: Sarel
Subject: Tortoise blood colour
Has a tortoise got blood & if so what colour ?
Yes, gopher tortoises have blood (all tortoises have blood) and it is dark red.
Date: Tue, 07 Dec 2004
From: lifebrighteners
Subject: Gopher Tortoise
I am in a neighborhood that has just started to develop after 30 years, The lands are being cleared and they are covering gopher tortoise dwellings is this legal. I never bother the ones on my acreage because they are so great but many northerners are coming to Citrus County like many other counties and are destroying everything that was once great about this county. Please help with any information you can give. Jean.
Jean, This is the problem for gopher tortoises and lots of other animals all over. Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. Permits can be acquired with money that allow tortoises to be destroyed or moved, and the money is used to buy and manage large tracts of tortoise habitat in mitigation parks.

There are some websites that you can explore for more information. One is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission The other two are by non-profit conservation organizations: the Gopher Tortoise Council, and the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to write me back.

Date: Mon, 06 Dec 2004
From: Todd
Subject: Gopher Picture
Thought you might like this picture. I took it today while I was out hunting in Marion County, Mississippi. I took several pictures and this turned out to be the best one.
Todds Gopher Tortoise PictureWhat a great picture! I do lots of educational presentations. Would you mind if I used that picture sometimes? I can put your name on the bottom corner as the photographer if you would like.
Date: Sun, 05 Dec 2004
From: annbeso
Subject: Gopher Tortoises [water]
How much water should I give my gopher tortoises?
Gopher tortoises are legally protected, so unless you have a permit from the State (no matter where you live) or from the federal government, you cannot keep tortoises in captivity. Do you have a permit? If not, please write me back and we will try to figure out what to do that will keep you out of trouble and be the best for the tortoises.

Tortoises get the water they need from the vegetation they eat and don't typically "drink".

Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004
From: Doit2xs
Subject: Size
How do you tell the size? Do you start from the front of the shell by the head and back to the tail? If this is the correct way I get 13.5 in. Is the plough between the legs on male and females? This one is flat on the bottom so it is a female. Thanks
There are a couple of ways to measure a tortoise or turtle. The standard scientific way is with an instrument called a calliper (if you don't know what that is, search the web for a picture; that will help you understand). One tip of the calliper goes behind the head and the other tip is placed on the farthest part of the shell above the tail. That is called the straight-line measurement. The other, easier way is the over-the-curve measurement. A tape measure is placed behind the head and stretched flat along the back until the bottom edge of the top shell.
Males are concave on the bottom shell between the back legs; females are perfectly flat.
I must tell you that gopher tortoises are protected and it is illegal for you to keep, feed, kill, or harass (including measure) them without a permit.
Date: Fri, 26 Nov 2004
Subject: [basic questions]
how big are they? What do they eat? how long do they live? Where do they live? Thank you.
Adults are 9 - 15 inches; hatchlings are almost 2 inches. They eat low-growing herbs and grasses.
They have lived in captivity to 100 years old, but can probably live 60 - 70 years in the wild.
They dig burrows in dry, sandy habitats and feed there and along the edges of wetlands. They also like disturbed areas where the dirt is soft and plants are small.
Date: Sat, 27 Nov 2004
From: Donna
Subject: [small gash]
I have a turtle. It is a Red-Eared Slider. It has a small gash under it's mouth. What should I do.
The best thing to do would be take it to a vet that has some reptile experience and let him/her give the turtle a shot of antibiotics. If you can't do that, you might try putting a topical antibiotic ointment on the gash. The problem with treating it yourself is that infections take a very long time to become obvious in turtles (because they are cold-blooded). The turtle might not be well for several months.
Date: Tue, 23 Nov 2004
From: kiersten
Subject: hi [eating my rabbit's food]
hi i found a gopher tortoise in my backyard it has been for like 2 weeks i think it as made its self at home it think it is there because we my rabbit got out of its cage i leave food water veggies and i have a house for it and every day when i go put more food in the veggies are gone i don't know if its my rabbit or the tourist i was wondering would that be illegal to feed it even tho its for my rabbit thank you Kiersten
Dear Kiersten, That is a tough problem. It would be illegal to put food out for the tortoise, and it is not really good for the tortoise. Its dietary requirements are pretty complicated, and if it is filling up on rabbit food instead of finding the food that it needs, it might not be all that healthy. Is there habitat for the tortoise near where you live? Are you in a developed neighborhood? If the tortoise has access to natural food (low-growing herbs and grasses), then you should probably put the rabbit food where the tortoise can't get it so it will go back to its regular diet. However, if you think the tortoise is eating the rabbit food because it has to, then I would just let it be.
Date: Sat, 20 Nov 2004
From: tracie
Subject: food - bite?
what do a gopher turtle eat?????do they bite?
Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and eat low growing herbs and grasses. They don't have teeth, but a hard plate that is like a bird's beak.

They can bite, but don't very often bite people.

Date: Fri, 19 Nov 2004
Subject: Does a tortoise walk or crawl?
My 8th grade students have asked me: Does a tortoise walk or crawl? What do you call the way they move? Thanks, Cheryl Dougan
Hi Cheryl, That's a good one!! After some pondering, I think a tortoise walks. When a human baby "crawls", it is on its hands and knees, which is an intermediary phase before walking. A tortoise moves on its four feet and that is as good as it ever gets. Does that make sense? People could probably argue that back and forth for hours, so bring it up at your next holiday party!
Date: Tue, 16 Nov 2004
From: Carol
Subject: Henry [feed bread?]
Hi Becky,
We moved here to Florida 6 years ago, and bought an acre and a half, we have about 6 Gopher Tortoise's living here with us. I have one in particular that likes to come up our ramp and knock on the door. He is looking for bread and grapes. I named him Henry. My question is will the bread harm him in anyway. He sure likes it, and uses the grapes to wash it down. Then after eating he heads back down the ramp and goes back to his burrow. I also found a little one a few weeks back. I put him back where I found him. He's the second one we have seen here. We seem to have an abundance of them. I really think they are neat creatures. Enclosed is a picture we have taken of Henry. Carol
Carol, Bread does not provide Henry with the nutrients that a gopher tortoise needs to be healthy, so it is not good if he is filling up on that and neglecting to eat other things. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote for people who are sharing space with tortoises. It should be helpful for you. The chapter is copyrighted, so please use it for your own education only. Write back if you need any more information.

P.S. Cute picture!

Photo of "Henry" that came with the inquiry. Henry the Gopher tortoise
Date: Mon, 15 Nov 2004
From: Keri
Subject: hibernation
Thank you so much for your informative website. When my son and I moved onto this property in North FL, in July '97, we found we had a previous owner. His is a large gopher turtle that we have afftectionately named "Franklin". We don't bother him. The problem is now that we have a dog, that is two, she is fascinated with the turtle and circles him, barking at him, and I run her off so he won't get upset and urinate, which I was told his alot of his water. My question is this: during the day, or anytime I am not at home, my dog is on a tye-out and cannot get to Franklin. However, as winter approaches, I would like for her to be able to get under my porch for warmth, and out of the elements. BUT I will not release her until I know that Franklin has gone underground for the winter. The nights have reached 45-50 degrees, has he begun his hibernation yet? I am very concerned about our old friend and know that he is endangered and would be horrified [and held responsible] if ! something were to happen to him. I won't let my dog run free in the back yard until I know the coast is clear. Any suggestions would be great. Thank you in advance for your help. P.S. I am also one of those people that will turn around to pick up a turtle in the middle of the road and help him on his way. I usually approach him and tell him I am here to give him a jump start off the road, and I never change their direction. I know the law says to leave them alone, but I don't want to drive back by and see him hit, hurt or killed. Thanks, Keri and Austin
Hi Keri and Austin,
Thanks for being so concerned about Franklin and putting his well-being on top of the priority list. In central Florida where I am, the tortoises don't hibernate and may come out on any day that the temperature is above 70 degrees. I assume that a tortoise would come out in north Florida on a warm day as well. You could just keep an eye on the forcast and tie the dogs up if the weather is going to be warm. Also, once a tortoise becomes adult-sized, most dogs can't injure it unless they are really large. The concern about the tortoise "losing its water" is very true for desert tortoises out west, but is not that big of an issue for gopher tortoises.

I had a "handicapped" tortoise for several years. In the beginning, my two 20 lb. dogs would bark at him and get in his face; the tortoise didn't seem to even notice, much less care. After the novelty wore off, they just ignored him. Maybe all of them can learn to coexist.

Date: Thu, 11 Nov 2004
From: Pejsmc
Subject: food chain
do you know the gopher tortoise food chain?
Gopher tortoises are herbivores and eat low growing weeds, herbs, and grasses. When they are young and small, and their shells are still soft, they are food for many carnivores. These include a variety of birds, skunks, cats, dogs, snakes, raccoons, rats, and pigs. The eggs of gopher tortoises are also highly vunerable to predation. Once a tortoise is adult-size and the shell is hard (10 - 15 years old), there are not many animals that can bother them.
Date: Mon, 08 Nov 2004
From: Nancy
Subject: Tortoise under the house
Dear Becky, We have, we think, two gopher tortoises and we enjoy them. However one has burrowed under the house despite our attempts at blocking the area. We are worried about the foundation. Any advise please. Also when do they lay eggs and is it out of the burrow? Nancy
Hi Nancy, I have seen and heard of many tortoises digging burrows under buildings and other structures and have never been told of a problem. I feel confident that your foundation is fine. Gopher tortoises typically lay eggs in the spring and it takes an average of 90 days for the clutch to hatch. The best known nest location is within the sandy mound that is in front of the burrows they dig, usually about 8 - 10 inches under the sand. If you have seen eggs above the ground, they were likely either depredated from a nest, or a female just shed them for some reason.
Date: Mon, 08 Nov 2004
From: Kerry
Subject: Found Sulcata in NW FL
Hi Becky,
First let me say I think the work you're doing on the forum to educate and help all of us who want to help our "turtle and tortoise friends" is to be commended. How do you find the time with your undoubtedly busy schedule? :)
I happened upon a beautiful tortoise as I was coming home last week. After much research, the Vet, the folks over on the TurtleTrust Forum and I believe she is a beautiful African Spurred Tortoise. She is about 10-12 inches long and the folks who have several already say she's about 3-5 years old. The vet says she's in perfect health.
This isn't really so much for the board, I just saw your post about your friend with the Tortoise ranch (the young person with the Leopard Tortoise) and thought I'd ask if he were interested in adopting "Kaya" (her African name).
I would love to keep her, but my husband is retiring in a month and said he would divorce me if I brought home one more animal. We've been waiting for 26 years so we could both finally retire from the air Force and start to travel. I can't let her go as she isn't indigenous and would most certainly be road kill or a red-neck doggy chew-toy.
If your Torti expert would be interested, plz feel free to forward this e-mail to him. Thanks again for everything.
Sincerely, Kerry
Hi Kerry, Thanks for letting me know that you appreciate the website and information. It is time-consuming to keep up with the questions, but education is one of the most important things we must do for conservation. Our web master is great and makes it all as simple for me as possible.

I forwarded your email to my friend and asked him to contact you if he will take the tortoise. He is good about answering, so one of us should hear from him soon. If he doesn't want the tortoise, I will help you figure out what to do with it. Retirement and travel sound like much more fun than tortoise keeper! Becky

Date: Mon, 08 Nov 2004
From: Mike
Subject: tortise [Massachusetts]
i live in mass and i am from a small town so pretty much every one knows i love turtles and will often drop them of in my yard if they are found on the street or somthing, so the other day i came home and there was a box on my steps it was an adult pair or gopher tortises, i am in the proses of trying to get permits to keep them, but i was wondering how i can set them up so they will be comfy and what should i feed them and what temp should they be at? if you could help me find a care sheet or somthing that would be great. thanks so much for your time.
Dear Mike, You have a dilemma. Massachusetts is not gopher tortoise country, that is for sure. The tortoises are going to have to have pretty specific living conditions in order to survive there. Unfortunately, because it is illegal to keep gophers in captivity, there is not a "care sheet" available. My suggestion is that you consider taking the tortoises to a wildlife rehabilitator or a zoo that will have the indoor facilities to keep them healthy. If you need help finding someone, please write me back and I will find a contact for you. Please do not attempt to keep them yourself unless you have an appropriate place to do so. If they are left outside, they will die over the winter.

Are you absolutely sure they are gopher tortoises?

Date: Tue, 02 Nov 2004
From: Iceangeljeannie
Subject: turtles and tortoises
What are the differents between turtles and tortoises?
The word "tortoise" is not really a scientific designation, but a layperson term. It refers to a turtle that spends its life on the land (as opposed to in the water). Examples are gopher tortoises and Galapagos tortoises. However, box turtles also spend their lives on the land and nobody ever calls them box tortoises. The best way to think about this is: all tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises.
Date: Mon, 01 Nov 2004
From: Judi
Subject: must feed - urgent
Urgent need your help. .......We are tenting our house for termites and a female gopher tortoise made her nest right against the foundation of our house. They tell us everything within 2 feet of the house will be poisoned, so we caught her last night and I have her in a cage for now. We can put her back in her borrow in 4 days after the poison is gone. But what do I feed her in the meantime ???
Hi Judi. Good job on capturing her. That is usually the most difficult part. If it is only going to be a few days, don't worry about feeding. It would be better for the tortoise if you don't feed her. Tortoises often go weeks to months without feeding, so she will be fine. Give her something to hide in, either by draping a dark cloth over the cage or putting another box inside the cage (to simulate a burrow). If possible, keep her in a shady, but not air conditioned place (garage, if it doesn't get too hot during the day, or somewhere protected outside where dogs or raccoons can't get in the cage). Avoid direct sunlight.
Date: Sun, 31 Oct 2004
From: Gerry
Subject: [endangered started?]
How did gopher tortoises start to become endangered
Hi, Before the 1980s, it was legal to eat tortoises or keep them as pets. Now that they are legally protected, the biggest threats are loss of habitat to development, lack of good habitat managment, road mortality, and disease. Look at the Gopher Tortoise Council website ( ) for a nice discussion.
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 2004
From: Sandy
Subject: Mystery Sand Piles in Yard
What luck, finding this site! My husband and I were outside enjoying the day from our swing, when he noticed these rather large piles of sand in the yard. From a distance they appeared to ant hills. Upon closer investigation, it appears that someone has dug up some sand, the amount of about 1/2 a five gallon bucker and just dumped it on the lawn. The only holes anywhere are that of a gopher turtle. We have two that we know of on the property, but I am sure there are more. Is it possible for the turtle to carry the sand and "dump it"? The one I noticed today that is new is nearly 25 yards from the hole. I took pictures and am attaching them. There are 12 piles of sand that I counted. You can see in one of the photo's what appears to be some kind of markings.
Hmmmm, Curious is Odessa, Florida
Dear Sandy, The first three pictures look like pocket gopher mounds to me (look at for a good description). The fourth picture appears to be an abandoned gopher tortoise burrow, and the fifth one might be a juvenile tortoise burrow (it is difficult to tell). Your land looks very nice and you are lucky to have such great "neighbors".

The photos that came with the inquiry:
Mystery Gopher 1 Mystery Gopher 2 Mystery Gopher 3
Mystery Gopher 4 Mystery Gopher 5

Date: Tue, 26 Oct 2004
From: Donna
Subject: gopher tortoise
Hi again, I just wrote you about whether or not the gopher tortoise could damage a house's foundation. I have read many of your responses to others, and I am assuming the answer is no. Are there any negatives to having these tortoises in my yard? Thanks, Donna
Hi Donna, Having a tortoise in the yard is viewed as a great thing by some (me, for example) and a not-so-great thing by others. Folks worry about nice, even green grass and don't like the appearance of a burrow. A tortoise can do a real number on your vegetables and flowers, too. However, if you can get past those types of concerns, having a tortoise around is wonderful. I have attached a chapter from a book that a friend of mine wrote about "backyard" tortoises. It is copyrighted, so please just use it for your own education.
Date: Mon, 25 Oct 2004
From: JaideXL
Subject: Baby Tortoise
I have a friend who received a baby tortoise that I believe is a Florida Gopher, although I could be mistaken. I am trying to find many detailed photos of juveniles to compare to. I believe she is confusing it's appearance with that of other full grown species. I also want to show her the penalties for keeping a Gopher tortoise, but I am having trouble finding it. Please help me help the tortoise.
Thank you
Hi, I have attached a couple of hatchling tortoise pictures. Hopefully, they will clear up any confusion. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and it is illegal to keep, harass, or harm in any way. If your friend has a tortoise, she needs to try and find out where it came from, take it back there and release it. ASAP!

The only native tortoise we have here is the gopher tortoise. Box turtles will sometimes dig holes or use burrows, but they look very different.

size comparison with finger size comparison with ruler Box Turtle
Baby Gopher tortoisesBox Turtle

Date: Sat, 23 Oct 2004
From: Bob and Anita
Subject: baby gopher turtle
We live in southern Al., on a heavily wooded area. We have several resident gopher turtles in various areas of our property, which is about 20 acres. Occasionally we will find a baby gopher turtle. (Size= fits in the palm of your hand.) We know enough to let nature fend for itself, however we keep finding the baby turtles dead. Recently we found a live one and we would like to protect it , if possible. Not sure if we should put it near another turtles nest or what. Any suggestions? (The baby was not found near any nest) . Also, how old do they have to be before they can fend for themselves? Thanks for your input. A&B in LA,AL.
You are right to let the young tortoises find their own way. Not only is it a legal requirement, but a sound biological principle as well. However, it is strange that you are finding hatchlings dead but not eaten. I would take the live one and put it near where you found it. Hatchlings will use adult burrows for cover, or will hide out underneath ground cover. They also can dig their own burrows. Take it to a good place, let it go when the weather is warm (> 70 degrees), don't sit it in direct sunlight, pat its little head and wish it luck! That is really the best you can do.
Date: Wed, 20 Oct 2004
From: wilna
Subject: gopher tortoise [cute]
I agree. Tortoises are really cute, and wonderful, and interesting. They are not too smart, but they make up for that with good instincts! Thanks for writing.
Date: Mon, 18 Oct 2004
From: Ms. Morvan
Subject: Baby Red-eared sliders
I am trying to find info on the net about feeding these little guys but, as it is illegal in the states to sell them at less than four inches, I can't seem to locate an proper info! They are about 1 1/4" long and we have two. They do not seem to like their turtle food at all. They eat insects, but only if they are still alive, which is difficult to do. They will not eat greens, papaya, or any vegetable. I am going to try small earh worms today, but need any suggestions I can get! Thanks for your time!
Here are four excellent web sites, and there are links to others on those. Read them carefully, because taking good care of the turtles will require proper feeding, habitat, temperature, and lighting. It is not easy, but is worth the effort if done correctly. Write back if I can help. Becky Smith

Date: Sun, 17 Oct 2004
From: bill & yolanda
Subject: gopher turtle nesting
Good Day,
We are writing you today because we got to witness an awesome event. We seen, what we believe to be a gopher turtle, nesting in our neighbors back yard. Our houses are backed up to a small nature preserve, so that would be expected. We called wildlife management & the young lady who contacted us didn't seem all that alarmed. Under natural conditions, I guess it would not be. We are just a little concerned because our neighbors has several children who are a bit rambunctious. In addition, when they hatch, wont the babies have the tendency to head towards our street lights? I know they are an endangered & would like them to have every opportunity of survival. Do you have any recommendations?
Mr & Mrs Van Der Velden
Dear Van Der Veldens, That is a really neat thing to see! You are lucky to have wild animals so close; not that many people do anymore. It might be helpful to tell your neighbors that gopher tortoises are legally protected and that they are responsible to make sure that their kids or pets do not harm the adults or hatchlings. As far as going toward the lights, that is only applicable to sea turtle hatchlings, because they cue off of the reflections in the ocean to find their way. The gophers will probably just wander around looking for a safe place. It should take around 80 days for the eggs to hatch. When they do, you might move the babies to the "safe side" of the fence so they are bait. Don't take them far, just out of the yard where they can find some cover.
Date: sun, 17 oct 2004
from: george
subject: [russian tortoise not eating]
My friend has a russian tortoise female, that does not wnat to eat, she drinks waterr fine but refuses to eat, any suggestions ? She is also very slow moving & inactive, although she is extremely friendly & loves having her little neck scratched.
Hi, People often do not realize how difficult it is to keep turtles and tortoises healthy. Have your friend get on-line and look for information on Russian tortoise care. Not only are food and water important, but also sunlight, temperature, vitamins, etc. Another option is to find an expert near where you live to give you some hands-on advice. Whatever you do, don't ignore the problem because a tortoise can be suffering for a long time before they actually get sick enough to die. You don't want that to happen, I am sure.
Date: Thu, 14 Oct 2004
From: Tinkabelle1721
Subject: baby turtle
I found a baby turtle this afternoon and was wondering what kind it is. It is aggressive,has an orange belly,dark brown or black shell. It is only about an inch long.
Hi, I really cannot tell you what the turtle might be without a picture. My suggestion is that you look in a field guide or on the net to identify it. Look at things besides color. For example, do its feet have webs or claws? What is the shape of its bill? Is the shell flat or domed? If you cannot figure it out yourself, write me back. Sending a digital picture to me would be the best.
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004
From: PaipaiB
Subject: box turtles
Hi, do box turtles need friends?I have a baby box turtle and I might be getting another.Is it safe to have them together, will they like the company?
Dear Cora, Box turtles are fairly primitive animals and rely on instinct and not intelligence. Therefore, they do not have the need or awareness of friends. Don't worry that your turtle is lonely. All he cares about is food, water, shelter, and predators.

Please do not take box turtles, or any other animals, out of the wild. Keeping turtles is more difficult than people often realize because their dietary and temperature requirements are fairly complicated. Removing animals from the wild not only takes that animal out of the population, but also all of its reproductive potential. That can have a big, long-term effect. It is very easy to buy turtles from a dealer or pet store that have been born in captivity. That is a much better alternative.

Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004
From: tanya
Subject: reptiles how often do they...[eggs hatch]
How often do reptiles lay eggs and how lond does it take to hatch? I can't find this information any where else! PLEASE HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Hi. Unfortunately, you are not asking a question with a single, easy answer. There are many kinds of reptiles (turtles and tortoises, crocodiles and alligators, lizards, and snakes). Some lay eggs and some have live young. Some produce several clutches of eggs in a year, while others lay eggs once every other or every few years. If you can make your question more specific, I will be able to help you better.
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004
From: Gary
Subject: Relocation of tortoises with URTD
Dear Friends,
I am the City Planner for Lake Mary. We have just approved a 160 acre mixed-use PUD. The development of this property will involve the relocation or taking of gopher tortoises. We are aware that infected tortoises are usually not relocated; however, the mayor has heard that there is a place that infected tortoises may be relocated. He could not remember the name of the place, so he has directed staff to search out the information about such a place. If you have any information about a place where infected tortoises may be relocated, I'd be very appreciative for the information.
Thanks, Gary
Dear Greg, My suggestion is that you call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

Northeast Regional Service Center
Dennis David, Regional Director
1239 S.W. 10th Street
Ocala, FL 34474-2797
(352) 732-1225

Tell them who you are and ask for the biologist. Another helpful option in your area would be the Wekiwa State Park. Again, identify yourself and ask for the biologist. His name is Rick Owen (tell him I sent you to get advice).

Wekiwa State Park, 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, FL 32712; (407) 884-2008

Is there any opportunity to leave part of the 160 acres as an on-site relocation area? That might be your best, cheapest, least stressful on everyone option.

Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2004
From: Jennifer
Subject: research
Hello! This is probably a different question than you usually get - as I am a college student. I would like to do a research paper on the critical analysis of the protection policy for the gopher tortoise. I have been on the FWC site and others, but I just havent gotten enough factual information on the policy. I was wondering if you had any advice. I have the "Available Options to Address the presence of gopher tortoises...." article. I am mainly looking for articles. Thank you for any help you can offer. Jennifer
PS I have emailed the FFWCC about getting a copy of the petition to make the GT a "threatened species" but I have not heard from them
Hi Jennifer, I will do what I can to help. Look at this part of the FFWCC web site:

Also, if you are located in Florida, you might contact your regional office of the FFWCC and speak to their tortoise biologist. You can find the regional office contact info at:

The Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative also has good information:

Best of luck and let me know if I can help more. Once you finish your paper, I would love to see it, if you don't mind.

Date: Mon, 11 Oct 2004
Subject: Gopher Tortoises
I have an adult pair of Gopher Toroises in a vacant lot behind my house, ther is also some younger ones there now. I live in the southside of Jacksonville.
Hi. That is great news that not only are there adults, but that they are reproducing. Enjoy watching them!
Date: Tue, 05 Oct 2004
From: Bonnie
Subject: Gopher Turtle?
Is the turtle that lives on our property a gopher turtle? I hope you can see the photo. Bonnie Guerra
Dear Bonnie,
Our web master sent me the picture and I can see it just fine. Yes, it is a tortoise. You may already know this, but they are legally protected and should not be harassed, fed, or held in captivity. Just let it be so it can do its tortoise thing, and you will probably have it around to enjoy for many years.
Date: Mon, 04 Oct 2004
From: Angela
Subject: Gopher Tortoise in my dad's hunting club
Hi. My name is Angela. My dad found a gopher tortoise on our land that is used for hunting and riding ATV's. It's only family in the club, but my sister, myself and some of our friends's ride four wheelers on the property. Since the turtle was found, I tell the people I ride with to watch for my turtle and be sure not to run over it. Someone painted his shell orange (but it wasn't us), so he is fairly easy to see. I hope the paint won't hurt him. If so, please let me know. He has many acres to roam free on but should I be worried about it getting injured since this is a hunting club and deer season is about to begin? I've only seen one burrow so far so I don't think he has been living there long. What should we do, if anything, to help protect it? By the way, I live in Mississippi. Thanks for any advice.
Hi Angela, Thank you for being concerned about the tortoise. It sounds like he has a nice place to live as long as people are careful. Gopher tortoises are legally protected, so he has to be left alone to do his own thing. He should not have been painted, but the paint shouldn't hurt him. It will make him more visible, which is good and bad, depending on who or what sees him. Maybe you could post a sign at the entrance to the land, or at a building that everyone uses saying that non-target wildlife are protected and not to be harassed or harmed. That might help hunters and others realize that the owners of the land care about what lives there. You are lucky to have a big piece of wild land to enjoy, and I hope that you can keep it that way.
Date: Sat, 02 Oct 2004
From: Greg
Subject: Is this a Gopher Tortise?
This small turtle/tortoise was near our home, and if it is a Gopher Tortoise I would like him/her to be relocated due to the many dogs in the neighborhood. Thanks
Greg's baby gopher tortoise #1 Greg's baby gopher tortoise #1
Dear Greg, It is a gopher tortoise hatchling, likely new this year. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal to move it. My suggestion is that you find somewhere in the near vicinity that has vegetation on the ground and release it. Underneath palmetto fronds or other cover, or in an adult tortoise burrow are good spots. Juveniles typically pick a place and stay there for months or even years.

It may not seem that your area is safe or suitable for such a vulnerable creature, but it apparently is good tortoise habitat if they are reproducing. There are many sound biological reasons (other than the legal issues) why you shouldn't take him far away, including habitat suitability, genetics, disease, and social interactions. Please put him somewhere close by, wish him good luck, and let him go.

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 2004
From: Terramarc
Subject: turtle [pet]
we found what may be a gopher turtle. can we keep it as a pet? it is about the size of a $.50 piece. He eats cat food pellets. Does he need water? thanks cody.
Dear Cody, It is illegal to keep a gopher tortoise as a pet because they are protected by the State of Florida. Besides, the diet and temperature requirements needed to keep a tortoise healthy are complicated. If you still have the tortoise, please take it back to where you found it and let it go. If this is not possible, please write me back and I will try to help you figure out what to do.
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 2004
From: Damian
Subject: box turtle
Hi, Do box turtles usually eat the shell of another ?
Thanks Damian
Dear Damian, I have heard of gopher tortoises eating the bones of roadkilled animals, probably as a calcium source. If you have one box turtle eating the shell of another, and they are in captivity, I think you have a serious nutrition problem. If you saw this occurring in the wild, there may still be a problem, but not something that you can fix.
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 2004
From: KaStables
Subject: tortoise
Rebecca hi, Can tortoises hear? do they make any noises? thanks Ellen
Hi Ellen, Tortoises do not hear well, at least in the way that we think of "hearing". They do feel vibrations through their shell, making it very difficult to sneak up on them!
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 2004
From: Niletortoise
Subject: [found] gopher tortoise melbourne florida
found male tortoise in my back yard a month ago, hangs around. feed him every thing a gopher needs. gets wild grass and shrubs also, would love to keep him in yard. bad area all around, every thing cement around him. he cant live any place else. have big pen, plus walks all around yard eating everything in sight. gets good diet. know a lot about turtles and tortoises. help me, can I get a permit? bring him in at night, dont want him to dig out of the yard, just his death, would be just awful. called wildlife people, cant help, he cant be moved. he is very healthy. we love him and dote over him, make sure he has just everything. cant bring him to another area/ any help for us thank you patty
Dear Patty, This is such a hard dilemma, but I hear it so often. First, I must tell you that it is illegal for you to keep the tortoise captive, take it inside at night, feed it, or mess with it in any way. However, I understand how you feel about it being left to wander on its own and into trouble. My suggestion is that you try to make your yard as attractive for it as possible and maybe it will stay there of its own accord.
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2004
From: msanford
Subject: Baby Gopher Tortoise I have lived in my house for 30 years. Over the years tortoises have traveled through my yard. I haven't seen as many lately. I have border collies. They are very well trained and one in particular has a strong sense of duty. He also has a strong herding drive. He feels it is his duty to bring me animals, it's there instinct. Once he notices an animal he becomes obsessed with herding it. He doesn't harm it, but has a strong desire to protect it and watch over it. This is his nature, even with a tortoise. He would not let any other animal bother it when he is around, but he also has the instinct to drive it toward where I am.

Two nights ago, I went out onto my enclosed back porch to get a drink out of the refrigerator. As I returned I noticed a small blob by the door. It was a three inch baby gopher tortoise, it was upside down, and looked like it had been that way for a while. I thought it was dead. I cleaned it off and checked it over and it was just fine, not a scratch on it. I don't know if it came through the dog door or if one of the dogs picked it up and carried it in. I think it might live under a shed in the back yard, because when I checked it out, the dogs had been digging around the back of it. I always thought there was an opossum living there, as I have seen one around quite often.

Anyway, I know that my high drive dogs know what this little guy smells like, and they will forever try to bring it to me. Also, there are a lot of cats in the neighborhood, most are spayed/neutered ferals. Given that I'm not sure the baby is safe. Perhaps, you will think differently, if so I will put him under the shed, hope that's where he came from and wish him a happy life. I know that Wekiva State Park has a colony of gopher tortoises. However, I don't think the Park Rangers allow you to bring in an outside gopher tortoise. I would feel good about him being there if that is possible. For all I know the hurricane blew him over here. I also have a friend that has a couple of them living at her horse ranch in the country.

I really want to see this little guy grow up and reproduce. He is a little male. My question is, would the park take him? If not would it be wrong to take him there and release him? If I released him where I found him, it would inside my house. I have seen these animals all my life, but this is the prettiest one I have ever seen. Does the Science Center keep any, at least until they are five or six and their shells harden? I feel very protective towards the little guy. I want him in the safest place possible. Thank you for your response in advance. Mary Ann (Enclosing pictures of little Charley. He seems fearless and actually walked into this cat that was watching him. He eats and is in good health, but doesn't seem to be afraid of the dogs or cats.)

Hi. I apologize for taking so long to get to your question. This information may be too late to help you make a decision about the tortoise, but maybe it will be guidance for someone else with similar problems. It is illegal to move or keep the tortoise. It would be really bad to take it to Wekiva or any other protected area. That is a hatchling, so apparently, gopher tortoises are around there and reproducing. My suggestion is that you put it somewhere near your house that has some ground cover and let it go. If you can put it out of reach of your dogs, that would be good.

It is tempting to want to keep it or give it to someone else to raise until its shell is hardened. However, the temperature and dietary requirements of gopher tortoises (and many other turtles) are complex. We do not even know what hatchlings need to be healthy. I personally know of a young tortoise that had to be put to sleep by a vet because its shell, jaw, and liver were so compromised by a bad diet and too little sunlight. It was very sad.

Please release the hatchling.

These photos were attached to the eMail
Charley meets Scotty Size comparison. What Is He Thinking?
Date: Thu, 16 Sep 2004
From: Dooley
Subject: above ground hybernating chamber
Our 10 yr. old granddaughter has brought home a Box Turtle from her last trip to the country. She said she saved it's life and wants to keep it. We have been letting her (the turtle) live in our yard. When we are with her she walks around our yard. When we go in we have a milk crate to cover, protect and confine her. We would like for her to be able to live freely in the yard but she disappears so quickly.
We have a 2 1/2'X 3'X 4' rubbermaid container we are hoping to build a hybernating chamber for the turtle with. Our plan is to make drain holes in the bottom, fill with a thin layer of river gravel then dirt and leaves.
Our question is do you think this will work are will she freeze in our cold Missouri winters. We also thought maybe we should sink the container into the ground a foot are two.
Thank you for your time, The Dooley Family
Dear Dooleys, I apologize for the long delay in answering you. Keeping a turtle in captivity is not an easy thing to do. You can keep it alive, but it will be more difficult to keep it healthy. It also will not be able to find a mate and reproduce, so not only have you removed a turtle from the wild, but also its reproductive potential. My suggestion is that you return the turtle to its home (placing it out of harm's way). Many pet stores sell captive-born turtles that are easier to keep and you should be able to get very specific instructions on proper care. If the store does not have these instructions, find a different store because that is a big part of responsible animal trade business.
Date: Sun, 26 Sep 2004
From: Shawnon
Subject: Baby Deserts keep dieing what am I doing wrong?
I had one tortoise turn red on its body and uner its shell then die I dont know what I am doing wrong but I may be doing something. I then had a little one die on my today and when I turned him over his belly was blue what could it be ? I still have 3 left and I hope its not something that all of theem can get. I also own 5 that are adults and in my back yard and yes they are all licenced witht he state .
Dear Shawnon, Please take the living tortoises and the bodies of the dead ones (if you still have them) to either a veterinarian or a wildlife rehabilitator. I am not a vet and cannot tell you what the problem might be, but you need to take care of it properly. Where are you located? I may be able to help you find somewhere to take them. Please write me back.
Date: Tue, 31 Aug 2004
From: Caitlin
Subject: Turtle Q&A [weather]
I was wondering if you could answer my question:
Why do turtles rely on the weather so much, in order to survive?
If you could answer my question it would be very helpful. Thankyou.
Dear Caitlin, Great question! It is not so much that turtles rely on the weather as they are at its mercy. This is because they are cold-blooded. In other words, they have no means to regulate their body temperatures, such as sweating, panting, or shivering. If it is cold, they are cold; if it is hot, they are hot. They have to position themselves in the environment so that they are in a good temperature to survive and do what they need to do (eat, mate, etc.). Being cold-blooded affects everything about their biology, physiology, and ecology. Reptiles (snakes, lizards, turtles, alligators) and amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders) are all cold-blooded.
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 2004
From: Winddancer
Subject: difference between male and female turtle
could you tell how I can tell the difference between a male and female desert turtle.
thank you, tammy
Dear Tammy, The first thing I have to tell you is that if you are keeping a desert tortoise, it is illegal for you to have it. Please take it back to where it belongs and let it go.

The way to tell a male from a female is simple in adult tortoises. The plastron (bottom shell) of a male is concave near the tail, and a female's plastron is flat.

Date: Tue, 24 Aug 2004
From: Shumasassi
Subject: gopher tortoise in yard.
A gopher tortoise dug a burrow angled under our fence with the opening in our neighbors unfenced yard. The opening began to cave in but when he rebuilt it the opening was only in our fenced yard. The first question is since his area is limited now , will he have the sense to fix it (put the opening under the fence)?

The second question is his burrow is 15 feet from my compost pile. Is there a danger from him consuming foods not typically on his natural diet (ex. zinnias, celery, oranges, etc. ) or don't they scavenge . Thanks for your answer. We really like that he chose us for neighbors for a while.

Dear Valerie, What fun!! You are lucky. Don't worry about the tortoise. For one thing, because it is there of its own free will, it is illegal for you to mess with it anyway. It will dig under the fence when it feels the need. It may very well forage in your compost pile, but the pile was there first and you didn't put it there to feed the tortoise, so it is o.k. It is really the same as a tortoise eating from someone's vegetable or flower garden, or their grass for that matter. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy!
Date: Tue, 17 Aug 2004
From: daisy
Subject: Gopher tortise relocation
Hello, what are the specifications on how much a developer must pay to "pave over" the gopher totises on a building site?
"Take" permits are issued on an individual basis by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The price depends on the number of tortoises and burrows estimated to be on the property.
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 2004
From: william
Subject: gopher tortiose [take care of]
What do they eat? i found one andi really want to keep it but i don't know how to take care of it. it is just a little baby one.
please help me take care of my tortiose.
Thankz, Akela
Dear Akela, Gopher tortoises are a protected species and it is illegal for you to keep it as a pet. Besides, it is very difficult to keep a tortoise, or many kinds of turtles, healthy. Their temperature requirements are very specific because they are cold-blooded, and their food requirements are also often complicated. You can probably keep the baby alive, but it is doubtful that you will be able to keep it healthy. Please do the right thing (legally and for the tortoise) and take it back where you found it, out of harm's way, and release it. We need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get. Thanks.
Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2004
From: Alan
Subject: Hurt Turtle
Yesterday we were going to a job in south Alabama we noticed a large turtle in the road after looking at the internet it is what I beleive is a Gopher Turtle. We stopped to help it off the road and noticed it had been hit there is a tire mark on the side of it and when we looked at the bottom of it the sheel has a crack in it.We took it home ( that was before we knew it was protected) After a few hours he started moving around the back yard. What else should we do? Take it back? to a vet? It is large about 9 or 10 inches acrossprobably old we don't want it to die.
Dear Alan, Thank you so much for your concern. You should take the turtle to either a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or a vet that has reptile experience. Because the shell is injured, the turtle is in a serious predicament. If you can't find an appropriate place to take it, please write me back and I will try to help.
Date: Mon, 09 Aug 2004
From: Elaine
Subject: where do gophers go when burrows flooded?
There is a resident gopher tortoise in the small subdivision where I live. Its burrows are at the end of our street. I enjoy watching it and became concerned when we had some flooding rains that seemed to completely fill its burrows. Where do gophers go when it floods?
Thanks, Ann
Dear Ann, Every individual tortoise digs many burrows in different places within its home range. We found that males average 15 burrows apiece and females average nine. So, it is likely that your tortoise(s) have dry places to go when they need. Tortoises will use flooded burrows, sitting just under the water and sticking their heads out occasionally to breathe. However, this mostly occurs in winter when the water temperature is warmer than the air. Thanks for the great question.
Date: Sun, 08 Aug 2004
From: mckinleye23
Subject: Hearing
We were wondering if a tortoise can hear and how good is their sight? How long will a gopher tortoise stay in the same place? Thank You.
Tortoises can see well, as evidenced by their diving into a burrow whenever someone or something walks toward them. They "hear" mostly through their bodies sensing vibration on the ground. Tortoises are reptiles and, therefore, cold-blooded. That means that their body temperature fluctuates with the air temperature. When the environmental temperatures are warm, they tend to move around more. When temperatures are too hot or too cold, they slow down and stay put in their burrows most of the time.
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 2004
From: Anixa
Subject: Believe to have found a gopher tortoise
i am a turtle lover, i live in Vero Beach, Florida. Today, my mother found a very small turtle about the size of a quarter at her job. She knows i like them so she kepted it and gave it to me. i have been online trying to find out what type of turtle it is.
i believe it is a gopher b/c it has a dark shell (probably black) and its got yellow on the bottom, its weird b/c it looks like yellow paint.It might be im not sure, but eiherway, it dark all over and some grayish lines (about 2 of them) right below and on the side of the face. I am at work right now so i cant try and clean her to be for sure.
I just realized that i believe it is has some light stripes of a light yellowish/orange in the bottom of the shell. i would like to keep it and take care of it but i would like to know everything about them.
and if its not a gopher can you help me with the information i've given to determine what type of turtle it is.
thank you so much.
Anixa, If it is a gopher tortoise, your mom needs to take it back where she got it and release it out of harm's way. They are legally protected and you cannot keep it for a pet. However, your description does not make me think it is a tortoise. Does it have thick claws, or webbed feet with long skinny claws? Are there scales on its arms, or are they smooth? Look up mud turtles on the web and see if you see it. Don't get too hung up on color because that can be variable Let me know what you find.
Date: Thu, 29 Jul 2004
Subject: what is the gestation of the desert tortise
Hi, The gestation period for desert tortoise eggs is 90 days, plus or minus, depending on the temperature at the nesting site.
Date: Wed, 28 Jul 2004
From: jack
Subject: [horse arena]
I have one or more gopher tortoises which have made a home in the horse riding arena. The arena will start being used on a more freqhent basis and there is a good possibility that a horse and rider will take a fall from stepping into the den opening. How can these gophers be moved to another location?
Dear Jack, In order to legally move tortoises, you have to get a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (or, if you are in another state, the responsible agency). You are not the first to ask me about this situation. My suggestion is that you flag the burrows with stakes and flagging tape, or something similar, so that the horses avoid the burrows. Even if you move the tortoises out that are there now, it is likely that there are more around to take up the empty space. Other people have marked their burrows and it has been successful, although one lady had to constantly replace her flags because a pony kept chewing them up. I hope this is helpful and that you can figure out how to coexist with the tortoises. We need all of them out there we can get.
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 2004
From: Erik
Subject: lost turtle
Helle, we don't know what kind of turtle this is.
HE was walking down the middle of the street so we rescued him and called FWC. They have not returned my call, neither has the zoo.
I looked up every picture of Gopher tortoises, which is what the FWC said this was, but cannot find a picture even close.
Can you identify this species for us please? I mean it looks like a smaller version of the big ones at metro-zoo. Thank you
Hi Erik, It is a leopard tortoise, native to South Africa, but not here. It was probably someone's pet and they released it or it escaped. They are a handful to keep. They can grow up to two feet long and weigh 80 pounds. Because leopard tortoises are from the desert, they require high levels of light and constant warm temperatures. I have a dear friend who is a tortoise biologist. He has a great tortoise ranch in north Florida. He is willing to take that animal if you are willing to give it up. If so, let me know and I will send your email to him and you two can work out the details.
P.S. This is a good website:
Date: Sun, 25 Jul 2004
From: Jeff
Subject: Gestation period for _?_ tortise or turtle
We live in North Alabama and had an unusual event occur in our flower bed? We found what we call a box turtle or tortoise, which lives exclusively on land, digging a hole with its rear feet. I gathered all the kids in the neighborhood and explained to them what I expected the turtle was doing, i.e. about to lay eggs. I was correct and we watched her lay three eggs then cover the nest. I have tried to find on the internet information about the turtle/tortoise gestation period, however, was able to find nothing. Can you direct me relative to this matter? We photographed her laying the eggs and I thought that this might make an interesting project for the second graders at school this fall.
Hi Jeff, What a great teaching opportunity. If you have a picture, take it to the library or a bookstore and look in a field guide of reptiles to identify the turtle. The field guide will also tell you lots of good information. Once you know what kind of turtle it is, searching on the web should be more fruitful.
Date: Sat, 24 Jul 2004
From: Jason and Audrey
Subject: baby box turtle
hello! my little dog found a baby box turtle and has chewed around the edge of his shell, leaving a little flesh exposed. how do i tend to his wounds and care for him while he recovers? will his shell repair itself?
Please do not try to take care of this yourself. A turtle's shell is an outgrowth of its bones and an injury is very serious. Take it to a vet or wildlife rehabilitator so it can get proper treatment. If you cannot find somewhere to take it, please write me back and tell me what town and state you live in, and I will try to located someone.
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004
From: Sharpslp
Subject: [feed]
what should i feed it
If you are talking about a gopher tortoise, it is illegal for you to have it in captivity without a permit. Take it back to where you got it and let it go out of harm's way. If you are not talking about a gopher tortoise, I need to know what you have before I can help.
Date: Wed, 21 Jul 2004
From: Dianne
Subject: Possibly Sick Gorpher Tortoise
I have read your other posts regarding sick tortoises so have a bit of concern about a tortoise in our community. As the person in charge of our golf community's Natural Resources Group, one of my neighbors called me about a gopher tortoise that has been on her front stoop (in the shade) since about 2:30 this afternoon (when I spoke with her it was 6:30 p.m. so the G.T. has been there for 4 hours). It is facing toward the wall. It does move it's head and limbs into its shell when someone approaches and she did not observe any obvious injuries to its shell. Our concern is that they are doing some heavy duty maintenance of our fairways and greens -- I don't think they are actually going into any of the tortoise habitat -- but we are wondering if somehow it might have been injured (or might even have respiratory disease). What would you consider an abnormal length of time for a gopher tortoise to stay on this lady's front porch. If it's still there in the morning, should we get someone to take to the nearest re-hab center (The Conservancy of S.W Florida)? I know that they will not come and pick it up but we do have a Natural Resources Maintenance staff who could probably move it. If we do need to move it, how and in what should it be transported?
Perhaps I am overracting but it apparently is a larger adult and we do have responsibility in our P.U.D. to effectively (and protectively) manage our local gopher tortoise population. (Also there is a house being constructed on the street,the last lot of two which were side by side. Construction started a few months ago. So it may be that this is one of the tortoises that was moved to other g.t. habitat in our community about a year ago when the first lot was developed and maybe it came back and found it's old territory uninhabitable so is currently without a home -- don't know). Whatever guidelines you can offer us would be appreciated
Dianne, Collier's Reserve Country Club Natural Resources Group
Dear Dianne, What a great thing you and your neighbors are doing! The number of scenarios for why that tortoise is sitting on the porch is endless, so we will play it safe. If the tortoise is still there this morning, definitely take it to the rehabbers and let them evaluate it. Make sure that they understand that you have to have it back unless they decide it needs long-term care. Most any box will do to carry it in, as long as it can't crawl out. Coolers work nicely but leave it open.
Once you know its health status, write me back and we can discuss the next step.
Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2004
Subject: Baby Tortoise [shell]
Dumb question... are baby tortoises born with a shell.
Thanks, M. Cordova
I often get asked if tortoises lose their shells or shed them as they grow, so your question is not dumb. Turtles' (all turtles) shells are outgrowths of their bones. They are born with a shell, keep it all of their lives, and it grows as they grow. A serious shell injury is often deadly.
Date: Thu, 15 Jul 2004
From: lynn
Subject: ask about a turtle [in backyard]
i just found a turtle in my yard and i have no idea what kind it is he has orange and black and on the bottom is yellow and black on the botttom do you think you now what kinds it is?
my name is allison
Dear Allison, Sounds like a box turtle to me. Look online or in a book and see. Please do not keep it. We need all the wild turtles out there that we can get.
Date: Thu, 15 Jul 2004
From: ray
Subject: Gopher turtle in danger
i live in hudson flordida and i keep finding the same gopher turtle by my mailbox and its burrow isnt near my mail box and the person who owns the proporty keeps moving it to my proporty and im afraid my pitbull might try and kill the turtle what should i do?
Dear Ben, Explain to your neighbor that the gopher tortoise is a protected species and that it is illegal for either of you to be moving it around. If a dog or other pet injures or kills the tortoise, the owner of the pet is legally responsible. The best thing to do is leave the tortoise alone and let it find its own way. If you have any other problems or need to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, please write me back. Thanks. Becky
Date: Wed, 14 Jul 2004
From: Juan

Subject: Help to my Desert tortoise.
I live in Mexico city. I have a desert tortoise which was gave me from a friend of mine since 3 moths ago.
My main questions related to this tortoise are:
1) Could you confirm me what kind specie is?
2) Since 4 weeks ago my tortoise did not eat anything so their currently weight is 970 gr (I feel really ligth), nobodies can assist to my tortoise due the vets are not know much about these animals. Could you help me?, please. I really worry about this sick.
According with some books ("understanding reptile parasites" & "practical encyclopedia of keeping and breeding tortoises and freshwater turtles"), I did to gave 3cc (dosage: 30 mg/kg) of Metrodinazole (Flagyl suspension; called: Flagenase 400 in Mex); but I do not know if this action was OK (today the tortoise activity was the same). I will really appreciate your support in order to solve this situation. thanks.

Ps.- their enviromental condition I believe is ok, the temperature range is 28'C to 32'C; their food is mainly is vegetables and cactus. I have other tortoises (berlandieri) and they do not have this problem because they eating very well.

Dear Juan, Unfortunately, my desert tortoise knowledge and my familiarity with wildlife laws in Mexico are both sorely lacking. Please contact the Desert Tortoise Council at this email They can give you much better guidance. They also have a website:
Date: Sun, 04 Jul 2004
From: randy
Subject: Turtle loves dog
Love the web site! We recently moved into our new home in Citrus County. There are a lot of woods surounding our property. Gopher Turtles galore too! I adore these little slow creatures, but was shocked to witness a pair fighting. It seemed as though they were trying to flip one another over onto their back. One succeeded in doing so. I went and flipped he or she over to the upright postition. My Chihuahua was with me and ever since the turtles rescue, the turtle has been at our back door and won't go back into the woods. When we let the dog out it follows the dog all over. As if it likes her? Is this a common thing? Can a turtle become attached to a dog?
Randy, I have never heard of such a thing, but nothing would surprise me about gophers. Is he still following your dog?
Date: Sun, 04 Jul 2004
From: dinarichter
Subject: Calcium for Gohpers
A gopher tortoise borrowed into my back yard, I guess he or she (I don't want to pick it up to find out if it's a male or female because I know that you're not allowed to bother them), feels safe there. I've been doing some research and I read that they are like a cow with a shell, in that they graze. That he does. I also know that they need calcium. If I planted spinach, would that be good. What about egg shell? I know that I can't feed the tortoise; but I heard that ground egg shell is "good fertilizer" for my lawn.
Thank you D.
All of that sounds reasonable to me. I have also heard that bones make good yard fertilizer, too. :) Write back if you have more questions. Becky
Date: Tue, 29 Jun 2004
From: Lisa
Subject: Found [in Seattle] tortoise
I am a lifetime turtle/tortoise lover so today a friend of mine calls and says she was at a park and came across an injured turtle. She looked around on the internet and thinks it is a gopher tortoise. It may sound strange but we are in Seattle, Washington. Do you have any idea who I could call to try to get him relocated or to a good caregiver? Any help you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
Lisa, What happened to this animal? The range of the gopher tortoise doesn't get anywhere near Seattle. However, I have heard stranger stories and seen some weird situations of tortoises being transported all over the place. Please write me back.
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004
From: Michael and Donna
Subject: [abandoned egg]
Hi there, a friend of mine found a turtle egg next to his place beside a pond . The egg was abandoned with no sign of mother in site. My friend is wondering how to treat this egg and is there a way to have this egg hatch. I would appreciate any information that you may provide.
Thanks in advise, bye for now, Mike.
Mike, Many times female turtles will "shed" an egg and there could be a number of reasons that she doesn't deposit it in a regular nest. The egg might not be fertile, or the turtle might have laid other eggs in a nest and that was a leftover. There might not have been a suitable nest site around. Regardless of the reason, it is very doubtful that the egg would have hatched. Thanks for the good question.
Date: Sun, 27 Jun 2004
From: ShcklSlugma
Subject: [eat?]
what do they eat
Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and eat low-growing grasses and herbs.
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2004
From: Adahajr
Subject: Natural repellents
A friend has several gopher Tortoises living in their yard and it is difficult to mow. They watch to see that they don't run over any and don't destroy the burrows. More tortoises seem to be coming. They had two and now there are seven. They were wondering if there is any natural repellent they could use to discourage them living there.
Gopher tortoises are legally protected, so you cannot harass, move, or harm them. The only thing that might discourage them is for you to make the yard unattractive to them by not mowing it. Of course, that makes it unattractive to everyone. If the population is growing, it probably means that they are rapidly losing habitat around you and they are coming to the only green space left. I would suggest you just sit back and enjoy. You are really lucky to have such great occupants!
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2004
From: Deng
Subject: help, my RES laying eggs
hi, this is cynthia from singapore. my red eared slider is alrady 8 years old. and she lay eggs once but they did not hatch. now she seems to be laying eggs soon, i brought her to the playground with sands but she gave up after digging halfway. what should i do? what kinda of environment does she like for laying eggs? and how will the eggs be able to hatch? singapore is a tropical country, summer throughout the year.
pls reply/ thanx a lot.
Dear Cynthia, Have you had your slider since she hatched or was very young? If so, she has probably never mated with a male slider and her eggs are not fertile. If she has had the chance to mate, she may just be too young to reproduce successfully yet. Look at the website below. It has good, detailed information that should help you. Good luck, and feel free to write back.
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2004
Subject: burrow
We have found a burrow made by a gopher turtle under our house.
We don't want to hurt or disturb the tortoise. But want to know if this burrow under the house can cause damage to the house. Or if there is something we should do.
Thanks! Barb
Hi Barb, It is very unlikely that a tortoise burrow would be capable of doing harm to your house or foundation. Tortoises love to dig along the edges of buildings because the dirt is already soft there and it is easier to dig. I have seen and heard of your situation many, many times and have never had anyone tell me that there was a problem. My suggestion is sit back, watch, and enjoy. You are lucky!
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004
From: Phil
Subject: Mississippi tortoise
No question, but I did see this fellow in the front yard today:
Click to enlarge in a new window. Click to enlarge in a new window.
Click to open enlargement in a new window.
Long Beach, Mississippi
Enjoy :)
Your pictures are great! I do lots of educational talks and presentations. Would you mind if I used your pictures sometimes? If you send me the photographers name, I will make sure they get credit.
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004
From: Kathleen & Dick
Subject: Problem tortoise
I got one digging under my house. Is there anyway to get him/her to move elsewhere? Just read that FL tortoises may be placed on a "Watch List" because of diminishing numbers. Don't want to harm it, just to get it to go elsewhere. Any suggestions?
Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. You cannot move, harass, feed, or bother them without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You can apply for a permit, but I doubt that you would get one. Why not just enjoy your good fortune of having a really neat animal living with you? It is very unlikely that the burrow will hurt your house at all. He/she may not stick around; we found that tortoises dig several burrows within their home range and travel between them. It is hard to say if your tortoise will do that, because if you are in a neighborhood situation, there may not be many places for it to go.

I realize this may not be what you wanted to hear. Please write me back if I can assist you.

Date: Mon, 14 Jun 2004
From: CummJhn
Subject: help [laws]
has anyone ever tried to convince the government to make a law about running over gogher tortoises?
Gopher tortoises are legally protected by either the Endangered Species Act or various state laws throughout their range. That means that no one can hurt, keep, or kill them intentionally. However, an accident is an accident, and it is doubtful that anyone would be fined for that.
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 2004
From: Tim
Subject: Age of tortoise
My husband and I live in Canaveral Groves and we have some very large Gopher Tortoises in our yard. We would like to know how to determine their ages, if possible.
Thanks, Janet
Dear Janet, Once a tortoise becomes an adult, it is pretty much impossible to age it accurately. For awhile when they are young, you can count the rings on their bottom shell scutes, but there are problems with that. The rings wear off and there is no real evidence that they only put down one ring per year, especially here where they can grow all year long. When I have to estimate tortoise age, I say hatchling, juvenile, subadult, or adult. Hatchlings are ones that are newly hatched that season; juveniles are small and orange, and their shells are still soft (up to five years); subadults are smaller than adults, but their shells are dark and hard; everything else is an adult. If your tortoises are very large, they are likely old (can live around 60 years in the wild) because they grow slowly throughout their lives. I know this isn't an exact answer, but that is the best I can do.
Date: Sat, 12 Jun 2004
From: cynthia
Subject: gestation questions
I have recently had a gopher tortoise lay eggs in my yard, how long can I expect to wait for the eggs to hatch and will the mother come back when it is time for them to hatch.
thank you for the site, it helped some but not enough to answer all my questions
The gestation period for tortoise eggs is between 80 and 110 days, depending on the latitude of the nest location. There is no parental care, so Mom will not be returning.
Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2004
From: Liz
Subject: [display]
Could you tell me about the baby gopher?. How long does it stay the same size? I was given an egg for a display. I am not sure it is a gopher egg. Can you send a picture and demotions. Also if I was to use it as a display how do I clean it out with out damaging the egg? Thank You
Park Ranger Liz, Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon Fl.
Liz, If the egg you have does belong to a gopher tortoise, it is illegal for you to keep it without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As for cleaning it out, I would suspect you could blow it out like people do fancy Easter eggs.

Gopher tortoises grow very slowly and it takes many years (around 15) for them to reach adult size and sexual maturity. For about the first five years, the shell is not hard and they are small, making them very vulnerable to predation.

Date: Fri, 11 Jun 2004
From: Janet
Subject: [loose its shell?]
Does a tortoise loose its shell?
Thanks for your input!
No, tortoises or turtles don't lose their shells. The shell is an outgrowth of the bone and grows as the animal grows. That is why shell injuries are so devastating. Thanks for the good question.
Date: Thu, 10 Jun 2004
From: Jincey
Subject: Law
Why is it illeigal to keep a tortise? Is there a law in Georgia? There is a gopher in our yafd and it had babies. I went to see if I could hear them and it sounded cool.
It is illegal to keep gopher tortoises without a permit in every state where they occur. Tortoises are difficult to keep in captivity because they are cold-blooded and require fairly strict temperature regimes. Also, they have a very complicated diet in the wild that is almost impossible to duplicate. Besides, if you take a tortoise from the wild, you not only lose that animal, but you lose all of its reproductive potential. We need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get. Please just watch and enjoy. Thanks.
Date: Tue, 08 Jun 2004
From: Pauline
Subject: Hi [make a gopher leave]
Hi, I was wondering if you could please tell me what I can use to make a gopher leave it's den. I have tried everything I can think of. I even tried ashes, which worked for a short time, but the gopher returned.
Please can you give me some advice, I really hate to trap them, but I don't no what else to do.
Hi, The gopher tortoise is a stated-protected species of special concern and what you have been doing, and what you want to do, are illegal without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (or other state or federal agency if you are not in Florida).

Why do you want to make it leave? Write back.

Date: Mon, 07 Jun 2004
From: Lori
Subject: Gopher tortoise relocation
First this is a great site full of information. I have a gopher tortoise that keeps walking around my house and is sure to get hit by a car or abused by some of the local kids when they see it. I've taken the tortoise back to some of the parcels around my house, but he seems to come back to the road. I live in Port Saint Lucie Florida, and there is an enormous amount of new building, lots of parcels of land are getting bulldozed for new homes (My guess Mr. Tortoise got his house bulldozed) Who do I contact to relocate this tortoise?
Thanks in advance
Dear Romano, Thank you very much for the kind words about the site.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over tortoises in Florida.

Your regional office location information is:
Chuck Collins, Regional Director
8535 Northlake Boulevard
West Palm Beach, FL 33412
(561) 625-5122

To be honest, it is doubtful that they will relocate the animal (for lots of reasons). The best (and legal) thing to do is keep it out of harm's way when you can, but not move it far away. It may very well get killed, which is frustrating, I know. Unfortunately, that is the fate of many individual animals, and entire species, when we don't consider their needs in our development and growth. Remember this when you go vote. That is the most useful thing you can do.
Date: Mon, 07 Jun 2004
Subject: Galapagos tortoise
Hello My name is Dave. Two months ago my girlfriend and I saw a turtle van on the side of the road. We purchased a red-eared slider turtle. We were going to keep him in a tank, but noticed that he was happier outside. I built a 200 gallon pond in the back yard and since then we bought a baby red-eared slider, a map turtle, and a painted turtle. Surprisingly they all like each other's company. Although the map turtle is extremely shy, all the rest seem to love attention unless they are being handled, so we decided to let them be and only observe them, unless they are being cared for by brushing their scutes.
Recently I noticed that two of them are shedding their scutes. The painted turtle on the carapace and the red-eared adult (6" carapace) on his plastron. I read that it could be a calcium deficiency causing soft shell, so we added a calcium supplement from the pet store to their diet as well as feeder shrimp. Can I do anything more?
We are so into turtles now that while looking for another turtle we came across baby Galapagos tortoises in a pet store. Is it legal to have one as a pet in Florida and do you need a permit? How much does an adult eat a day? Do they leave a huge mess when they defecate since they are so big? How much room do they need to live in? I have found a lot of facts on the internet, but want to make sure that we can provide an adequate home for this remarkable creature! I would appreciate any help you have. I couldn't find answers to the questions I asked, but maybe you know of sites that I can research this information myself.
Thank you very much for your time!
I can see that you enjoy your work. After reading many of the emails on your site I can tell that you love to help educate the public.
Dear Dave, Thanks so much for the nice words about the website. I really apologize for not getting to your question sooner.
My suggestion is that you contact a local herpetological society and get some advice as to how to keep your turtles healthy and happy. The shell problem could be any number of things and may need to be treated by a vet if it continues. If you cannot find a local herp club, let me know what city you live in or near and I will look for one.
Galapagos tortoises are not for sale. If the pet store is labeling tortoises as that, it is very misleading and I wouldn't do business with them. If it is a tortoise that is going to get large, it is probably a sulcata (lots of information on the net). They get to be enormous and dig huge holes in your yard.
You are probably beginning to realize that turtles and tortoises are not really that easy to keep. They are actually complicated because of their diets and temperature requirements. However, done right, it can be an extremely fulfilling hobby. Get some help and learn all you can, especially before you get any more animals. Please write me back if I can offer any more assistance.
Date: Mon, 07 Jun 2004
From: js
Subject: gopher turtle [injured]
my dog grabbed a turtle in our back yard and chewed on it and damaged the shell a little bit the part where the head comes out I put the turtle back by the woods it will stick its head out but it will not walk on its own I am thinking the dog hurt the turtle I live in Jacksonville flap Duvall county I left the turtle alone for 14 hours by the woods and it moved 2 feet where can I take it for rehab thank you Ron
If you still have the turtle, please write me back. I don't know any rehabbers in Jacksonville, but I could probably find some for you. The zoo is also a good resource for information.
Date: Fri, 04 Jun 2004
From: Rick
Subject: tortoise and traffic
On my way from Orlando to Miami on the Florida's Turnpike I saw a couple of tortoises. One was on the middle of the road and the other one along the side. I was surprised to see this and very concerned about their well being. I traveled this road many times and never seen this before. The day was very hot and humid. Is this a factor on this behavior? And, if possible can we pick them up and relocate without legal problems?
Dear Rick, Tortoises might venture across a huge interstate for a number of reasons. They could be looking for mates, a nesting site, new food sources, or a new place to dig a burrow. If you can move the tortoise out of immediate danger without risk to your own safety, it is o.k.; that means off the side of the road into the woods or nearby bushes. It is illegal for you to put it in your car and relocate it, even though that might appear to be the best thing to do on the surface. There are many disease, genetic, and ecological issues that make relocation of tortoises a bad idea.
Date: Fri, 04 Jun 2004
Subject: Gopher Tortoise in the surf line a New Smyrna Beach
I was walking on the eastern tip of NSB at about 8:00pm last night (just before high tide) and came across a gopher tortoise right at the surf line. He was alive but extremely lethargic in fact, comatose is a better description.. I see the tortoises in the dunes all the time but never on the beach or in the surf. I moved her just outside the high tide line and continued my walk. 40 min later, she was in the same place. To clarify, yes I'm sure it was a tortoise and not a sea turtle she was fully mature with a carapace of 13-14 inches and no visible injuries.
My question is, do you have any idea what was going on? Do Tortoises go into the surf as part of their normal behavior? Should I have taken a different action?
Thanks for being a resource and in anticipation of your reply.
John, I have never seen, but have had people tell me about tortoises in the surf. Saltwater is great for abrasions and removing parasites, so animals that are ill may go to the saltwater for healing. The animal you saw sounds like it may have been past the healing stage, but you did the right thing by moving it out of immediate danger and leaving it there.
Date: Fri, 04 Jun 2004
From: huimin
Subject: my tortise wound
I am Michelle from singapore.I am writing this letter to know more about my tortoise and please tell me what must i do to it
Last year, i owned 2 small tortise. After sometimes, the felmale tortoise had grew very big and strong. The male tortoise did grew, but not as big as the felmale.
Both the tortoise stayed in the same tank as i only have 1 tank. Day after day,the felmale started to bite the male's shell which is near the tail. Slowly, the male broke part of his shell. For a short period of day, the wound became worse. i would see the fresh, skin and i would see a part of the wound bleeding. I am going oversea in a few they times and nobody is going to look after the tortoise or feed them.
Is my MALE tortoise dying? what should i do with it now?
Your Truly, Michelle
Dear Michelle, Apparently, your tortoises are overcrowded and the larger, more dominant female is winning the space battle. Take the male to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator now. Please consider letting someone else take your tortoises that can care for them properly. It is not an easy job to keep them healthy, and you may need to turn that responsibility over to another person that has the right facilities and resources.
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 2004
From: Adele
Subject: Florida mouse/rattlesnake
I am a biologist with the Office of Greenways and Trails in Putnam county. We host env. ed field trips and have a large gopher tortoise population on the Cross Florida Greenway. My question is will a rattlesnake eat a florida mouse while they are inside the burrow or is it "neutral territory"?
Thank you for your help, Adele
Dear Adele, I have not ever seen a rattlesnake eat a mouse or anything else while inside a burrow, but it is my guess that, if they are hungry, they will. In fact, a burrow is probably viewed as a smorgasbord by predators. Reptiles (including snakes) operate on instinct, not intelligence, so they would not have any concept of "neutral territory".
Date: Thu, 03 Jun 2004
From: Michele
Subject: hospitable environment
Hi. I have read through your Q&A and learned a lot about gopher turtles...but I still have a few questions. I am living in a subdivision in Oviedo, FL. Our area is filled with gopher turtles which visit and live in our backyards but the land behind our lots are selling quickly. In my yard, alone, I have watched 7 turtles live their lives and know of 4 holes currently. What can my neighbors and I do to protect these turtles? The houses on my street have about 10 feet of land behind our houses that is unbuildable due to city access for cable, power and whatnot. That area is where the majority of the turtles I am tracking have holes. There is a road at the edge of this area and it is across this road where the development will occur.
Would a small edging (like the size of a step that could be done with pavers or a concrete lip) on our side of the land to block off access to that road help prevent the turtles from becoming road kill once the road is paved and busy with cars? Would something like that even be beneficial for the turtles provided it is legal with all parties involved? I know this is an ambitious idea but it is probably the only feasible one my neighbors and I have come up with short of halting the construction!
Also, one baby turtle has made his hole in our yard (in the tower of my kids plastic play castle, no less). :) We are currently re-doing our yard with new landscape but would like to make an area that is just for the turtles - around the castle where the baby has taken residence and the fence opening between our yard and the neighbor's where the other turtles enter. Is it illegal for us to plant things that they like to eat? We want it to be attractive to them because of the impending construction. A type of sanctuary, if you will, but one where they would still be free to come and go as they please. Is that ok legally?
I will be writing to the FL. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative, as well. Is there any place else I should contact that you recommend?
Thank you for making such a great website! I have fallen in love with these turtles and really enjoy sharing my yard with them! I am aware of the protective status and we do not want to do anything that would be illegal but I do feel the need to help in their conservation. We just want to do it the right way!
Thanks again! Michele, Oviedo, FL
Dear Michelle,
It would not be legal for you to erect a barrier without a permit, but that is something that perhaps the developer could do as mitigation for taking habitat. Those details would have to be worked out through the permitting process with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You should contact them and find out the status of the permitting process for the development. Regarding your yard, there is nothing wrong with planting "tortoise-friendly" vegetation, and GTCI is your best resource for that information. Best of luck and please do not hesitate to write me back if I can offer more assistance.
Date: Wed, 02 Jun 2004
From: Miamison2
Subject: hatching
How long is the intubhation period for hatching once the eggs are deposited?
The incubation period varies with latitude (longer up north), but is between 80 and 110 days.
Date: Wed, 02 Jun 2004
From: poly
Subject: POLYANA
Hello, Im from Cyprus, an island near Greece. I have allready 4 turtoise and I want to know how can u tell is a boy or a girl? How big they must be to mate and have eggs?
Thanks, Poly-chemist
What species of tortoises do you have?
Date: Wed, 02 Jun 2004
Subject: Eggs
Our new puppy was in our back yard, digging. We went over to the hole and found what we think were turtle eggs. They are about a quarter in size. They were buried pretty deep (maybe 6-7 inches down). Our puppy had one in his mouth and it broke. There were eight others. We just covered them up and left them there. Questions: If they are turtle eggs, does the mother ever come back or does she just leave them on their own? Should we leave them now that we covered them back up, or should we try to dig them up and move them? When they hatch will they be able to dig out from 6-7 inches of sand? It seems like they would suffocate.
Thanks for your time. Sharon
Dear Sharon, Sorry for the delay in answering, but I hope this information will still be useful. If the eggs were round, they were probably turtle eggs. The mom will not come back. The best thing to do is rebury them, but try to imitate the sand compaction, etc., just like it was. The young will be able to get out on their own and they will not suffocate. Try not to leave your scent or tracks around the nest or predators might figure it out.
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004
From: jdabluke
Subject: Baby Tortoise [feed?]
Hi, My sister found a baby Gopher tortoise the other day by accident when she saw our dog with it in his mouth. It's shell is still soft, and it wasn't hurt or anything its in good shape but what do we feed it?
Thanks, Becky, Georgia
The gopher tortoise is legally protected by the State of Georgia, so you cannot keep the baby. Please take it back to where you found it and let it go out of harm's way. It is very important that you control your dog so that it doesn't hurt or kill tortoises or any other wildlife. If you need help with this, call a dog trainer or dog obedience school and ask for some tips. You might need to keep your dog on a leash when you are in areas with wildlife.
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004
From: brad
Subject: Newly laid eggs
This morning I had the opportunity to watch a gopher tortoise lay her eggs and cover them in an area of our back yard, it is an area that will not be bothered except for the fact that I know there are raccoons in the area. Is there any way to protect this area to give the eggs a chance to hatch without anything getting to them? I would certainly like them to hatch knowing they are endangered, I know that there are at least two different gopher tortoises in this area that I have seen also. I know there are a minimum of 3 eggs in this nest, I had to leave at that point and checked to make sure that she had covered it when I returned which she did.
Because tortoises are legally protected, you cannot do anything to the nest without a permit. Really, it is best to let nature take its course. Try not to leave your scent near the nest, or tracks, etc., that would cue a raccoon or other predator. The most vulnerable time for the young will be when they emerge from the nest (about 90 days). Keep an eye on the nest and maybe you will get to witness something incredible!
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004
Subject: Tortise smelling
I was wondering if a tortoise can smell. Can they smell better than us? Thanks!
Dear Ali, I have probably answered over 500 questions since we started the website, but no one has ever asked me about a tortoise's sense of smell. I had to do some looking, but it appears that reptiles (including the turtles) have a more keen sense of smell than the amphibians, but that it is not particularly developed in the turtle group. Many snakes and lizards have excellent ability to smell, and actually "taste" the air with their tongues to sense the chemicals present. Turtles cannot do this. However, I have heard that gopher tortoises will come to fruit if it is placed outside their burrows, and that desert tortoises can smell the rain. Sounds like some good science fair projects, yes?? Thanks for the great question.
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004
From: kathleen
Subject: Desert tortoise???relocation??
Hi!!!! I was just reading your website and need some help please?? The other night we were driving up our street in san antonio Texas. and a tortoise was in the middle of the road. Our street is VERY busy and cars fly down it!!! we lived about three houses up so i bought it to our house its in a box with grass water etc. anyhoo... i think it is a desert tortoise as it looks closest to that on the internet pictures. I did not know it was illegal to move a tortoise!! Do they have little red spots on there faces?? I wanted to ask you if i should put it back on the curb where it was, or take it further out into the country. behind our house they have recently put up an RV park. right in front of that they are widening the highway. and the grassy area it was heading to is being slowly mowed down and houses being built. it used to be all woods and now they are building and tearing down all the land. the road it was crossing the curbs are too high for it to get up on?? I wondered if i should put him out in the country by a water tank or put him back by the road i found him??? We have five acres about 30 minutes from here it is wild with deer rabbits etc, and there is a pond on the next property which is abot 500 acres. would it be ok to put him there??? There is also a huge park a couple of miles away with woods etc, we released a rat snake in there. can they safely be relocated????
Your help and advice is greatly appreciated!!!! Thankyou Kathleen
This is what I tell people that pick up a tortoise that is in imminent danger. Take it back to where you got it and try to release it in a safe place. Desert tortoises are federally protected and it is illegal to move them, but no one is going to mind if you get it out of the road. If there is no safe place to put it, contact your local Fish and Wildlife Service office or a permitted wildlife rehabilitator. Two things absolutely not to do are 1) take it home and attempt to make a pet of it, and 2) drive it far from its home range and release it.
Thanks for the good question. I hope all turned out well for your refugee.
Date: Tue, 01 Jun 2004
From: Judy
Subject: Should I report this...
We live on the outskirts of Orlando FL and I have moved several turtles from our road, however, yesterday I stopped and picked one up and found it was a gopher tortoise. We turned him loose near where I found him but far enough off the road that he should be all right. Now, here is my question - there is a lot of construction going on in our area. Should I report this so they know there are gopher tortoises in the area? And if so, who do I report it to?
Dear Judy, Thank you very much for your concern and action. Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Our regional office is in Ocala and the information is:

Northeast Regional Office
Dennis David, Regional Director
1239 S.W. 10th Street
Ocala, FL 34474-2797
(352) 732-1225
24-Hour Law Enforcement:

If you see construction occurring, or about to occur, on a site that you know has tortoises, you can call and find out if the specific project has obtained their permits. If they haven't, insist that the Commission send someone out to investigate.

Date: Mon, 31 May 2004
From: Frederick
Subject: Ants
I just bought a house in Lutz, and the property has at least one large gopher tortoise. We have found two boroughs. I do not plan to disturb the turtle, but I am concerned about the many, many ants. If we have the property treated for the ants, will the turtle be harmed by the treatment? Does the ant population pose a threat to the turtle(s)?
Most commercial pesticide companies will tell you that their products will not harm wildlife. However, if you do get treated for ants, be sure and stress to the applicator that you are concerned that they use the safest product and application that they have for the tortoises. Many ant products are pellets that the ants eat and the tortoises wouldn't, and the pellets won't stick to the food plants like a spray might. Also, a tortoise's skin is thick and tough and does not absorb things as easily as a frog's, for example. Ants are a problem for tortoise nests and possibly young animals.
Date: Mon, 31 May 2004
From: Bob
Subject: Unusual gopher tortoise(?) [long tail]
I am between the Withlacoochee river and the Rails to Trail bike path. I frequently see gopher tortoises along the trail and often see their burrows. While walking dogs on a 10 acre piece today, they found what seemed to be a mature gopher tortoise except it had a 4-6 inch tail. I just don't recall seeing tails in the past. It also seemed to be a vulnerable spot for the tortoise.( I leashed the dogs and removed them so they couldn't bother it anymore.) Are tails unusual or is this another type of turtle/tortoise? Thank you and thanks for providing this service.
Gopher tortoises don't have such long tails. My suggestion is that you look on the net at tortoises, or in books, to see if you can i.d. your animal. Unfortunately, imported turtles and tortoises have become popular as pets. Often people do not realize the amount of effort and expense required to keep a reptile healthy, so they will get tired of it and release it in a park. That is how populations of exotic species get established in our natural habitats. It is also unkind to the individual animals, as they are often not adapted to the climate or vegetation and will eventually die.
Date: Sun, 30 May 2004
Subject: turtle [exposed eggs]
l what do you do with eggs if not buried in sand can human hands touch the egg will egg survive outside in the summer without being under ground
Turtles typically dig a cavity to lay their eggs in, and then cover it with dirt or sand. If you found eggs above the ground, they could have either been dug up from the nest, or, more likely, the female just dropped them. She might not have been able to find a good cavity site, the eggs might have been infertile, or she might have had a physical defect that kept her from digging or laying. No matter what the situation, it is extremely doubtful that they would hatch.
Date: Sun, 30 May 2004
From: Bibbis
Subject: turtles [shed shell?]
Does the turtle shed its shell or does the shell grow as the turtle grows? We are thinking of a small painted turtle that we have.
Turtles' shells are an outgrowth of their bones and are not shed. They grow as the turtle grows. That is why even a minor shell injury can be deadly.
Date: Thu, 27 May 2004
From: Stacy
Subject: found baby gopher
My name is Stacy and I live in Flagler County, Florida. This afternoon I walked out of my front door and there was a baby tortoise there. The ants were starting to get to it so I brought it inside and got them off of it. I called my dad and described what it looked like to him and he told me it was a gopher tortoise. He then preceded to tell me it was illegal to move it. The tortoise started to move around so I took it to the wooded lot next to where I live (no more than 20 feet from my house) that I know won't be developed. He started burrowing immediately but then stopped...I can see him just by looking at the ground. Is this normal? I don't want any predator to get to him. Should I call a rescue center or leave him be? Thank you for any help you can provide. I just hate to see an endangered species die if there is something we can do to prevent it.
Young gopher tortoises often do not dig typical burrows, but will use shallow depressions in the ground or hide underneath vegetation. You did the right thing by turning it loose near where you found it. Truthfully, it might get eaten or killed, but if it doesn't, it will grow up to reproduce and keep the tortoise population in your area going. That is a good thing!
Date: Thu, 27 May 2004
From: Heather
Subject: question about desert tortises
My name is Heather and I have some concerns about African and desert tortises. My 16 month old loves to be around the tortises sometimes she touches there head and shell. I was wondering is it possible she could contact some type of disease from the tortises or there feces. Could you let me know is this a concern I should have and a recommendation you may give me.
Thanks, Heather Johnson -- Lompoc, California
Dear Heather, It is great that your baby likes tortoises and that you are giving her the opportunity to interact with them. However, I would be very careful. Older children can be made to wash their hands, but a 16-month-old will be putting her fingers in her mouth constantly (at least in my experience). As with any animal, wild or otherwise, handwashing is your first line of defense against illness. If you can be right with her the entire time to prevent her from ingesting anything present on the tortoise or feces, that should be fine. Otherwise, it might be smart to "look, but not touch" until she is older.
Date: Wed, 26 May 2004
From: joann
Subject: a question? [pet]
are you allowed to keep gopher turtles as a pet? and also what kinds of foods do they eat? thanks jo ann
Dear Jo ann,
Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida. They cannot be kept as pets without a permit. If you have one, please take it back to where you got it, out of immediate danger, and release it. Many people mistakenly think that tortoises and turtles are easy to keep, but that is not true. They have complicated dietary and temperature requirements. It may be easy to keep them alive, but it is not easy to keep them healthy.
Tortoises eat low-growing herbs and grasses.
Date: Tue, 25 May 2004
From: matilde
Subject: builder's building on gopher land

Hello Becky,
I'm in west palm beach fla. My friend works for a construction company and saves little gopher turtles alot. He finds turtles the size of quarters sometimes right in a lot where they are building. He has saved quite a few. But he has found quite a few dead also. It seems like the builders just don't care about the gopher tortoise. He travels to all areas of florida for his work and finds the same thing everywhere. Don't they try to relocate the gopher's. Is their not someone who checks on the lots to check for holes?

Thanks, Maty

Dear Maty, Unfortunately, your impression of what is going on around our state and the plight of gopher tortoises appears to be an accurate assessment, in my opinion.

Anyone developing a piece of property that potentially has tortoises is supposed to get a survey done and apply for a permit. However, tt is extremely easy for a developer or private home builder to ignore the laws protecting tortoises, and if they are caught, they rarely get prosecuted and/or the penalties are nothing compared to profits. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for the protection of tortoises, and in fairness to them, they are overworked and understaffed.

We currently have two options for dealing with tortoises on lands that will be developed: relocation or "take". Relocation sounds good on the surface, but is wrought with problems. There are two types of relocation: on-site and off-site. Typically, on-site relocations result in a group of tortoises being put somewhere on the development property with no consideration of habitat suitablity (i.e., is there enough food or room for burrows and nests? are there other tortoises already there, and how will new tortoises affect the social structure?). Also, tortoise habitat, especially in suburban settings, must be properly managed or it will become unsuitable quickly. That costs money that must be available for perpetuity, long after the subdivision developer has moved along to the next project. Off-site relocation sites require the same characteristics as habitat on-site, but there are fewer and fewer places available and willing to take displaced tortoises.

A "take" is a nice way of saying that the developer will pay money that will be used for tortoise conservation elsewhere in the state, and the tortoises on the development site will be left to fend for themselves. Most are either buried in their burrows when the bulldozers roll through, or the ones that escape often get run over or in other kinds of bad situations.

Right now, there are no good answers, and until people decide that our natural resources are as or more important than economic growth, we will continue to lose gopher tortoises and many other species of plants and wildlife.

Date: Mon, 24 May 2004
From: bts
Subject: Why are gopher turtles endangered and not all turtles? Do they just not breed as well as other species or were they hunted more? Also do they swim or go in water like other turtles or just stay on land in their burrows?
Thank you for the great questions! Gopher tortoises are what biologists call a "k-selected" species. They live a very long time (60+ years in the wild), take a long time to reach sexual maturity when they can start reproducing (20+ years), and lay a few eggs each year (4 -8 typically). The eggs and young are very susceptible to predation, so not many of them survive to reproduce themselves. Put all of those factors together, and you end up with a species that can survive, but will not if other influences are thrown into the mix. For many years, before it became illegal, gopher tortoises were eaten by humans. Now the biggest threat to the species' survival is habitat destruction because they live in the high, dry places that are prone to be developed. There are disease issues, and gopher tortoises commonly get runover by vehicles. With all of that against them, it is no wonder that gopher tortoise populations are in trouble!

Gopher tortoises typically stay on land and do not need to go to the water. However, they can swim short distances (across ditches, for example).

Date: Sat, 22 May 2004
From: Paul
Subject: Turtle [in danger]
On May 20,2004 my neighbor from 2 doors over said there was a turtle in my yard. I came outside and there he was. He came from their yard and was traveling to the other side of my house. I followed him and then finally picked him up and put him in a fenced area so he could not get hit by a car.
Since then, he has dug a hole under the chain-linked fence, but not very deep. The fence is scratching up his shell. I fed him some fruit on May 21 and went to check on him today, May 22. He's in a different position from yesterday but I am afraid that he can't get out from under the fence.
I'm not sure who to contact to come and get him. Can you please help?
Susan -- I live in St. Petersburg, Florida
If the turtle was a gopher tortoise, it is illegal to move it, feed it, or try to keep it in a pen, even if it is likely to get hit (unfortunately). Your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) can be contacted at:
Southwest Region
Greg Holder, Regional Director
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1299
(863) 648-3203

FFWCC has jurisdiction over gopher tortoises and will be able to give you guidance in most situations. Feel free to call them in the future. Thanks for your interest.
Date: Sat, 22 May 2004
From: Myboyskittles
Subject: we found a gopher turtle
Hi. We found a baby gopher turtle and we don't know what to do with it. Its very small and we don't know what to feed it. We don't want to leave it outside by itself and we don't see the mother around. Please help.
Thank you. Sincerly, Lisa
First of all, it is illegal for you to keep a gopher tortoise in captivity without a permit. They are protected by the State. If you still have the tortoise, I suggest you take it back to where you found it, out of immediate danger, and release it. It is not surprising that you did not see the mother as gopher tortoises (and most reptiles) do not have any kind of parental care. Juvenile tortoises often do not dig burrows, but will find refuge under vegetation or in other holes. They do not travel far or come out of hiding very often or for very long. I cannot promise that the baby will be o.k. (many of them do not make it to adulthood), but it will be better off taking care of itself.
Date: Sat, 22 May 2004
From: Josebv
Subject: Turtles [sex] How can you tell the difference between a male and female turtle by looking at it?
It depends on what kind of turtle you are talking about. In gopher tortoises (and some other species), males have a concavity on the back of their plastron (bottom shell) toward the tail. Females' plastrons are very flat. In sea turtles, males have a long tail and females have a short tail.
Date: Fri, 21 May 2004
From: Dave
Subject: Tortoise friendly environment
I live in SE Georgia. On our property there are several Gopher tortoise burrows. I've seen 3 tortoises. The area around us is becoming more and more developed and the traffic is picking up quite a bit. What I would like to do is make our property as tortoise friendly as possible so they won't have to go to far to forage for food. Do you have any suggestions on what kind of tortoise food plants we can add to our landscape.
Thank you. Dave
The key to successful tortoise food planting can be summed up in two words: native and variety. Contact a native plant nursery, a native plant club, or your ag extension agent to get a list of potential plants. Obviously, gopher tortoises need ones that are low-growing. Herbs and grasses are best. Then get as many different ones as you can find and/or afford and plant them. Tortoises not only change their food during different seasons, but even during different times of the day, which makes sense for a cold-blooded animal. I have attached a book chapter written by a friend of mine that should be helpful to you.
Date: Fri, 21 May 2004
From: superx
Subject: sick tortoise
Hi. I went out my front door and found a gopher turtle napping on my front patio. We watched him for awhile, in which he didn't do much. I started to wonder if he was okay. He's been there for 2 days now and has only moved a few times to eat some grass and then return to his spot on the cement in a corner. I can say he had a bowel movement because I had to clean my patio this morning. I'm glad he has eaten (and pooped), but it still doesn't seem right that all he wants to do is sleep on pavement, when I've been reading they mostly live in the ground. What should I do?
Are you sure it is a gopher tortoise? Tortoises from other countries have become very popular as pets, but they are not as easy to care for as most people imagine. The animals often escape or are released, and not all tortoises dig burrows. If it is a gopher tortoise, you are right that its behavior seems odd, especially because they usually spend the majority of their time in burrows. The weather is warm enough now that spending the nights outside a burrow is not life-threatening, just weird. There are several possible explanations. If something has happened to the tortoise's home (land cleared) or if someone took it from where it belonged and left it in your yard, it may not have had time to find a good place and establish a new home yet. The tortoise might be ill. It is hopeful that you found poop, so maybe it will move along and find a good place to live.
Date: Tue, 18 May 2004
From: lori
Subject: Bothering a tortoise
It has come to my attention that there is a gopher tortoise who lives in a ball field in Palm Coast. The poor thing is constantly being harrassed by kids digging in the burrow, pulling the tortoise out and sticking it with sticks. Since it is an emdanger species isn't there anything we can do to legally stop them and make them aware that it is illegal. I will be put in jail soon if it keeps up and I knock one of these lovely kids with the stick that they are sticking the tortoise with!! Please let me know what I can do ??? Thanks, Lori
PS: I do work with the wildlife rehab up here in Flager Co. But havn't gotten too far with them. I just know there has to be something out there that can be done!!!!
Dear Lori, I hope you are not already in jail! Believe it or not, this is not the first time this type of question has been submitted. My suggestion is that you try educating the kids first. You can download or order some materials from the Gopher Tortoise Council website that may help. If you can enlist the kids as protectors of the tortoise, they will stop being harassers. Now, my second option, if the first doesn't work, is to find their parents and politely tell them that their little darlings are breaking the law by bothering a state-protected species. A photograph or two might help convince them they need to pay better attention.
Date: Mon, 17 May 2004
From: robin
Subject: [keeps running away]
My tortoise lives in a lush yard with everything but is constanly trying to run away, Can you tell me what to do? thanks Robin
Dear Robin, The first thing I must tell you is that if you are referring to a gopher tortoise, it is illegal for you to keep it in captivity without a permit. Is the tortoise a wild animal, or did you purchase it as a pet? Do you know what kind of tortoise it is?
Date: Sat, 15 May 2004
From: The Wipps
Subject: eating habitsfor russian tortoises
is it bad if my russian tortoise is not eating
It is not good for any animal to go too long without eating. However, reptiles are cold-blooded, and if their body temperature is cool, they can go for a few months without feeding. I suggest that you get some professional help to best care for your tortoise. Either go back to the pet store or individual where you got the tortoise and ask for information, or find a tortoise expert or veterinarian in your area. Many people have the mistaken idea that turtles and tortoises are easy pets, but that is not true. They have complicated dietary and temperature requirements that must be addressed for the animals to remain healthy. If you cannot find local help, please write me back and I will try to find some for you.
Date: Thu, 13 May 2004
From: Deborah
Subject: [hurt tortoise]
We just found a hurt tortoise and we don't know what it is. It has orange spots on it's legs, a dome shell, and we found it digging a hole in our backyard. what is it?
A liscensed wildlife rehabilitator should be able to help you. I cannot tell what kind of turtle it is without seeing a picture, but you could look on the web or in a field guide to identify it.
Date: Wed, 12 May 2004
Subject: help [what do we do with it?]
Hi I live in Springfiled, Ga and my boyfriend picked up a turtle on the side of the road and i think it may be a goper tortoise. what do we do with it?
Heather, Tell him to take it back where he got it and release it in the closest spot that is safe. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State in Georgia and it is illegal to keep them or move them around. Look for habitat alongside the road and put it into the woods. It likely came from somewhere near there and should have burrows available to it. Thanks.
Date: Wed, 05 May 2004
From: Kim
Subject: question [traffic & wounds]
Hi, I am so sorry to bother you... but I have a problem.. I went to pick my daughter up from school when I saw something walking on the side of the road... ( a Tortoise ) so I stopped my car and picked him up and put him on the other side of this fenced in area by the school heading in the same direction he was going to start with just on the other side of the fence and away from the traffic... well I went in to pick my daughter up and came out and as I was leaving I see the tortoise back on the side of the road.. I did not want to see him get hit by a car... I have seen that happen to many times and its horrible people don't care or they don't pay attention.... needless to say.. I picked him up and took him home to see if I could find somewhere else safe to relocate him but I started to check the Internet to see what kind he is and it seems I have found myself a Gopher Tortoise.... and Now I Have no clue what to do with him.. I don't want to put him back from where I found him.... because it is a certain death sentence for him and I don't want to worry about that

can you please let me know what I need to do for this poor guy... he looks like he has been through some rough times looks like he is missing an eye... please tell me what I need to do for him or who I need to contact to get him to a new safe home.. thank you so much in advance for your time... Mrs. K. Palermo

Ms. Palermo,
If you will tell me what town or city you live in, I will figure out where you can take it. Sounds as though it might need to be taken to a rehabilitator. Can you tell how old the wound is?
Date: Mon, 03 May 2004
From: Becky
Subject: GohperTortiose [care for baby]
I live in Wedgefield which is between the 520 and 528. We have several Gopher Tortoises out there and I found a baby yesterday near the road and my driveway. I searched my property for a den but to no avail did I find one. I am not one to keep a creature in captivity, but I felt a baby of this size would get hit by a car or eaten by the other creatures in my area. A friend of mine has a few turtles which are her babies, so I gave the tortoise to her to care for until I can learn more about them.

I understand they are herbivores, but will they eat lettuce and fruits? What would be the best foods to give it and what type of environment should she create, a sandy terrarium, a dirt one? Is a heat lamp necessary?

I was just informed they are a protected species and you need a permit to keep a Gopher Tortiose. My intentions are for the tortoise, so if there is a safe haven to bring the tortiose I would be more than happy to do so.

Dear Becky, I understand your concern for the tortoise and your wish to do the right thing. Many hatchling/juvenile tortoises do not dig burrows, but hide themselves underneath vegetation or in other holes. When it gets a little older, it will start digging burrows.

Please take the tortoise back to where you found it and let it go out of harm's way. Tortoises are difficult to keep healthy because they have complicated diet and temperature requirements. By removing it from the wild, you also have removed its reproductive potential. The tortoise will take the best care of itself. Please let it go.

Date: Sun, 02 May 2004
From: Joanne
Subject: ? [telling age]
How can you tell how old a gopher is. And if it is a boy or girl
Once a tortoise becomes an adult (about 20 years), it is very difficult to pinpoint its age. I usually just classify them as hatchlings, juveniles, subadults, and adults. Hatchlings and juveniles are orange in color and get browner as they get older. The shell will be soft until they are about 5 years old. A subadult looks just like an adult, but is smaller.

Males have a concavity on the bottom shell (plastron) near the tail. A female's plastron is perfectly flat.

Date: Sun, 02 May 2004
From: HuGbUnNy
Subject: hello [consequences]
hello i am writing because i have a baby gopher turtle that i rescued. i dont want to give it up so what is the consequence ?
Gopher tortoises are legally protected, so by keeping the tortoise, you are breaking the law. The consequences depend on where you live and who levies them. If you are in the portion of the tortoise's range where they are federally protected, the consequences will be much more.

Quite frankly, you could easily keep the tortoise and never get caught. However, that would be a very selfish thing to do. Tortoises are difficult to keep healthy in captivity because of their complicated food and temperature requirements. Also, by taking the tortoise from the wild, it will never be able to reproduce. We don't just lose that animal, but its reproductive contribution as well.

Please do the right thing and release the tortoise out of harm's way, but near where you found it.

Sent: Sun 5/2/2004
Subject: Gopher tortoise [baby]
In walking scrub land we have seen many gopher burrows and even the tortoises themselves.

Today we saw a small turtle at the sight of a burrow that an adult tortoise was occupying, This turtle was about 3 inches in size and had a distinctive yellow outline hexagon pattern. Is this what a baby tortoise looks like? From a distance it almost looked like a BOX TURTLE but on closer inspection it did not seem to have the shell of a box turtle.

The tortoises are not disturbed, just sighted. Thank you for responding. Diane

Dear Diane, It sounds like what you saw was a hatchling or juvenile gopher tortoise. You can probably find a picture of one on the web or in a field guide.
Date: Sat, 01 May 2004
From: chez
Subject: tortise [South Africa]
i often have my neighbours tortise in my garden and i am concerned about what it should eat? they are proceted in south africa and one should have a licence but it does not belong to me and i am wondering if it is being feed correctly. this is the eastern cape of south africa, the nearest city is east london. please could you help?
Dear Cheryl, I think you are telling me that the neighbors' tortoise is their pet and that they have a permit to keep it, but you are afraid it is not being fed properly. I suggest that you go to them and ask about the tortoise, not as though you suspect anything, but as if you are curious about the animal. That should be enough information to tell you how to proceed.
Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2004
From: tania morgan
Subject: my tortoise eyes
i have recently bought a horsfield tortoise i dont know its age but it is approximately 3/4 inches in lenght and the eyes are closed and appear alittle swollen with white 'skin' and weeping a clear fluid does this sound normal. i eagerly await your response Tania
No, the eye condition you describe does not sound norma. You should take the tortoise to a vet that is familiar with reptiles, or to a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. Once you get a diagnosis, inform the pet store or individual that sold you the tortoise so they can help prevent spreading any diseases.
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2004
From: wiggy171
Subject: question [burrows]
Your Q&A section is such a great resource! I have a few questions about gopher tortoise burrows. How old are the tortoises when they build burrows and do they build burrows during a specific time of the year? Thank you so much!
Dear Tawnya,
Some tortoises will dig a burrow shortly after hatching from the egg. Other hatchlings will hide under vegetation, in depressions on the ground, or in adult burrows and wait until they are larger to dig a burrow. I have not ever noticed that there is a seasonality to burrow digging, but am not sure that anyone has ever done a study on that. Thanks for the questions and nice comments about our site.
Date: Thu, 29 Apr 2004
From: herr west
Subject: eating habits
At what time(s) does a gopher come out of its burrow to eat? Does the temperature, weather, or season play a role?

What is the overall favorite food of the gopher in the central florida area?

What is the largest gopher ever recorded?

Dear David, Great questions!! Temperature probably plays the biggest part in determining what time of day a tortoise will come out to feed, but I also think that season has some influence as well. Even on a warm day in the winter, many tortoises will be inactive. However, if it is warm for several days in a row, they will start feeding. Our radiotagged tortoises were active all year round when there were nice days. They rarely come out into the rain, unlike desert tortoises.

Detailed information can be found in an excerpt of a book chapter written by some friends of mine. It will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about tortoise plants.

by Ray E. & Patricia S. Ashton, Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative
Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute, Inc.
14260 W. Newberry Rd, Newberry, Fl 32669
Phone: 352-495-7449 •
Italics text added by webmaster.

The maximum tortoise length is 15 inches.

Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2004
From: Rosiem1993
Subject: [eat?]
what do gopher turtles eat ??????????
Gopher tortoises eat a wide variety of low-growing vegetation.
Date: Tue, 20 Apr 2004
From: John
Subject: GOPHER TORTOISE [hissing sound]
If children handle a gopher tortoise is there any diseases that humans can catch from it? Will it bite? What does the hissing sound it makes mean?
Anything that is alive has the potential to carry disease, so it is always a good idea to wash hands after touching or handling animals. Use a good antibacterial soap. I have handled hundreds of gopher tortoises and never been bitten. They are not typically aggressive at all, except toward each other. Many people mistake the hissing sound that tortoises make as being threatening. It is actually the air rushing from their lungs when they pull their head and legs into the shell. They have to make room in there! Thanks for the thoughtful questions.
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 2004
Subject: gopher tortoise defenses [related species]
hi I have three questions, I would appreciate your response, I am doing a research paper. Do gopher tortoises have any type of defense?, Is it closely related to any other species?,Is this animal endangered? Thanks, Sam D.
Dear Sam, The gopher tortoise's main defense is its shell. It is very hard and the tortoise can pull all of its body parts inside. Young tortoises often get eaten because their shells are still soft until about five years of age. Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are in the same genus (Gopherus) as the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) and Berlandier's tortoise (Gopherus berlandieri). Gopher tortoises are federally protected under the endangered species act in the western portion of their range, but are protected at the state level in Georgia and Florida. Good luck on your research paper.
Date: Sun, 11 Apr 2004
From: Andrew Schiro
Subject: Great Web Site
Hello Becky,
I just wanted to drop you a note and thank you for the job you are doing on your site. I'm a Florida Park Ranger, these questions seem to just keep being recycled, the best we can do it just keep answering them. You do a wonderful job of that which should be commended. If you are ever in the Tampa Bay area please take the time to go out to Egmont Key and see the Gopher tortoises there. I was a ranger there for about a year and they have what is estimated to be about 1500 gophers on a 1 1/2 mile island with no predators. Its really fun to go out in the afternoon and see 20-30 gopher tortoises frolicking in the field by the lighthouse.
Keep up the good work, I really enjoy reading the responses...
Andy Schiro
Park Ranger
Honeymoon Island State Park
Dear Andy,
Thanks so much. You made my week and it's only Monday!

I certainly cannot take that much of the credit. I have lots of great resources out there to help with the questions that I can't answer, and our web master is a magician. Nonetheless, I will enjoy the compliment. I have always heard about and wanted to visit Egmont, so now I will go for sure on my next venture across the state. Take care.

Date: Thu, 08 Apr 2004
From: Dewitt47
Subject: hatchling box turtles
Hi. My grandmother has recently found a baby box turtle. She found it upside down on its shell. She thought it was dead, but it was only a little stiff. It seemed frozen. She brought it home and after it had warmed a little it started to move and walk around. Its eyes are closed. Is that normal? The turtle is a little over an inch long. Please send information on what I should do for it. What and how should I feed it. How should I give it water? Do I need to take it to a vet? What should I keep it in?
I have never kept a box turtle, but there is lots of information on the web about taking care of them.

Quite frankly, keeping a box turtle is not easy. You can probably keep it alive, but you likely can't keep it healthy. I would highly encourage you to take it back to where you found it and let it go. We need all the baby turtles out there in the world that we can get.

Date: Wed, 07 Apr 2004
From: ImYourPrincessDC
Subject: [kids disturbing] gopher tortoise
Hello, I live up in St. Lucie County Fl. We are having an issue with the gopher tortoises and I know they are a protected species we have some kids in the neighborhood who are trying to dig up the empty lot they are located on. I'm worried for when they get the tortoises because they are young boys about 8 to 10 years old and I cant always be out to supervise the lot - the owner lives out of state - I was wondering who I can contact about maybe either moving the tortoises to a safer location or what the possibility of someone actually doing something up here to help them?

Ps. Could you give me some statistics to give the boys on the species? Like how many there are, the rate of how many we lose a year? And how much, if any is the fine for moving them or hurting or killing one?

Hi Wendi, Good for you! The tortoise is protected by the State of Florida, and it is illegal for anyone (even little boys) to harm, harass, keep, or move tortoises without a permit. Below is a good website that offers educational materials you could give to them. If that doesn't work, you might speak to their parents, because they would be the ones responsible if anything illegal occurs. Another option is to contact the owner and have them post it. Owners usually get nervous about little kids messing on their property.

Best of luck, keep up the good work

Date: Tue, 06 Apr 2004
From: Nicole
Subject: gopher turtles [in distress]
my family and i live in tampa, florida, and about a month ago, we had a gopher turtle appear in our yard and build a burrow. about a week ago or so, her brrow became abandoned, but she has not left our yard. now she sits by our front door and wont move. she'll go from one side of the wall, to the other, but thats about it. we were going to put her in the backyard, but now that we know that we are not aloud, we dont know what to do about her. her eyes used to be open and now she keeps them shut all the time. if you could please let us know what we can do, that would be great.
Please contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area and take the tortoise there. It is apparently in distress, because those are not normal behaviors. If you cannot find a rehabilitator in the phone book, call some vets and ask their suggestions as to where to take the tortoise.
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 2004
From: Sandra
Subject: Tortoise Underpasses
Do you know of any research (current or at least recent) that is dealing with what tortoises will use (and prefer) to pass under roads? I have read the docs on desert tortoises out west, but am looking for anything specifically dealing with gophers. I assume that they would need oversized, dry (ridgetop or mid slope), "day lighted" culverts....but what size is best, and how long is too long?

Basically, i am looking for research to cite or someone to contact who has dealt with this situation. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Dear Sandie, There is a fair amount done with aquatic turtles. I am not familiar with any gopher tortoise crossings, but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't work, provided they are designed well and in good locations. Check out these sites. There are contacts in there that might be able to help as well.

The Gopher Tortoise Council
Lake Jackson Ecopassage
Date: Fri, 02 Apr 2004
From: Cherie
Subject: [Build how close to] Gopher Tortoise Questions

What can be done or should be done to protect the gopher tortoise and the burrows while building and how far away from the burrows should the building pad be ?
  The property in question does have several burrows but the owner does not want to relocate but would rather do what he can to protect their environment but also build his home.
  Any suggestions ??

Dear Cherie, That is the kind of landowner I like to see! It is possible, with some planning and a cooperative developer, to preserve burrows and habitat. The legal protection issues are addressed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Your regional office is:

Northeast Region
Dennis David, Regional Director
1239 S.W. 10th Street
Ocala, FL 34474-2797
(352) 732-1225

If you call them, they will tell you what the requirements are for a building. Another resource you can find on-line is the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative:

Date: Thu, 01 Apr 2004
From: DebdeTaz
Subject: relocation of tortoises
How do you stop the relocation of 13 active burrows with tortoise that are 15 to 20 years of age? What do they do when they relocate a tortoise dig thier burrows? how do you know if they have eggs?

The owners of the property they are on is trying to get rezoning passed to put in 98 condo right in the middle of these active burrows, in the middle of pine flatwoods. Help. What do I do???

Dear Debbie,
The first step is to make sure that the developer has all of their permits. They should have one from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to either "take" (kill) or relocate the tortoises (on-site or off-site). If you can find out the details from the Commission, make sure there was an accurate survey, or that a reliable consultant did it. If you can count the burrows and take pictures, it will give you a stronger case. There may be other city or county permits required, but I am not familiar with the local laws in your area.

You might try contacting the owner of the property and explaining the situation. Very often the developer will just do the easiest, cheapest thing on a piece of property and the owner might not even realize what is going on.

As a last resort, call the press. Newspaper pictures or t.v. coverage of burrows about to get bulldozed usually get a developer's attention.

Here are some resources:

Your FFWCC regional office is:
Southwest Region
Greg Holder, Regional Director
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1299
(863) 648-3203

A couple of pieces of advice: Do your homework so you know what you are discussing. Be factual and as unemotional as possible. Be persistent.

Date: Wed, 31 Mar 2004
From: A. Mc
Subject: Tortoise layed eggs in our yard
Two weeks ago my husband and I came home from a community landscaping party to find a tortoise laying eggs in a pile of sand (the only spot on our property we could never grow grass on) in our back yard. Behind our yard is privately owned property that is undeveloped. Our yard is fenced off by a chain-link fence. We can't figure out how the tortoise got in our yard, because she sure as heck had a terrible time finding her way out when she finished laying her eggs. She had so much trouble that my husband decided to dig a hole under the fence. Within two minutes she made her way into the hole and through to the other side of the fence where we assumed she came from.
  We staked around the sand pile so the guy who mows our lawn doesn't ride over it. When and if the babies hatch, are we to do anything, like move them? Will they find their own way under the fence? Or should we dig a hole under the fence and just leave the hole open for them? My husband's inclination is to just let nature take it's course and don't interfere once the eggs hatch. I tend to agree. What do you think?
Dear A. Mc., Although it is not always easy, letting nature take its course if often the best choice. The only thing I would do, if anything, is move the hatchlings to the other side of the fence if you feel like the property there won't be developed in the near future. If the adult or hatchlings want to go under your fence, they can dig their own hole, no problem. I have seen them dig holes in black-topped parking lots. Were the eggs laid in a hole that the tortoise dug herself, or were they on top of the sand? If they were not in a hole, she may have been "shedding" them, which means that something was wrong with them or with her, and she was getting rid of them. If that is what happened, they won't hatch anyway. If they are in a proper nest cavity, hopefully, somewhere around 95 - 100 days, you will see hatchlings!
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004
Subject: turtles [what to do with it?] my name is nicolette ... and just today a turtle of some sort crawled up to my father and we don' t know what kind of turtle or tortoise it is. So all we did was put it in a box and feed it lettuce. so far we don't know what to do with it so here are some questions for you:what does it eat and drink um... where are gopher tortoises are originally habitated?
Dear Nicolette,
There are lots and lots of different kinds of turtles and tortoises and it is impossible for me to tell you how to care for that one without knowing what it is. You need to look at some pictures, either on-line or in field guide books, to figure that out. Another option is to take it (or its picture) to a turtle expert from a university or local herpetology club for positive identification. If you can take a digital picture of it and send it to me, I could probably identify that way as well. If you do have a gopher tortoise, you must take it back where it came from and let it go. They are legally protected by the State of Florida and cannot be kept in captivity without a permit.
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004
Subject: Are we required to get a permit?
  I just ran across your website. I hope you can answer a couple of questions for me. Our family has been fortunate enough to have a Gopher Turtle adopt us. We live in Northwest Florida/ the panhandle.
  He came to us 3 1/2 years ago. We saw him in our back yard and did not disturb him, but watched him day after day walking around our property. We have almost an acre of land.
  He lived under our deck for about a month and them we noticed that he had made a burrow right outside our back door, under a bush. His burrow goes underneath our house.
  He has learned our voices and actually comes out when we are outside. He will walk up to us and one time when my husband was outside working on a project the turtle walked up to him and bit his shoe, not to hurt him but to get his attention.
  We have never tryed to keep him captive and have always let him live and walk around our property freely without any interference from anyone. We have fed him from time to time but he normally gets his own food.
  My question is this, should we have a permit for him to live here? He is free to go at anytime but has lived here undisturbed for years. He is not a pet. We have gotten much pleasure and knowledge from watching him, and getting to know him.
Dear Cathy, You are so very fortunate!! No permit required as long as the tortoise is free to come and go. You shouldn't feed him (I know it is tempting!), but it is illegal and really not good for him. Count your blessings.
Date: Fri, 26 Mar 2004
From: Jane
Subject: Gopher tortoise gestation
What is the time it takes for the eggs of the gopher tortoise to hatch? Are they in southwest FL around the Englewood area?
The length of time it takes tortoise eggs to hatch is somewhere between 80 and 110 days. The exact time is dependent on the latitude where they are located. In warmer climates, they will hatch quicker.
Date: Thu, 18 Mar 2004
From: terry
Subject: Picture I love of gopher.

Click to enlarge.

Click here
for a short movie
of a tortoise walking.
Great picture and movie!!!

Do you mind if our webmaster posts them on our site?

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2004
Subject: food [horse pasture] [#2]
I just emailed you about the gopher tortoise, and I have made sure the animals will not intrude on his mound....I fenced it with wire, left off the ground about 1 foot so he call crawl in an out and the horses will not disturb it. Guess I am just concerned he will have enough food. I like him there and do not want to disturb him. Any imput you have will be appreciated.
Thanks again, Diane
Dear Diane, Your letter is very refreshing. Usually when I hear from horse or cattle people,they want to know how to get rid of the tortoises because they are afraid their animals will get hurt stepping in the burrows. It sounds like you are doing the right thing by fencing the burrow off (for tortoise and horses).

It is illegal for you to supplement the tortoise's diet; their requirements are very complicated and you might be doing it harm in the long run. Actually, tortoises love freshly damaged and young vegetation because it is so tender. That is why you often can seem them on the roadsides eating new mown grass. The horses are probably keeping the grass in perfect condition for the tortoise. My suggestion is let things be. The tortoise may move along some time, either temporarily or permanently, but you certainly can enjoy him while he is there.

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 2004
From: sydney
Subject: Weight of tortoise shell
Thanks for the beautiful service.

Could you give me an idea about the weight of the tortoise shell as a proportion (percentage) of the tortoise's total body weight.

That is a very interesting question. According to my data from marked tortoises, an average adult weighs a little more than 10 pounds. I have a couple of shells and they average about one and one-half pound. So, very roughly I would guess the shell is about one-tenth of the total body weight (this does not include the skull or any other bones).

Thank you for the kind words about our site. The webmaster is a magician!

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004
From: linda
Subject: school question [change shells?]
does a turtle change shells or does the shell grow with the turtle?
A turtle's shell is an outgrowth of its bones and they do not lose or change shells. It continues to grow as the turtle grows and sheds the top layer of shell (called scutes). That is why shell injuries are very often fatal for turtles. Good luck on your project.
Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004
From: Brett
Subject: Hibernation
We live in central Florida. I have each had a active Gopher Turtles hole in our back yard for years. We enjoy seeing him come out each day. He's very friendly. He'll come out to my wife to eat hibiscus flowers out of her hand. About 2 months ago all activity stopped. No fresh dirt that is dug out. No activity at all. Same thing happened with my neighbor's turtle hole & turtle. i read on one of your responses that in northern FL turtles will hibernate for months but not usually in central FL. Is there ever an exception to that rule to be the possibility that these turtles may have chosen to hibernate this year because of possible initial cold spells in January? We just like to know if it's normal for a long resident turtle to change habits like this.
Dear Brett,
There are several possible explanations. Tortoises dig more than one burrow and use them at different times. When I was radiotracking tortoises here on the Space Center, we found that males average 15 different burrows in a year, and females averaged nine. The least any tortoise had was three. So, the animals might have moved to other burrows, perhaps having something to do with season. They could be down in the burrows, but the weather has not been bad at all, and I have seen tortoises out feeding in other places.

If they were very large (therefore, very old), they might have died. It seems unlikely that they both would die at the same time, but they easily could have been from the same clutch of eggs. Someone could have taken them, or they could both have wandered into traffic. I hate to be so glum, but it is not easy for tortoises out there in the neighborhoods. Hopefully, they are just using other burrows and will be back soon.

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 2004
From: Ginny
Subject: gopher tortoise question [freshwater wetlands]
i need to find documentation on a statement made in your gopher tortoise fact sheet that says "They will also spend time feeding in shallow freshwater wetlands called swales." can you give me references in the scientific literature on this or is it strictly anecdotal information? thanks, ginny
Hi Ginny, That statement came from my experience radiotracking tortoises. I have a published paper and will be happy to send you a reprint if you send me a mailing address.
Date: Sun, 14 Mar 2004
From: DNTinsley
Subject: (no subject) [good for pet?]
I live in California and would like to get a tortoise as a pet. There are several great vivariums in my area that carry tortoises. I understand that they take specialized care. What is a good tortoise to keep as a pet?
Dear Darrin, Whether or not a tortoise makes a good pet depends on what you want. They are not smart and rely on instinct. They will not be affectionate. The housing and feeding requirements can be complicated, so your ability to do a good job depends on your committment and resources. It is easy to keep a tortoise, but not particularly easy to keep a tortoise healthy. Think about it for a while before you decide. If you do it, buy a captive born animal, not one taken from the wild.
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 2004
From: Carol
I found a baby turtle in my yard . He was in the corner covered up with some leaves. His shell was soft. He is brown with yellow designs on him and a yellow bottom . He looks like the Gopher Tortoise in the picture. There was a small hole dug next to the fence and he was there, but there are several cats in my yard and I'm afraid they will kill him. Do you think he was hatched there or just walked back there from the front yard. Do you think there may be other siblings in the hole. Is he able to feed himself , since he's so small, he's about 2''.
The tortoise is probably alone, although there may be others in the area. Your best bet is to leave him alone (that is also what you should do from a legal standpoint). Hopefully, he will be able to hide from the cats. If you could do something about them, it would be good. Tortoises are able to care for themselves from the time they hatch.
Date: Mon, 08 Mar 2004
From: Shenty
Subject: Sulcata [hates me]
I think my tortoise hates me, is there anything that I can do to make her like me? Rubbing her in a special spot maybe?? I want her to like me. Is there a book I could read or a website. Is she sad or depress??
Dear Shenty, Tortoises are reptiles and do not operate on brain power, but rely on instinct. Your tortoise isn't smart enough to hate you, and it isn't smart enough to like you either. The best you will probably be able to do is for the tortoise to figure out that you are its source of food.
Date: Sun, 07 Mar 2004
From: waleed
Subject: tortoise for sell
i want to ask you about Galapagos Tortoise for sell and i want it big. it best to be from south african
do you have or not, i am from kuwait
if you havent it i hope from you to help me .
Dear Dr. Algallaf, It is illegal to keep many kinds of tortoises, or to transport them between countries. You need to check the international trade laws before you attemp to buy any wildlife.
Date: Fri, 05 Mar 2004
From: WadeZeke
Subject: what do baby [eat]
what do baby gopher turles eat
All gopher tortoises eat a wide variety of low-growing herbs and grasses. If you are asking me this because you are keeping one, please let it go where you found it. It is illegal for you to have.
Date: Mon, 01 Mar 2004
From: Derek and Wanda
Subject: gopher turtles [buying land that has gopher turtles on it]
We were looking at 5 acres of land the other day and noticed 4 to 5 gopher turtle holes on the property. We were wondering what the procedure is for buying land that has gopher turtles on it in Lake county Florida?
Please contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to get specifics ( (352-732-1225). Also, just to be safe, I would contact the Lake County Office of Natural Resources to see if they have additional requirements.
Date: Sun, 01 Feb 2004
From: Ellen
Subject: Good Day! [feed them]
I have two tortoises (big ones) and would like to know what I must feed them. Do they need to be bathed, and what attention to and how much do they need to be happy?
Please give me some support on them. They are not water turtoises, but land turtoises. How can I find out how old they are?, by counting the deviders on their shells? Thanking You!!
Dear Ellen, You need to find out what kind of tortoises you have and get information specific to that kind. If they are gopher tortoises, it is illegal for you to keep them and you need to return them to wherever they were found. Figure out what you have and write me back.
Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004
Subject: [what to feed it]
hi i need help on how to look after your tortoise's because i've never had one so i dont now what to feed it how to look after it like what kind of house it needs
from gina
Dear Gina, If the tortoise you have is a gopher tortoise, it is illegal for you to keep it as a pet. Please return to wherever you got it and let it go. If it is not a gopher tortoise, ask the pet store where you bought it for a care sheet. Also, there are lots of good web sites that tell how to care for various reptile pets.
Date: Sun, 29 Feb 2004
From: melissa
Subject: How do I get a permit to keep a Gopher tortoise?
My cats dragged in a baby turtle, that I think may be a gopher tortoise. I would really like to keep him, can you tell me how I can get a permit to keep him? I live in Mims and the area is full of dogs and cats and I am afraid if I let him go he will get eaten. I have had him for about a week and he appears to be uninjured. If I am unable to keep him I would like to know the best location to let him go.
Dear Melissa, It is illegal for you to keep the tortoise and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will not issue a permit to keep it as a pet. You need to let it go. If you can find an adult burrow, put it in there. That will help keep it safe from predators like cats and dogs.
Date: Thu, 19 Feb 2004
Subject: piles of dirt

We just moved to Florida and every morning we find mounds of dirt in an area of our back yard, could it be a tortoise? There are ponds in the area. Thanks
Gopher tortoise burrow #1

Hi, and welcome to Florida. If the dirt mounds are caused by a tortoise, there will be an opening into the ground that will not change from day to day. I have attached a couple of pictures. An armadillo could also be making burrows, but they will be shorter and not half-moon shaped like a tortoise burrow. If the piles are just piles and not associated with a burrow, then it could be pocket gophers, moles, or ants.
Gopher tortoise burrow #2
Date: Sun, 15 Feb 2004
From: Kpattykake
Subject: gopher turtle habitat
We have a groop of Junior Girl Scouts here in Miami that are going to be building a habitat for gopher turtles at the Museum of Science. Can you give us some ideas on providing the best habitat. Types of plants, food, soil, etc. ...
Dear Girl Scouts, First of all, I must tell you that it is illegal in Florida to keep gopher tortoises without a permit from the State. Please be sure that the museum has the proper permits or is working on getting them.
Attached is a workbook that a friend of mine, Ray Ashton from the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative, wrote. I suggest that you take the plant list to a native plant nursery so you get species that will do well in your area. With gopher tortoise food, the biggest factor for success is having variety.
The soil must be soft enough to dig in, but strong enough to hold the shape of a burrow. You could call your Dept. of Agriculture soil group and ask them what kind of soil they suggest. Or go to a place that already has tortoises band see what kind of soil is there.
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2004
From: Dolores
Subject:[dead or hybernating]
how do i know if my slider turtles are dead or hybernating?
Dolores, Turtles in colder climates will hibernate during the winter. In order to help with your question, I would need to know the general location of where you live, and if your turtles are kept inside or outside. By this time, if they are dead, you probably already know.
Date: Sun, 08 Feb 2004
From: Ian (UK)
Subject: tortoises [hybernate]
is there any tortoises that don't need to hybernate
Whether or not a tortoise becomes dormant during the winter depends more on where it lives than what kind of tortoise it is. In cool climates (north Florida, Georgia), gopher tortoises stay inside burrows for several months, whereas gopher tortoises in central and southern Florida remain active all year long. Tortoises that live nearer the equator have no need to hibernate, but they may become dormant during the heat of summer. Thanks for the good question.
Date: Mon, 02 Feb 2004
From: John
Subject: gopher tortoise [relocate to safety] Recently, I found a mature gopher tortoise (the shell alone was about 15 inches long) walking along the sidewalk on a five-lane road. Obviously, this is an old tortoise, but I thought his days were numbered on a road where cars typically drive 40-50 mph. I called two wildlife agenices and animal control, but no one seemed concerned. I took the tortoise to a nearby park about 2 miles away and released it there. Is there any way to determine the age of this tortoise?
Thank you, John
Dear John, First, I apologize for the long time to respond. As you probably already know, relocating a tortoise without a permit is illegal in Florida. That being said, it is very hard to just walk away when you know that the animal is likely going to be road kill before the day is over. You did the right thing trying to call the agencies, and I am sorry that they did not assist you. What I advise people to do in an "imminent danger" situation is to move the tortoise out of harm's way, but try to stay in the immediate area so that it can find its way home to a burrow.
Aging tortoises is very difficult, especially once they are adults. A hatchling is about three inches long, soft, and orange to brown in color. At around five years old (a juvenile), the shell completely hardens and they are the typical brown color. Once they reach adult size, aging them is about impossible with any hope of accuracy. In my work, I just classify them as hatchling, juvenile, or adult.
Thanks for trying to do the right thing.
Date: Fri, 30 Jan 2004
From: Snowjo93
Subject: invertebrate or vertebrate

Are tortoises invertebrates or vertebrates

Tortoises are vertebrates because they have a backbone. The "higher" evolved animals (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals) are all vertebrates.
Date: Mon, 26 Jan 2004
From: Larry886172 Subject: Shell-less turtle
Can map turtles live without a shell? Will the shell grow back
The shell of a turtle is part of its skeletal system. In other words, it is outer bone that grows from their inner bones. No turtle can live without the shell, and they do not shed their shells as they grow. If the turtle has lost any of its shell, it is a serious situation that needs to be professionally treated. Please take the turtle to a vet that has experience with reptiles, or to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. If you need help locating someone, please write me back and tell me what city you live in, and I will locate someone for you.
Date: Thu, 22 Jan 2004
From: Steve
Subject: Slider turtles
Can a yellow bellied slider mate with a red eared slider?
Red-eared sliders have been documented breeding with other sliders in captivity. There are lots of websites out there with r-e slider information.
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2004
From: sarah
Subject: age range
I am doing a interpretive trail for the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. While your site has a great many wonderful questions about Gopher Tortoises I have yet to find a defenitive answer to mine. What is the aproximate age range for the Gopher Tortoise? How many comensual species do you think inhabit the Gophers burrow? And what is thier reproductive rate? (Do they lay every year or every few years?) Thank you for all your help.
Dear Sarah, Supposedly, gopher tortoises have lived to 100 years in captivity, but I have never seen that documented anywhere. In the wild, they can live probably live 60 years. They lay one clutch of eggs per year. Over 300 species of invertebrates and vertebrates have been documented using tortoise burrows. Good luck with the trail, and feel free to write back if you need any more information.
Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2004
Subject: [age]
HEYY how can I tell how old a gopher tortoise is?
Hi, I can give you a few hints to aging tortoises, but telling the exact age is about impossible. If the tortoise is brand new, it will be about 2 inches long, and the shell will be orange and soft. Sometimes you can still see an umbilical scar on the lower belly shell (plastron) where it was attached to the egg. At about five years of age, the shell will be completely hard and brown, and the carapace (top shell) will be around 6 inches long. An adult tortoise carapace will be from 10 to 15 inches long. These are all very general measurements and will vary according to location and latitude. I usually just say hatchling, juvenile, or adult.
Date: Thu, 08 Jan 2004
From: Flo
Subject: Gopher tortoise [build a home]
We are planning to buy some land in Central Florida and have discovered that there are several gopher tortoise holes on the property.
We want to build a home on the land.
Are they protected in Florida.
Would we be able to build on that land?
Dear Perry, The gopher tortoise is protected by the State of Florida. However, it is possible for you to build on your property if you do not disturb the tortoises with the development, or you get a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Every situation is different, so I suggest that you investigate the following websites and contact their organizations to help you make an informed decision:
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission -
Gopher Tortoise Conservation International -
For general gopher tortoise information:
The Gopher Tortoise Council -
I hope you get the answers you need, and decide to do what you can to conserve the wonderful natural resources on your land. You are lucky to have them.
Date: Wed, 21 Jan 2004
From: Maxwell
Subject: Gopher tortoise burrow entrance
I would like to make a model of a gopher tortoise burrow, but I don't have any dimensions of it's entrance. Could you please tell me a bit about their burrows? I'd like to know stuff like how big is the opening, is there a mound or cavity around the opening to the burrow, and what kinds of brush is generally in the area. Any hard numbers or general ranges would be really useful in making my model to proper scale.
Oh, one last thing, do the burrows only ever have one entrance, or can they have more?
Dear Maxwell, The size of a burrow is determined by the size of the tortoise that digs it. A hatchling burrow will only be a couple of inches wide, but a large adult burrow can be eight or ten inches wide. In some habitats (sand or loose dirt) there will be a mound of dirt outside the entrance that is the dirt from the inside that the tortoise had thrown out. If the burrow is in wetter habitats, or where there are more roots and plant material in the soil, there will be less dirt to throw out and the mound in front will be smaller or nonexistent. The vegetation around the burrow will also depend on habitat, but there should be some low-growing herbaceous plants available for food.
Burrows only have one entrance, although sometimes two tunnels with separate entrances may intersect underground and it looks like one burrow has two entrances, but I think this is just an accident. I have attached some burrow pictures.
Click here for enlargements of burrow entrances.
Date: Thu, 25 Dec 2003
From: Pinktiger8301
Subject: skeletal system of a gopher tortoise
Hello, I am doing a project comparing the skeletal system of a gopher tortoise to a human skeletal system. I wanted to know, how many bones are there in a gopher tortoise skeletal system? Can you please describe some disorders they might get (i.e. arthritis, rickets, osteoporosis, scoliosis)? Thank you!
Science Student
Dear Science Student,
You are going to need more information than I can give you off the top of my head or out of my books. I suggest you go to the local library or university library and look at some books on Herpetology. There will be diagrams of tortoise skeletal systems in the reptile sections, and disease descriptions. Good luck, and feel free to write back if you need more guidance. Becky Smith
Date: Thu, 04 Dec 2003
From: Imlacutie
Subject: color and size of the tortoises on birth and adulthood
I hope that you could awnser me thise, I have a report to do and I chosed tortoises on Galapagos island and I was wondering what is the size of the tortoises at birth and as an adult, and what color is it on birth and as an adult.Thankyou
Hi, I do not know very much about Galapagos tortoises, but suggest you search the web. Here are a couple of websites to get you started.
Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2003
From: David
Subject: A quick question??? [found a tortoise]
Dear Becky,
My mom and I found a gopher tortoise on Sunday 11/9/03 and we live in Naples Florida (Golden gate estates) The tortoise is about 12 inches long and weighs about 7 or 8 pounds. Would it be safe if we put it in a place near our home called Corkscrew sanctuary? In the meantime what should we feed it? Should we put it in a tub of water? Do they bite or scratch? And also, how can we tell how old it is or if it is a male or female? Do they travel alone or with family? Thank you for your time, Sincerely, Megan
Dear Megan,
The gopher tortoise is protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal for you to keep or move the tortoise. My suggestion (please!!!) is that you take it back where you found it, out of harm's way, and release it. Write back if you like.
Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2003
From: amepul4
Subject: [Sulcata Tortoise]
I have an Sulcata Tortoise. It is about 9 months old. I have him in a 10 gallon aquarium right now. At what age do I change the size of his aquarium? Also what is the best things to feed him and should I not feed him the same things everyday?
I am not familiar with the requirements to keep a Sulcata healthy and happy. I do know that they get very large and a 10-gallon aquarium is not going to be sufficient for very long. You need to do some homework. There are many sources on-line for Sulcata care. Be sure to look at several because not everyone agrees on what is best, so it is good to have many opinions. You can also contact a local herp club or turtle club if there is one in your area (if you tell me what town you live in, I may be able to give you a contact name or group). The place where you bought the tortoise, if you bought it at a good pet store, should have information to give you, or at least information resources to share.
Date: Sun, 09 Nov 2003
From: EMS.28EMS
Subject: EGGS
Hi, We were fortunate to watch a mother turtoise lay her eggs on 11-8-03. The concern is she layed them on the edge of our durt road where the weight of vehicles could possible crush the eggs in the ground. I have two questions. 1. Do you think we should try and move them or leave them alone? 2. I see it takes 90 days for incubation of the eggs and is this the correct time of year for them to lay their eggs or will it be to cold in the next few months for the hatchlings?
It is a strange time and place for a gopher tortoise to be laying eggs. Sometimes, if something is wrong with the female or the eggs, she will just drop them anywhere to keep them from rotting in her body. If she dug a normal nest, the eggs would be deep enough to be safe from vehicles. My sense is that something is not right, but you should leave the eggs alone, even if it means they get destroyed (that is what is legal anyway). Hopefully, the female just had a bad year for whatever reason and will be able to reproduce next year. Tortoises live so long that they get plenty of chances.
Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2003
From: BaByCuTe002
Subject: Question [Talk to a ranger]
My name is Karlie Campbell and I go to Clay Springs Elementary in Apopka,Florida, and I have a project at school about Gopher Tortoise's that we do all year. Anyways,my question is: Do you know of any place (that is around Apopka,Florida) that I could visit to either talk to a ranger,go on a hike,anything that concerns a gopher tortoise and also a place where I can observe a gopher tortoise's and the communities they live in? E-mail me back. Thank You So Much
Dear Karlie, You have a couple of great places to go to see gopher tortoises right in Apopka. Visit the Wekiwa Springs State Park and Lower Wekiwa State Preserve. There are biologists that work there that might be able to talk to you or give you a tour. Look at the parks' websites:
Good luck and have fun!
Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2003
From: BASeger1
Subject: Babies
I just love your website. I saw 2 newly hatched gopher tortoises in my garden and it seemed like they were trying to bury themselves with sand and leaves. Is this a normal thing for them to do? I thought maybe they were doing it to keep warm since the temp. had dropped into the 70's. Are they trying to keep warm or trying to hibernate maybe? I haven't seen them in about a week but think they may still be around because the weeds seem to have bite marks in them. -- Barb
Dear Barb, Very often, hatchling tortoises will not dig a burrow, but will hide underneath vegetation hanging or growing near the ground. This helps protect them from temperature extremes, predtors, fire, etc. Keep your eyes open, because they typically don't move far, and you may see them again several times over the year.
Thanks for the kind words about the website. Our web master is a magician, and the credit goes to him. Becky
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2003
From: Mark
Subject: Differences [turtles and tortoises]
What are the differences between turtles and tortoises? My teach has ask this question and the dictionary doesn't give me a clear answer. Can you please e-mail the answer?
thanks, Bob (6th grader)
Dear Bob,
The terms "turtle" vs "tortoise" do not have any physiological difference (i.e., different body parts, blood, hormones, etc., etc.). Those are words that non-scientists gave to these animals long ago and they have stuck. In general, "tortoise" refers to turtles that live strictly on land, such as the gopher tortoise. However, box turtles also live strictly on land, but we don't call them box tortoises. All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. You should be able to use that to impress everyone in your class, including the teacher!
Date: Sat, 08 Nov 2003
From: jackie
Subject: flooded burrows
I hope you can answer my question. I am a environmental student, and a part-time junior ecologist for a engineering firm. Currently we are doing a DRI on a parcel which has many Gopher Tortoise burrows. My first question is what is the recommended training period for trainees? And can Gopher Tortoise utilize burrows that are flooded? As I have been scoping I have found them in flooded burrows. Are they dead? Some of the burrows have signs of recent activity, even though thay are flooded. Has there been any research on this matter? I am thinking it would be a good thesis. Just to let you know we are calling all flooded burrows Inactive just in case, but no one seems to be able to answer my question. Thanks!
Dear Jackie,
You have asked some very good questions. First, there is no set period of training for gopher tortoise work, and that is unfortunate because there are many people doing work on their own that shouldn't be. If you look on the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative website, there is a three-day training course that would put you on the right track. Also, you can learn by reading scientific literature on your own. You should ask your company to get you trained, either in a course or by someone that has lots of experience and knows what they are doing.

Gopher tortoises will use flooded burrows and they are not dead when you see them in there. In the winter, the water in a burrow is often warmer than the air temperature, so it is a good place to be. Because they are cold-blooded, they can slow down their metabolic rate and don't need to breathe very often. I do not know off hand any studies on this, but it is common knowledge among researchers.

Date: Wed, 05 Nov 2003
From: Maguire
Subject: [Newly hatched box turtles]
I live in Dallas, Texas. I have 6 box turtles that have lived in my courtyard for 6 or 7 years and they have all hibernated and come back on their own each year. I have a mixture of types. I have one female that has tried every year to lay eggs but never does. This time, however, she actually did and ther are now 2 little baby turtles wallking around. They have just been born within the last week to 10 days. It is now Nov. 5 and all my other turtles are either beginning hibernation or are ready. My question is, can these new babies be ok if they hibernate? I know they can't have much fat stored because they really are barely eating. I gave them cat food and a worm but they aren't real interested yet. But then I think, they have babies in the woods and no one takes care of them and they do fine. I think trying to keep all the conditions perfect indoors is harder. Maybe the turtles have a better chance in their natural environment.
I read in one of my books that the babies are often born in July and August. These were born very late October. Any advice? - Donna
Dear Donna,
I am certainly not a box turtle expert, but my intuition says leave them on their own. Box turtles are common in climates much colder than Dallas, and they make it fine. You are right that duplicating a healthy environment for them indoors would be difficult. It is easy to keep turtles alive in captivity, but it is not easy to keep them healthy. I can not promise that they will be o.k. this late in the year, but I do think that it is best for them to take care of themselves.
Date: Mon, 03 Nov 2003
Subject: Information on helping
Becky - I love your page, even though there are many very sad questions and answers, the information is extremely valuable. The reason I am writing is I would like to know how to become active in protecting these magnificent creatures in my area. I live in Lee Co. Florida and am very close to the Charlotte, Hendry, and Collier Co. boarders. I have an elongated female that was given to me as a gift 17 years ago and have just fell in love with them all. I would love to assist in research and relocation of the gophers in this area.
I currently work as an Environmental Specialist for a large company and am often out on cattle ranches and see the borrows. I am very interested in studying them.
Any advice would be welcome.
I still can't believe we are allowed to just bury them alive for the sake of the almighty buck! Is that a statewide law? or can it vary from county to county?
Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Jacqueline
Dear Jacqueline,
I suggest that you look at the Gopher Tortoise Council website and see if there is a contact person in your area. Another idea is to look for a local herpetology society. They often meet monthly and you would probably find people with similar interests there. Active herp societies often participate in research projects and field trips.
Date: Wed, 22 Oct 2003
From: Glenn Marie
Subject: water tortoise or land tortoise
my grandma found a red, orange, and black tortiose yesterday and im not sure if it is a water or land tortiose. I really dont know anything about this tortiose at all and i need help with information about it so i can raise it. I need to know what it eats and what its priorities are. Is it an outside tortiose or a cageable tortiose?
Alicia 15yrs old, ca
Dear Alicia,
It is very important that you correctly identify the tortoise/turtle. If it is a gopher tortoise, it is a legally protected species and you can not keep it as a pet. If it is not a protected species, you will still want to know exactly what it is so you can do the best job of taking care of it that you can.

Because turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they are often difficult to keep healthy in captivity. I discourage people from taking animals from the wild and keeping them as pets because that turtle will never reproduce again, and it should not ever be released into the wild once you keep it for awhile. The best place to get a pet is from a reputable pet store or dealer. Do your homework and find an animal that you can take care of well.

Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003
From: steven and chris
Subject: habitat
can you tell me some imformation on the gopher tortoises habitat
Generally, tortoises need habitat that is high and dry to dig burrows, but also use a range of wetter habitats for feeding. These different habitats are often dispersed in close proximity to each other. There is good habitat information on the Enchanted Forest website and the Gopher Tortoise Council website.
Date: Tue, 04 Nov 2003
From: Lisa
Subject: Advice on releasing pet tortoises
I came across your site while looking up other tortoise info. Your advice to release captives into the wild is well-meaning but dead WRONG--but perhaps you've already learned this (I did not check the date on the page). Any animal held in captivity may have been exposed to pathogens which could wreak havoc in wild populations. Please advise instead that well-meaning pet owners should contact either their state Fish and Wildlife Dept., wildlife rehabilitation services or an accredited zoo, the latter which may act as a point of info and referral to other appropriate agencies.
Thanks, Lisa
Thank you, Lisa, and I agree. Unless I really dizzed out or misunderstood the situation, I never tell people to release tortoises that they have held captive as a pet into the wild. If someone writes and tells me that they picked up a tortoise off the road and want to release it, I tell them to take it back to where they got it, out of harm's way, and release it into appropriate habitat (which I describe). If they can not do that (i.e., no habitat, tortoise is injured, they have had it for more than a couple of days, it came from far away, etc.), I advise them to find a liscensed wildlife rehabilitator, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, or write me back for help.

I realize that a tortoise could potentially contract something is that short period of time, but it is not likely. Here in Florida, it is extremely difficult to find groups/people to take tortoises because we have so many displaced ones. The zoos have all of the tortoises they want or need. I suspect that most people do not contact anyone "official" for fear of legal ramifications.

It is not a good situation, no matter what we do, so I just try to make the best decision based on the available information and pass on the advice. Feel free to write back if you wish.

Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2003
From: Pam
Subject: [keep a] gopher turtles
hello !!Well my father just found a really little gopher turtle , and he says it can't be more than one year old !!!But my original question is what do we feed him if we even keep him/her???
Sorry. You have to let the tortoise go where you found it. Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida and you will be breaking the law if you keep it. Please tell your father to do the right thing and take it back where he found it, put it out of harm's way, and release it. Besides, if you keep it, it will never have any baby tortoises of its own, and we need all of the tortoises out there in the wild that we can get.
Date: Wed, 29 Oct 2003
From: lissa
Subject: [release anywhere?]
Hi, Can a gopher turtle be realesed anywhere and still be OK. Thank you for your answer.
The best place to release a tortoise is where it came from. If you have one, and that is not possible, please contact a local wildlife rehabilitator or your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Releasing a tortoise in an inappropriate place can lead to road mortality, genetic problems, and disease problems.
Date: Thu, 23 Oct 2003
From: Hollywiild Animal Park
Subject: Who do we call? [South Carolina]
Someone dropped off a gopher tortoise at our animal park in northern SC. That is a little far north for gopher tortoises, isn't it. We can call a local wildlife rehabilitator, but want to be sure she is with someone who knows how to take care of her and where she will be with other gopher tortoises. We are in Spartanburg County. Who is the closest person or organization we should contact?
Belinda, You are right about being too far north. It may be that the tortoise did not even come from South Carolina at all. I would contact the SC DNR (contact info below), explain the situation, and see what they suggest.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries
P.O. Box 167
Rembert C. Dennis Building
Columbia, SC 29202
Date: Mon, 20 Oct 2003
From: Kim
Subject: baby gopher
My daughters teacher sent home a baby turtle to release because they thought it was getting sick, by looking at it I think it is a baby gopher and I don't want to just release it anywhere. Do you know where I should take it. I live in Palm Harbor, FL. Her husband found it while hunting and brought it home.
Hi, Thanks so much for trying to do the right thing. The best option is to find a wildlife rehabilitator in your area that can positively i.d. the turtle, treat it if it is sick, and then either keep it or return it to the hunter to let it go where he got it (my preference, if it is possible). You could call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (contact info below) and ask them for the name of a wildlife rehabber, or look in the phone book.

Southwest Region
Greg Holder, Regional Director
3900 Drane Field Road
Lakeland, FL 33811-1299
(863) 648-3203

Date: Sat, 18 Oct 2003
From: Deborah
Subject: ? gopher tortoise?
Have attempted to identify a turtle that has been seen a few times on our property. But cannot find photos of the underside and that was the most distinguishable markings I remember.
The upper shell was more flat than a high dome. Brown in coloring but the middle of the top shell was not plate-like it was a muddled shape. The shell underneath did not appear to fit up tight against the upper and so I am assuming he/she was a land turtle. The bottom shell had white spots that cirlced the perimeter of the bottom shell.
The description is just a shot in the dark. I regret not taking a picture of him/her. But would like to know more about it. We live in the Gulf Coast region of Alabama.
A suggestion of a website that offers pictures would be great.
Thanks in advance. Deb
Dear Deb, I am sorry, but that description does not sound like anything that I recognize. My suggestion is that you get a field guide to turtles and tortoises in your area and look at pictures. You can find field guides at the library or most bookstores.
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003
From: Lisa
Subject: [baby] gopher tortiose
I found your website via a web search. We live in Brooksville, FL and have just adopted a stray puppy that keeps bringing me baby gopher turtles. Unfortunatley they arent making it, but today we have finally saved one. She is beautiful! But Im not sure what to do with her, i am hoping you could help. Our puppy has damaged her bottom shell a bit and there is a hole in the middle, im not sure if its a puncture from my puppy or if its her "private part" I dont know a thing about turtles butI would like to help this animal. My kids are ages 4 and 3, I want to pass on the "caring and letting go" part of all of this. I thank you in advance for any help.
Dear Lisa, The first thing you need to do is get your puppy under control (i.e., fenced in or on a leash). Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida, and you are responsible for what your dog does. It is also illegal for you to keep the tortoise.

If the tortoise is a new hatchling, there may be a very small mark on the bottom shell. However, if there is an open hole, it is probably a puncture wound. You need to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or vet that has reptile experience and take the tortoise to them. Because they are cold-blooded, tortoises take a long-time to develop infections, and once the signs are obvious, it is too late.

It is very good that you want to teach your kids respect and caring for wild creatures. We need that. Please get the tortoise to a proper care facility (if you need help finding one, email me back) and teach your kids responsible pet ownership.

Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003
From: Mcart
Subject: [Prickly Pear]
Do Gopher Tortoise live in Prickly Pear Cactus?
Gopher tortoises often live in habitats that have prickly pear cactus. They eat the flowers, fruit, and even the spiny cactus pads. Amazing!
Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003
From: Tofarco
Subject:[what vegetables and fruits]
I would like to know what vegetables and fruits tortoise eat as well as if they must drink water??
Hi. The nature of your question makes me think you might be keeping a tortoise captive. If this is true, and it is a gopher tortoise, you need to take it back where you got it and let it go. Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida and you cannot keep them for pets.

Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and eat a wide variety of herbs, grasses, fruits, and seeds. Research has shown that they not only eat different things during different seasons, but they also change their diet during the day. It is easy to keep a tortoise alive, but it is not easy to keep one healthy and happy. They get the water they need from their food.

Date: Mon, 06 Oct 2003
From: Jonshel
Subject: Help [Turtle Killing]
I have just wittnessed a turtle killing! They may live, but the person came at night and tried to cover up 6 holes below my property in longwood florida. I have lived with and loved these old guys for 8 years. A guy from over seas bought the land below and came in and tried to bury my 6 gopher torts. I have named them and feed them. It was like he killed a cat or two. What can I do???
If possible to do without breaking any laws, go to the site and get some pictures of the holes (covered or not). Call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (contact information below) and tell them what you know. Call the Law Enforcement number. Give them the exact address of the site and they should send someone out to investigate. Can the burrows be seen from your property? The law enforcement officer may not be able to go onto the piece of property without the owner's permission. Just call and see what they say. If you do not get a satisfactory response, please write me back.

If it makes you feel better, unless the burrows were totally crushed and the tortoises crushed inside them, adult tortoises will probably be able to dig their way out. However, young tortoises and other animals that do not dig as well may be buried. What that person did is totally illegal and they must know it if they are sneaking out to do it at night. Be careful (i.e., don't get in trespassing trouble yourself), but try to do something. I will help you if I can.

Northeast Region
Dennis David, Regional Director
1239 S.W. 10th Street
Ocala, FL 34474-2797
(352) 732-1225
24-Hour Law Enforcement:

Date: Mon, 06 Oct 200
From: Reena
Subject: Can they fly?
Hello my name is Reena and I curently have a russian? tortoise and am living in CT. I was wondering how I could get him to texas? I'm moving in march and I'm not sure if they can be on a plane or not b/c of the altitude.
Dear Reena, This is definitely a new question for me! My suggestion is that you call the airline you will be using and ask them. You should be able to carry the tortoise in the passenger part of the plane, just like people carry their dogs and cats. However, I do not know how large your tortoise is, because the cage or box would have to fit under your seat. If that won't work, ask the airline what they suggest. I would not fly the tortoise in the cargo hold, mostly because of the cold temperature. How are your household/personal things getting to Texas? Please write me back and let me know what you find out, or if you still need help.
Date: Mon, 06 Oct 2003
From: Mike
Subject: [Enjoying] Gopher Tortoises

Four baby gopher tortoises in the grass.
Head-on view of four baby gopher tortoises.
Click on image for an enlargement. Use the BACK button of your Browser to return.
We recently retired from Homestead Florida to our 40 Acre Ranch in Williston Florida. The 40 Acres has always been pasture land and has several Oak Tree Hammocks spread about.

Once we started staying here full time, we noticed several active Tortoise Burrows. To glean more information on these wonderful critters, we went to the internet and found your web page among many.

Going through the Q&A pages, we found a wealth of information. We currently have 12 Active Burrows spread around and have sexed each tortoise as we came across them. They all have their own schedules and appear out of their burrows around the same time everyday, as though they had time pieces.

We are building a house (away from any Burrows) which has a full basement (an oddity here in Florida). After construction began we had several large mounds of dirt/sand from the excavation.

Much to our surprise, a Gopher Tortoise built a burrow next to one of the mounds. When they started the backfill of the basement walls, we pointed out the burrow to the workers. They put rebar and boards to one side of the burrow so they would not disturb it. All the other construction workers go out of their way to avoid disturbing the burrow and the Tortoise, undisturbed by the construction, comes out to eat on a daily basis.

The other day, one of the construction workers knocked on our trailer where we are staying while the house is being built, and excitedly exclaimed that we had baby turtles.

We went out to investigate and sure enough, 4 baby Tortoise had hatched at the mouth of the burrow and were wandering into the construction site. It was late in the day, so we grabbed up the babies and kept the safe overnight, then released them into an overgrown Hammock area away from the construction site the next morning.

I have included their photo so you can see them. It is our way of thanking you for the information you provide on your Web Site.

A note on the mother. All our other Tortoise have shiny brown shells, but hers is quite white and pitted, as if she is quite old. Also, someone at some point in her life had drilled a hole in the rear right portion of her shell (not touching flesh) as though she was a 'pet' and the hole was to attach a chain.

Again, thank you for providing information on these guys. They are a joy to observed.

Dear Mike, Thank you so much. It is great to hear such a wonderful story, especially when it is obvious that you care and appreciate your good fortune. I wish that some of these folks who complain about having tortoises in "their" yards could magically absorb your attitude.

Would you mind if I used your photos in some of my educational presentations? The one with the tape measure is particularly useful to show size, and it is so cute. Let me know, because I would not do it without your permission. I can put your name down on the corner as well.

Thanks again. You made my day!

Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2003
Subject: eating
hello, just want to find out what gopher tor. eat if kept in captivity.
Hi. The first thing I have to tell you is that gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida (and the other states or federal government in their range) and it is illegal to keep them as pets. If you have a tortoise that you are keeping, please take it back to where you got it and release it. If that is not possible, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator and take it there, or to the local office of your state wildlife agency.
Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and eat low-growing plants and herbs. Their diet requirements are complicated; they not only eat different plants during different seasons, but eat different plants during different times of the day. It is not hard to keep a gopher tortoise alive in captivity, but it is difficult to keep it happy and healthy.
Date: Tue, 30 Sep 2003
From: Ashley
Subject: [danger from cars]
Hi--I found a gopher tortoise in my yard. What should I do with it?
He risks being run over by cars in the cul de sac. Ashley
Dear Ashley, Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal for you to move it (or do a number of other things, like keep it). I suggest that you move it out of immediate danger (i.e., off the side of the road), wish it luck, and let it go. I know this is a very hard thing to do, but moving it a long distance is worse for that tortoise and the tortoises that may already live where you take it. A cul-de-sac is not as bad as a regular road (usually less traffic). Try telling your neighbors that the tortoise is around so they will be careful driving and keep their dogs on leashes. Thank you for being concerned.
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 2003
From: rbmart
Subject: Repellant
I have a Gopher Tortoise problem in my garden. The tortoises enjoy to eat the flowers of my plants and squish many others too. Also, it leaves its droppings in my yard and I have kids. I was wondering if you knew of any natural or homemade tortoise repellant? Thank you for taking you time to help me. - Ms. Martin
Dear Ms. Martin, Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal to do anything that interferes with their natural behavior in any way. You might try planting taller vegetation that they cannot reach. Regarding the droppings, because they are vegetation and are not dangerous; they are much less offensive that dog droppings or horse manure. Your children will be fine. Actually, you and your children are lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy a very special part of nature in your own yard. My suggestion is that you use it as a teaching tool that they will appreciate forever.
Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2003
From: Nancy
Subject: Burrow question [stability]
How stable is the ground above a burrow? If it extends 15 or more feet in length, might the burrow be damaged if something heavy such as a garden tractor, vehicle, or horse/wagon crosses over its location? Your website is very interesting. Thanks. Nan
Dear Nan, Thank you for the nice comments about the website. It is a group effort and our webmaster is a jewel.
The stability of the ground above a burrow will vary with the habitat type, soil type, and amount of moisture in the ground at any given time. Near the mouth of the burrow is less stable and should be avoided, but as the burrow gets longer and deeper, there is more ground above to protect it. Even if a burrow gets collapsed (and the tortoise does not get crunched at the same time), an adult tortoise can dig out. However, very young tortoises and other animals using the burrow that don't dig well would likely get trapped. So, I think the short answer to your question is: try to protect the ground at the top of the burrow for 2-3 feet, but after that, most home gardening equipment, light wagons, etc., should not be a problem. Army tanks are another issue!!
Date: Mon, 22 Sep 2003
From: tookeg
Subject: GOPHER HOLE [Rattlesnakes]
Something that you may wish to mention about Gophers and their holes, Rattlesnakes call them home also! We have two or three on our property at any given time, and as a native of Florida I have seen some sizable snakes sunning on the sand around the holes. right now we have two that have holes within 40 feet of the house and they make great neighbors. Very quiet, they like our grass, and gopher droppings do not smell! They are fun to watch and are a part of my heritage. Greg
Dear Greg, Thanks for the great note. I like hearing from folks that appreciate how lucky we are to have tortoises and all of the other wildlife and habitats that make this place so special. Whenever I do presentations, tours, talks, etc., I usually caution people not to stick body parts into holes where they can't see. You are right that it is worth mentioning via the website and in emails as well.
Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003
Subject: Hi [Can we help?]
The property next door to me is being developed and there are at last count 103 gopher tortoise burrows on ten acres. It will be a dense subdivision and more than likely the developer will just pay the mitigation fee. We own a 40 acre tract of undeveloped property in Putnam County we live in Duval. Assuming we chose to move them with the proper permits and testing (assume just ten tortoises--we can do the math) what would be a rough estimate of the cost. My understanding it will cost the developer about $18,000 to mitigate and just plow them under. If we could make the move with the proper permits and testing we would give it a shot to move them ourselves with the aid of a person certified to do so.
Thanks, Dan
Dear Dan,
You are my hero! Unfortunately, I will have to send you elsewhere for the answers you need. Call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

North Central Region
Rolando Garcia, Regional Director
Route 7, Box 440
Lake City, FL 32055-8713
(386) 758-0525

Ask to speak to the tortoise biologist. Be persistant, because they are always swamped and may not get back to you in a timely manner. If you don't have luck getting a response, contact the director.

Have you considered approaching the developer? If you can get a permit to move the tortoises to your property, the developer may decide that is a better option, especially from a public relations viewpoint.

My last suggestion is that you contact Ray Ashton with the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. He has lots of experience with situations such as yours and may be able to help with advice or more. His email is You can tell him I sent you. Keep me posted.

Date: Wed, 17 Sep 2003
From: Christy
Subject: is it a gopher tortoise?
Recently my husband and I were driving on a very busy interstate in Orlando and found a small tortoise struggling to cross to the median and had to rescue it. I am uncertain about the type of tortoise it may be. After extensive research on the net, it seems that it may be a sulcata, however, some of the photos of the gopher tortoises resemble this little guy. I am certain it is a juvenile, and it was fairly injured from the cars, however, after several days of care it is finally eating and soaking in the very shallow water feature we have in our back yard. I have been carefully scanning the news papers to see if anybody has lost their pet tortoise, but still have not come across anything. We had considered keeping the tortoise, but after reading your website, I am concerned about the possibility of having a gopher tortoise instead of an African tortoise, and am learning about the laws and regulations. Is there any distinguishing characteristics that may help with identification? Should I take him to a neighborhood herpetologist to find this out? Please let me know, so that we may do what's best for this sweet little creature. Thank you for your time.
Your best chance of the tortoise correctly is to have someone that knows do it for you. Do you know a reliable herpetologist or someone that belongs to a herp society? If you do not, let me know what city you live in and I will try to get a contact for you. Also, if the tortoise is injured, you should try to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator or vet familiar with reptiles to care for it. Because they are cold-blooded, tortoises take a long time to manifest symptoms from infections. By the time you realized what was going on, it would probably be too late. Keep me posted.
Date: Sat, 13 Sep 2003
From: Sdenue
do they have tails
Yes, small ones.
Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2003
From: Jim
Subject: [HIV]
I have heard that there have been cases of gopher tortoises eating medical wastes in Florida and testing positive for HIV. Is there any truth in gopher tortoises being HIV positive?
I have never heard such a thing, and seriously doubt it. Tortoises are vegetarians and would not be attracted to medical waste as a food source. They are cold-blooded and their physiology is radically different from the warm-blooded animals (us) that are affected by HIV. So, I feel pretty safe to say that was a crazy story!
Date: Wed, 10 Sep 2003
From: Alan and Steph
Subject: ? sick tortoise
Hi, My husband and I live on the St. Marys River on the FL/GA state line. Today I found a Gopher Tortoise at the back of our property. I first saw him at about 4:30 this afternoon and it is now 10:00pm he has not moved at all. Whenever I have seen other Gophers they are usually on the move. I am worried that he may be sick and was wondering if there is anything we can do to help him or if it is just best to leave him alone. He is an older turtle probably about 10"-12" around. He does go in his shell if you get too close but does not go in all the way and he does not even attempt to move away. We appreciate any advice you can give us and hope to hear from you very soon.
The behavior you describe is not normal, and the tortoise may very well be sick or dying. If you have not already done so, please try to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area and take it there. If you can not find one, contact the Georgia DNR or Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (depending on which side of the line you are on) and ask where you should take the tortoise. Best of luck and thanks for caring.
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003
From: Charlene
Subject: confused! [Arizona]
I sent an email on the adult size and whether gopher tortises were good back yard pets, then I scrolled through the questions and answers. . . I live in Chandler, Arizon, while sweeping a pile of pine needles and other leave, that had been setting on my portch for a couple of weeks, I flipped this turtle, who was barried underneath, on it's back. My daughter's father-in-law has two tortises, so I called them to find out information on it. I learned it was a gopher tortise. You say they are found in Florida? There's a lot of miles between there and here! It meets the description and yet I now feel like I know nothing about him. Can you help me??
Dear Norma,
You are in the range for the desert tortoise, which is similar to the gopher tortoise. Look up on the web for information. Be aware that desert tortoises are legally protected and you may want to call your local wildlife official if the tortoise is not in a safe place where it can live. Good luck!
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003
From: Charlene
Subject: Adult size
How large do gopher tortises get and do they make good back yard pets?
Adult gopher tortoises can be up to 15 inches long across their top shell (carapace). If a tortoise is living in your back yard of its own accord, that is great. However, they are protected by the State of Florida, and it is illegal to keep one as a pet. It must be free to come and go as it pleases. More questions? Write me back.
Date: Mon, 08 Sep 2003
From: Ashaye
Subject: Important [eat & drink]
What Do Gopher Turtlse eat and How do they get water?
They are vegetarians and get the water they need from their food.
Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003
From: John
hi I love tortoises and i want to know do gopher tortoises make good pet. if so where could I get one or two I live in Orlando FL.
Hi, Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida as a Species of Special Concern. It is illegal to harm, harass, feed, or keep gopher tortoises as pets. Besides that, they are not terribly difficult to keep alive, but not easy to keep healthy. If you are looking for a pet, do your homework and find one that you can take good care of and that has been born in captivity. It is not good to take any animal out of the wild. Feel free to write me back for more information.
Date: Mon, 01 Sep 2003
From: Ronald
Subject: gopher tortoise
how can you tell the age of a gopher tortoise?
Hi, It is tough to accurately age a gopher tortoise. When they are born, they are about 1 1/2 inches long, soft-shelled, and orange to brown. As they get older, their shell get progressively harder, and is totally hard at about five years old. They reach adult size somewhere around 10 years old, but that is dependent on where they are from, the habitat they are living in, and probably several other factors. When we are classifying the age of tortoises, we usually say hatchling, juvenile, sub-adult, and adult.
Date: Sun, 31 Aug 2003
From: Keltonmiller21
Subject: what do gophers eat?
Hey, I'm doing a report on gophers. What do they eat? Do they only eat grass and drink water?
Thanks, Kelton
Dear Kelton,
Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and eat low-growing herbs and grasses. They will occasionally eat small limestone rocks or bones, probably to get calcium. They don't typically drink water, and get what they need from the foods they eat. Read the tortoise page on the Enchanted Forest website, and go to the Gopher Tortoise Council website for more information.
Date: Sat, 30 Aug 2003
Subject: help
i found a baby gopher turtle and what does it eat? will it live as a pet?
Hi. The first thing I have to tell you is that keeping a gopher tortoise as a pet, or having in your possession at all, is illegal. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and other states and federal government, depending on where you are located. My suggestion is that you take the baby back to where you found it and release it out of harm's way.

Besides the legalities, it is very difficult to keep a baby tortoise healthy in captivity. Their dietary requirements are not well known.

Please, please, please, do the right thing and turn it loose. If for some reason, you can not do that, write me back and I will help you figure out what to do.

Date: Sat, 30 Aug 2003
From: Kevan
Subject: hello i have 2 tortoises
Hi i live in adelaide south australia and my question is how do i no the difference between a boy and girl tortoise and at what age do short necked tortoises breed
Hi. Because of our language differences, I am not sure what kind of turtle that you have. There is a long-necked tortoise, and there is a short-necked turtle. At any rate, I do not know very much about either of them, but found some web sites:
These are just a few of the many that are out there. Good luck!
Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2003
From: Jedwardsplas
Subject: tortoise
how do you tell the male from the female tortoise and how do we find out what species it is.
I suggest you look in a field guide to reptiles or specifically turtles (library or bookstore) or look on the web for pictures. Did you find the tortoise in the wild? If so, where are you located? Did you buy it from a store or individual? If you can't figure it out, contact a local reptile person (at a university, local herp club, vet, wildlife rehabilitator) and see if you can get some help. If you have a digital camera, send me some pictures and I will try to i.d. it. Be aware that some species are legally protected (e.g., the gopher tortoise) and if you picked one up in the wild, you should take it back and let it go.

In many turtles, including gopher tortoises, you can look at the plastron (bottom shell). If it is very flat, it is a female. If it has a concavity toward the tail region, it is a male. In sea turtles, males have long tails. Other turtles may be different.

Date: Wed, 27 Aug 2003
From: George
Subject: How many are left?
Why are gopher tortoises endangered? What is being done about that? How many are left?
Hi, The primary reason gopher tortoise populations are declining is because of habitat loss. Unfortunately, the places where tortoises like to live (high and dry) are also the places that people want to put their houses, schools, shopping malls, roads, etc., etc. When it comes to development vs. tortoises, the tortoises usually lose. There are other things that hurt individual tortoises and play a role in reducing populations. These include Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, being killed by cars, illegal hunting, and being kept (illegally) as pets. We do not have a good estimate for the total population, and it would be a very tough number to get.

I suggest that you go the the Gopher Tortoise Council website ( There is lots of good information that I think will help answer your questions. Feel free to write me back as well.

Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003
From: Malak
Subject: baby water turtle
I have a baby red eared slider (Timmy) the size of a half dollar. He hasn't eaten for a couple weeks. I usually feed him his favorite: meal worms, but he refuses to eat that along with other foods. Last week, I went to the vet due to his excessive sleeping and lack of eating. The vet provided me with eye drops (Gentamicin Sulfate Ophthalmic Solution), and he actually attempted to eat. However, he kept missing the food as if he couldn't see anymore. So, I stopped the eye drops. Ever since then, he never opened his eyes again. He even plays in his tank and roams in the sun (when I take him out) all with his eyes closed. Is he blind? If so, how did this happen? He was absolutely fine all the months before.
Hi, I would give the drops another try. Timmy will never be able to eat if his eyes don't get better. Maybe you could soften the food and put it in his mouth for him. Also, try to find a vet that specializes in reptiles. Because they are cold-blooded, their physiology is very different than mammals. If your vet is used to treating dogs and cats, he/she may not know what is best for a turtle.
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2003
From: bsballen
Subject: Safely Removing Gopher Tortoise from Lands not Slated for Development
I am looking for the safest, least costly means of removing a gopher turtle from my private property that is "not slated for development". After reading your past answers to similar questions (see 08 Aug and 14 July 2003) it is clear to all who visitor your web page that you dodged the inquirer's concerns and resorted to spin. This in fact can be more harmful to the turtles since "self proclaimed experts" (see title) will not provide guidance and/or clarity. Next thing you know the owner covers the hole or worst because of the lack of interest you applied. As "the expert" do you have an answer to my question. Management guidelines apply to gopher tortoises on "lands slated for development" per Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Your answer or "lack of" will receive the widest possible dessimination.
Thanks, B. Allen
Dear Mr. Allen,
The laws of the State of Florida are quite clear: it is illegal to harm, harass, feed, or kill (plus a few other things) a gopher tortoise or disturb tortoise burrows without a permit, regardless of what you intend or do not intend to do with your land. The management guidelines to which you refer are meant to help developers stay within the laws on lands that are being developed. Permits are issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

I apologize if my answers to some of the questions sound like "spin" to you. I often get similar questions that have the same answers and it is difficult to repeat without sounding monotonous or trite.

I do not apologize for anything else. The Enchanted Forest website, including the tortoise page, is run completely by volunteers. Our objective is to provide the most useful information available. I try to answer people's questions and address their issues with fairness (and kindness), but primarily with the best interest of gopher tortoise conservation in mind. As far as being a "self-proclaimed expert", I have bachelor's and master's degrees in biology, and have been working with gopher tortoises since 1987. However, I am the first to admit when I don't know something. In those cases, I call on the dozens of other "experts" in the field to help. These include people from universities, state and federal agencies, and non-government agencies. When it comes to gopher tortoises, they are the best in the world. Disseminate that.

You are welcome to write me back if you have a question or issue, but if you are going to be unkind, then please don't bother. Actually, I would like to hear from you, because it is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to remove a gopher tortoise if they weren't trying to develop the property.
Respectfully, Becky Smith

Date: Mon, 18 Aug 2003
Subject: house pet
I want a house pet (another one that is ) but mom and dad said we have to catch one. So since you seem to know a lot about turtles I thought you could tell me if and where box turtles are located in Whidbey Island and how to take care of them.
Dear Rachel, You are teaching me things!! I had no idea where Whidbey Island is, and was quite surprised to find out it is in Washington. My news for you is that box turtles do not occur in Washington. Even though there are no box turtles, it is an incredible, beautiful state with lots of things to offer a girl that is interested in nature. Have fun!
Getting a box turtle is not possible, but let me suggest one thing. Please, please, please do not take any animal out of the wild for a pet. You may have the best intentions of keeping it healthy and happy, but people can never do as well as the animals can do themselves. If the time came when you no longer wanted the animal as a pet, it would not be fair to let it go and make it take care of itself again. Also, taking an animal from the wild prevents it from ever reproducing, and we need all of the young animals out there we can get. If you really need another pet, get one from a reputable dealer and make sure it is captive born. As you probably know already, taking good care of pets is a big responsibility and goes beyond just getting the animal.
Date: Sun, 17 Aug 2003
Subject: tortoise [for 13 year old]
Hello this is CEDRIC,
I have a question OK I'm getting a tortoise but I done now what kind to get I want one that I can let walk around the house some times please email me back telling me what kind of tortoise do you think a 13 year old boy should have. One more question can tortoise be in water can they swim. please email me back I need your advice. thank you a lot
Dear Cedric, I suggest that you do lots of homework learning about tortoises before you go get one. First, you need to get one from a reputable dealer or pet store so that you know your pet is legal. Lots of species of tortoises are protected and it is illegal to have them as pets. Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles and their dietary and housing requirements can be complicated. You might be able to keep it alive, but you may not be equipped to keep it healthy and happy. Some tortoises can swim short distances, but they do not need, and should not be forced, to stay in deep water for very long. Sometimes they like to soak in a shallow dish, but should always have the option to get out to dry ground. They get the water they need for inside their bodies from their food.
I can not say what kind of tortoise a 13-year-old boy should have. That mostly depends on the 13-year-old boy and his particular situation. Unless you are willing to learn about tortoises and take care of one very well (which is going to cost some money), you might consider another kind of pet that is less sensitive.
Date: Sun, 17 Aug 2003
From: Frances
Subject: What to do with a gopher found in the road
I just found a rather large gopher turtle (I think) in the road at my house. I have put it in my back yard, but need to know what is the best thing to do for him/her. I don't have a problem with him staying in the yard as long as he likes, but I do have cats and if he burrows, I need to be able to find out if it is his den or to get out. My cats are confined to my yard and if he gives them a way out, I will have to seal it up.
I live in a development, very close to a fairly major road. There is some open space around me, but there has been a lot of construction in the 10 years I have been here. This is the first time I have seen a gopher turtle, have seen lots of possum, an occasional raccoon, snake, etc., but these sightings are getting fewer and farther between. Should I leave the turtle to his own accord or contact a local agency to see if he should be relocated? Looking through your previous Q&A, I would guess he is an old guy as I would guestimate the weight to be at least 12 pounds, and at least 12 inches long.
Thanks for any assistance you can give., Debbie
Dear Debbie, Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal for you to pen it in your yard. The best thing to do is take it to some dry habitat near where you found it and let it go. If you have a place where there are burrows, that would be great. Otherwise, release him into the shade in the morning before it gets hot, or in the late afternoon, so he has time to find or start a burrow. Hopefully, he is familiar with the area and can find his way around without getting into trouble. In so many places, the tortoises are being chased around by development and there really is not a good answer for their dilemma.
Date: Sat, 16 Aug 2003
Subject: Found tortoise
I rescued a tortoise from the middle of the road yesterday. I'm pretty sure it is a gopher tortoise. It has a taller shell than what I have seen in the pictures on the web, and also, has orange eyes. It is currently free ranging it in my back yard untill I can find a suitable home for it. What would be a good habitat for it to live in? It was found in north Alabama.
Thank you, Ric
Dear Ric, It sounds like what you might have is a box turtle. Look that up on the web or in a book for pictures. The best thing to do is go back to where you got it and look around for some dry habitat that is out of harm's way. Although it could potentially find its way back out into the road, it is more dangerous to put it in a totally unfamiliar area. It will just wander further trying to find its way home, and it is really not good to "mix" individuals from different populations. They already have a social system established and you could be spreading disease. Thanks for helping
Date: Sat, 16 Aug 2003
I live in Clermont and have had a gopher tortoise behind my house since April or May. I enjoy watching him, but I am concerned for his safety. My backyard faces Lakeshore Drive and there is a lot of traffic on this road. The tortoise's burrow is very close to the road, and there is a lake on the other side of the road. Recently, the tortoise has been trying to cross the road. I guess he is trying to get to the lake for some reason. I have seen people stop their cars and move him out of the road four times just in the last two weeks. I am afraid that his luck is going to run out one of these days and someone will hit him. Should I call someone and inform them of the situation so that maybe they can come out here and relocate him before he gets killed? I would miss him, but I don't want him to get run over either.
Hi. You have my emapthy in this situation; unfortunately, it is all too common. It is against Florida law to move the tortoise without a permit, but it is very possible that it will be killed in the road. Gopher tortoises are not water turtles, but there may be something else across the road that the tortoise finds attractive, or it may just be wandering in search of food or mates. My only suggestion is that you call your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and tell them your story. They may or may not feel that they should move the tortoise. Here is the contact information:
Northeast Region
Dennis David, Regional Director
1239 S.W. 10th Street
Ocala, FL 34474-2797
(352) 732-1225
24-Hour Law Enforcement: 352-732-1228
Date: Fri, 15 Aug 2003
From: Evie
Subject: Question [large hole in yard]
I recently went to the back of my house and noticed a rather large hole...can even see some pipes....I thought the yard man may have pulled a tree out or something...I haven't seen any animals or tortoises, so my question is...How do you find out if it could be a gopher tortoise? Look forward to hearing from you.
Dear Evie, The best way to know if you have a gopher tortoise is to actually see it. A tortoise will go in and out of its burrow several times a week, if not every day, during this time of year when the weather is nice. If you can watch in the mornings when the sun starts getting warm, or in the late afternoon. It probably won't come out in the heat of the day, but may sit in the mouth of the burrow in the shade. Another way to tell is to look at the burrow itself. A tortoise burrow will not go straight down, but will be at a 45 degree angle. The mouth will be a flat oval, like the shape of the tortoise that dug it. If the burrow is active (i.e., is occupied by a tortoise), it should be pretty clean, and have little round tortoise tracks in front of it. Depending on what kind of soil it is in, there may be a large pile of sand or dirt in front of it, called the apron. Are there other tortoises in the area? If you can send me a picture (electronic) of the burrow, I might be able to help, or you can look on the web for burrow pictures to compare. Again, depending on where you are located, there may be other animals that could have dug the hole, especially armadillos. Write back in you need more information. Becky
Date: Mon, 11 Aug 2003
From: "han tai
Subject: African tortoise
I have two African tortoises. Now I want to put them outside of my backyard. But my yard has grass, trees, and the other side has nothing but rocks and dirt. Can tortoies eat small rocks, or do should I take all the small rocks out? also the ants are running on tortoises body. is that Ok or not? and tortoises is eat weeds. Can you help me. I try to plant a garden for my tortoises. should I kill the weeds and ant first or do not care?
My tortoise experience is with wild gopher tortoises and I am certainly not a captive African tortoise expert. However, there are lots of resources on the web that you can read. This one: has much good information and a section on keeping your animals outside. It also has links to many other sites.
Date: Sun, 10 Aug 2003
From: Basketballguy302
Subject: Hi I have a question!
Hi, I have a question for you about gopher tortoises. There is one that likes my backyard and comes back all the time. Im happy because I like to watch him, but I was wondering, he likes to sleep and eat and he doesnt always move too much cause he obviously is a turtle but I was wondering how do gopher turtles get exercise? I know they dont swim but it just seems like all animals need a good balance of exercise and sleeping and eating and all in some way.
Dear Ben, Great question!! Gopher tortoises just walk around looking for food and munching. Because they are cold-blooded reptiles, their physiological requirements are not like ours. They don't really need lots of exercise to stay healthy. Wouldn't it be nice if all we had to do to stay in tip-top shape was eat and nap??? I could do that!
Date: Sat, 09 Aug 2003
From: Denise
Subject: How do we save them from being bulldozed under?
I leve in next to the Old Jennings State Forrest where thousands of gopher turltes live. they informed us that they intended to cut select trees, and then do a controlled burn, but they are in fact bulldozing hundreds of acres of the forrest. Who do I contact to get some help to stop it? I'm originally from Indiana, and not familiar with how things are done here. they were even bulldozing all day every day, and on Saturday. I wouldn't be surprised if they were planning to do it on Sunday, too. I will know tomorrow. It's like they are doing it as quicly as possible to prevent anyone from stopping them.
Thank you for any information.
Jennings State Forest has a website which looks very nice and they speak to their environmental commitment. The address is:
There is also email contact to the forest, so you could ask them directly what they are doing, and if they have permits. As a taxpaying citizen, you have the right to the information. Good luck, and keep me posted.
Date: Fri, 08 Aug 2003
From: PRobi34877
Subject: help [How do I get rid of gopher tortoise]
How do I get rid of gopher tortoise under my patio? It's making a mess, I have a large mound of dirt on my lawn and a very large hole under my cement slab and am afraid it's going to cave in under my feet. I do not want to harm it, just evict it. I live in Kissimmee, FL, with no trees around, just grass (with fire ants and moles). We have had a lot of rain, if that means anything to you.
Thank you for any advice you can give me.
Quite frankly, you are lucky to have a gopher tortoise in your yard. Each tortoise digs several burrows that they use at different times, so he may not stick around anyway. The tortoise's burrow is not likely to do any real damage to your foundation (they are not usually longer than twenty feet and do not have lots of different tunnels or several openings). I have never heard of anyone's house collapsing due to a gopher tortoise. My suggestion is that you learn more about these wonderful creatures so that you can appreciate your great fortune. It is well worth having dirt on your lawn.
Date: Thu, 07 Aug 2003
From: Mrrite41
Subject: supplement his diet
I recently had a house built and found I have a gofer tortoise on the property. Is there anything I can do or help to supplement his diet? I know they are endangered. I rather enjoy watching his excavations and his munching on the local fauna. The problem is, he now has a fraction of the territory he is accustomed to.
Any suggestions will be welcome
Your tortoise has other places that he goes besides your yard. He may leave you, but come back when conditions suit him. Watch to see what he eats and make sure there is plenty of that around. The best diet will have lots of variety. Research has shown that gopher tortoises not only change their diets with the seasons, but also during different times of the day. They are cold-blooded reptiles, and their metabolism is greatly affected by the temperature around them. You are lucky to have such a neighbor.
Date: Thu, 07 Aug 2003
From: Basketballguy
Subject: Hi [fire ants]
First of all i wanted to tell you that I love your webpage and i also wanted to mention that a baby gopher tortoise who lives in my yard jus loves raisins!! There good for him I assume and I know the rules for Florida about the tortoises being endangered but he loves raisins!
I did want to ask you if it would affect the tortoise in any way if i sprayed fire ant repellent because i have had fire ant problems every so often and I also dont want them to get to the turtle so thats why I spray the stuff. Or should I try and keep the tortoise away from where I spray the ant remover. Could he possibly be poisoned and die or become sick?
Hi. You are right that it is illegal for you to feed the tortoise raisins. It is hard to know if they are good for him or not, but if you are feeding him, he is not learning to forage on his own. Watch and see what kinds of weeds/grass he enjoys munching in your yard and make sure there is plenty of that. He knows best what he needs to be healthy.
As long as you don't spray directly on him or if he stays away while it is still wet, the ant killer should be o.k. If you are worried about either of those possibilities, you might try the Amdron bait pellets instead of spray. If you follow the directions (it only takes a tiny bit), the tortoise will be fine.
Thanks for your nice words about our website. We have a magic webmaster! Write back if you need more information.
Date: Sat, 02 Aug 2003
From: gerald
Subject: box turtles in missouri
how do you tell the difference in the sex of a box turle ?
If the plastron (bottom shell) is concave toward the back end of the turtle, it is a male. If the plastron is very flat (like a table top), it is a female.
Date: Fri, 01 Aug 2003
From: Brint
Subject: Our wonderful friend!
I live in Hernando county and have a very large gopher on the property, which we absolutely adore. He come out occasionally and the other day my wife and I found some ticks on him and did a little deticking on him. Is this advised to remove them from him and if so is there any other things we should look for to keep his well being. He is quite large I would say 15 to 20 lbs, is there any way of determine his age and will they stay in there home for long periods of time and if so for how long.
Dear Brint, It is illegal to interfere with a tortoise in any way, including things that may appear to be beneficial. It is difficult to say how old a tortoise is, but if it is that large, it must be very old (40 - 50 yrs. or more). Tortoises in good habitat tend to have a range with several burrows that they use. In less than ideal circumstances, tortoises may be "trapped" in an area because there is no where else for them to go. My suggestion is that you enjoy him from a distance while he is there, and wish him good luck if/when he leaves. He may be back again!
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 2003
From: Theresa
Subject: Looking at me
A couple of years ago I watched as a small gopher tortoise trucked across my back yard and started digging under a flower bed. Since then I have enjoyed watching him/her move around the yard. One day I followed at a distance and settled down against a tree after it disappeared into a clump of palmettos. When the tortoise came out I sat very still, and it came near, then stopped and looked up at me. It jerked its head from side to side, almost as if it was trying to see from two different perspectives to figure out what I was. What do you think it was doing?
Dear Theresa,
I have seen tortoises (males) bob their heads up and down and sideways when they felt challenged by another male tortoise or were courting a female. Your tortoise might have thought you were in his personal space, or he was looking for a girlfriend!! They are not incredibly intelligent, but work mostly on instinct. Something about you triggered that behavior. You were lucky to have that experience!
Date: Sat, 26 Jul 2003
From: GspaceFLA
Subject: gopher tortoises
I really enjoyed your wonderful website ... every thing I ever was curious about ...... about the gopher tortoise ... my business office is in a rural section of citrus county, specifically hernando, fl ... the town, not the count y... I have two of these amazing dinosaurs living on my 3.5 acre site ..... the larger one is named digger!!! Keep up the great work. Gail
Dear Gail, Thank you very much for your nice remarks. It's people like you that make it worth the effort! You keep up the good work and enjoy those gophers.
Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2003
From: hapymom
Subject: turtle vs tortoise
What is the differnce between a turtle and a tortoise?
Hi. There really is no scientific difference between turtles and tortoises. "Tortoise" loosely refers to turtles that live strictly on land, such as gopher tortoises and Galapagos tortoises. However, there are land turtles that are not called "tortoises", such as the box turtle. In a nutshell: All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. Got it??? Write back if you need more information.
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003
From: John
Subject: Gopher Turtles [selling land]
I used to live in Florida, on a 1 1/2 acre tract. I OWN this land. Since I moved away ten years ago, apparently a gopher turtle or turtles have taken residence on this land. Now then, I am trying to sell this land and I do really want to sell it, but can not sell because of the spots that this turtle has the burrows. The land is set up with all the utilities, power pole, 20 x 20 concrete slab. Trying to sell it is a very hard thing to do with the burrows where they are. Would you suggest I get a permit to relocate this critter or critters?
Any activity that occurs on the property within 25 feet of the burrows, or that would destroy the burrows or tortoises, would have to be permitted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Unless you are planning to do some clearing or construction on the property before you sell, this is not your problem. Whomever is telling you that you can not sell the land because it has tortoises may not have your best interests in mind (i.e., they are trying to get you to drop the price?). Many developers are used to building on land occupied by tortoises and have the permitting process down pat. My suggestion is that you go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website, get the phone number of the local (regional) office for your land and get the facts from them. Also, there should be plenty of real estate agents out there that would be willing to find a buyer for you regardless of the tortoises, unless there are other reasons that the land is n! ot marketable. Unfortunately, the mere presence of a few tortoises is not enough to stop development.
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003
From: Alan
Subject: Feeding a Gopher Tortoise
I looked through many Q & A's and did not find the exact answer I was searching for, so I am sorry if this is a repeat question. A Gopher Tortoise dug his way into our backyard almost three years ago. Since then, two others have come and gone. There is nothing special about our backyard compared to any of our neighbors that I know of. It is fenced in, we feed several families of birds & squirrels with sunflower seeds, compressed corn, etc. and we do have a Dutch Bunny that runs all over the backyard (only on cool days-haha). The bunny though has only been with us for about 6 months. We also grow cooking herbs and some vegetables (lettuce & spinach). The Tortoise came in and immediately ate all of the lettuce. This was not really a problem because it was going to a good cause and it was taking up too much room. So, over the past three years I have made it part of my daily feeding routine to put some lettuce in different spots of the backyard instead of growing it.
    I have talked with the wildlife experts out at Disney's Animal Kingdom and was told that they place the food in different areas so the animals can "hunt" for it rather than go to the same spot for it. The people I talked to at the FW&G never said anything about not feeding the Tortoises, they just said I would not be able to relocate them or keep them. Since our backyard is fenced in and they all three have dug their way in (& out) I feel that if this one wants to leave he would. He now has a large burrow. It is at least 6 feet deep. It has gone over to our neighbor's yard and under their small yard tool cabinet. That part of the burrow collapsed and exposed the burrow, giving it two openings. The Tortoise seemed very upset by this and tried to cover up the opening but then was unable to get back through the burrow and got stuck in some roots of an oak tree. I left him alone for a couple of hours and when I went back to check on him, he was wedged in even further. The way the hole had collapsed, the way he had tried to cover up the second entrance and the dirt that had fallen in on him seemed to keep him from moving through the roots.
    I went ahead and snipped the roots to free him and left him alone again. He came out the other side and instead of flipping dirt out of his burrow he was flipping dirt back into it to try and close up the other side. The neighbor can't keep the hole in his yard because that cabinet has to have the support of the ground it is on. There is a cement platform that it rests on that was approved by the HOA and it can't be moved easily. The only solution was to block up the gap under our fence to keep the cement platform from cracking, giving it support from underneath it. This was then cemented into place. Once we filled in the gap, the Tortoise finally came back out of the burrow and was back into his routine of basking, eating and walking around the yard. The Tortoise has also eaten the compressed corn products we feed the squirrels. While looking for information on the burrows I did come across one of your answers that said we are not supposed to feed them. He does eat grass, herbs and what seems to be weeds but he really goes for the lettuce. Am I not supposed to be leaving lettuce for him? Our backyard isn't as big as it sounds and his burrow has actually been dug under our man-made waterfall and next to our pond whihc is almost entirely made of cement & large rocks. There is very little grass by his burrow and just a small patch 6' x 25') of it on the other side of the pond where the hammock sits, a small kumqaut tree, a cocktail tree with oranges, lemons & limes also takes up room. So you can imagine my puzzlement as to why three Gopher Tortoises have chosen our backyard. He crosses over the pond via our small bridge where he grazes on the herbs and more grass as well as the lettuce. He then goes back over the bridge and up onto a cement & flagstone patio that was built around an oak tree to his burrow, sometimes he walks around the curcular patio right into his burrow too. I thought we were doing what we were allowed to do but am now a bit confused.
    By the way, the bunny was helping the tortoise move dirt out of the burrow and they would both spend hours down there. The bunny has dug some smaller versions of his own now and seldom ventures into the Tortoises burrow. I am obviously an animal lover and would not want to do anything I was not allowed/supposed to do but at the same time I don't want to see him feel like his food source has dried up. signed, Eager to Learn
Dear ETL, Sounds like you have quite the ecosystem going. It is illegal to leave food for the tortoise, but aside from that, there are good biological reasons why you should not (this is exactly the same situation for manatees). Lettuce really has little nutritive value, but lots of bulk. If the tortoise is filling up on lettuce, then it is probably not getting other vitamins, minerals, etc., that it needs. My suggestion is that you plant things around your yard that the tortoise might enjoy and let him have free rein. Variety is the key. As long as you are not forcing the tortoise to stay in your yard, you are fine. That is so funny about the rabbit; you should try to get some pictures of that!
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003
From: Erasmo Bravo
Subject: What do tortises eat
This is Shelby and I was wondering what tortises eat, and how much they eat daily.
Hi Shelby, Tortoises are vegetarians and eat low-growing plants. How much they eat depends on lots of things. Because they are cold-blooded their body's metabolism is faster when the weather is warm, and so they eat more during the warmer months. When it is cold, they eat less, and can go for long periods of time (many weeks) without eating at all. Larger tortoises may eat more than smaller ones, but that has not been scientifically shown. Also, if a tortoise is living in good habitat with lots of nutritious plants, it needs to eat less than a tortoise that is living in poor habitat.
Date: Sun, 20 Jul 2003
From: michelle
Subject: question [Sulcata hibernate]
We have two Sulcata tortoise's, do they hibernate?
That likely depends on where you are located. I do not have much experience with sulcatas, but I can tell you what I know about gopher tortoises. In the northern part of their range, they will go into a burrow during the winter months and stay there. The further south you go, the more time they will spend outside a burrow during the winter. Here on Kennedy Space Center, our radiotracking data indicate that they will be active all winter long if the weather stays warm enough. My suggestion is that you look on the web for information specifically on sulcatas, or ask the person/pet shop where you bought them for more information.
Date: Wed, 16 Jul 2003
From: PrestonGai
Subject: How old are they?
I have many gopher turtles living in my area. I see them ranging in size from babies to adults, my question is how can I tell the age of a turtle? I've always heard that if you count the squares of the top shell you'll know it's age, however, I know that is wrong because a baby turtle has more than one large square after hatching. So how do you tell the age of a gopher turtle?
Hi Gail, It is really difficult to age tortoises. You can look at the number of rings on the plastron (bottom shell) and count, with each ring equalling one year. However, there are problems with that method. It assumes that tortoises only lay down one ring per year, which may not be true in warmer climates where they grow faster (like here in central Florida). Another problem is that after they crawl around on their bellies through sand and across asphalt, etc., the rings wear down and are very hard to see. The best I can do when aging tortoises is to say "hatchling" (soft orange shell, 2.5 inches or so, may have umbilical scar on plastron), "juvenile" (smaller than an adult, shell at least partially orange and soft), or "adult" (large, hard brown shell). The shell gets hard at about five or six years of age, and they are capable of reproducing somewhere around 15 years old (these characteristics also vary depending on latitude). So, the answer to your question is that you can't tell how old a tortoise is exactly, but you can usually get close.
Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003
From: Vincent
Subject: Gopher turtle [Eating Rocks]
I found a gopher turtle on my rock driveway. I watched him swallow rocks. I removed him from the driveway and put him/her about a half acre from my driveway. It took him awhile, but found his way back to the driveway and continued to swallow rocks and then he went on his way
Why do gopher turtles eat rocks?
Dear Vince,
This was a new one for me and I had to consult my gopher tortoise diet expert. He says that gophers eating rocks has been reported before, and some people have seen rocks on tortoise x-rays. His other comment was that it was probably limestone. Yes?? Tortoises are also known to eat bone, and I have seen this myself. Thanks for the good question and the opportunity for me to learn something more about tortoises!
From: Slider5270
Date: 14 July, 2003
Subject: making the tortoise go away
I need help. I have what seems to be a colony of gopher tortoises in my back yard. I know I cannot move them but I am nearing a deadline for homeowners insurance renewal and the company will not insure me because of the numerous holes in my back yard. but the same token I cannot hire a lawn service for fear of someone stepping in a hole and breaking a leg. Is there anything I can do to make the tortoise want to go somewhere else?
My first suggestion is that you look for a new insurance company. I have never heard of such a thing as denying coverage because of tortoise burrows in the yard. Lots of people have tortoise burrows, or armadillo burrows, or fire ant mounds, or lots of other problems. Come on, this is Florida!! Perhaps you should contact the state's insurance commissioner.

Regarding lawn service, if you mark the burrows with a flag (not blocking the entrance) and point them out to prospective lawn mowers, they should be able to avoid them. Look for a lawn service that hires local people who should be familiar with tortoises and their burrows.

In my personal opinion, you should not look upon your tortoises as something to get rid of or an inconvenience. You are lucky to have them.

From: TC1GC
Date: 13 July, 2003
Subject: gopher eggs
hello my name is todd, i recently found some what i believe are gophertortoise eggs that were uncovered and i was wandering if once the eggs are layed for a period of time and then disturbed (rolled around) and not in its original position when layed , will they still hatch?
Dear Todd, The eggs are probably not going to hatch. Tortoises bury their eggs in holes in the sand, so if the clutch was laying on the ground or was uncovered, something not good had already happened. If you can cover them back up and leave them, they might hatch, but I doubt it.
From: Faxxmaxx
Date: 12 July 2003
Subject: request for information [eggs]
We live beside a nature preserve housing many gopher tortoises. They are extremely interesting creatures to study in their native habitat. On a recent visit my husband came across an abandoned egg not far from a nest, left out in the elements. Taking the chance it might still house a living embryo my husband created a habitat using a cardboard box and soil from the sight. He has a sunlamp heating it. It is his intention to release it back into the preserve if it hatches but wanted to give it a chance to hatch before the local raccoons smelled it out.
Please tell us if we are wasting our time in trying to save this unhatched baby.
Dear Andrea and hubby, It can't hurt for you to try and hatch it, but it is likely not viable. Tortoises put their eggs in holes in the sand, so if it was laying on the ground, something not good had already happened. However, you might get a surprise. It takes about 90 to incubate eggs once they are laid, so if it goes beyond that, throw it out (hold your nose!).
From: Todd
Date: 11 July, 2003
Subject: Juvenile tortoises
We live on about 11 acres of sandy scrub land west of Gainesville, Florida and have what appears to be a thriving population of gopher tortoises. In the seven years that I have lived here I have only once seen evidence of baby tortoises and that, sadly, was in the form of shell remains that appear to have been left by a predator of some sort. I assume that the juveniles stay secluded in the burrows for a few seasons until they are a bit larger and can better defend themselves in the open. What do they eat if they don't leave the burrows? Do they ever leave the burrows during the first two or three years? If so, when and why? Can you offer any thoughts on spotting them?
Dear Todd, If you only saw remnants of one shell, it might have actually hatched and that was all that was left. Usually if a nest gets hit by a predator, it will take all of the eggs and there would have been a bigger mess. We don't know very much about what hatchling tortoises do, but there is research going on now (radiotracking) that will give us much more information. We do know that juveniles can either stay in burrows dug by larger tortoises, can dig their own little burrows, or stay hidden underneath vegetation that is touching the ground (such as palmetto fronds). They probably do not move long distances; the few that I have been able to keep track of for long periods of time stayed in the same area for a couple of years or more. They do come out of the burrow to graze, but they have to be extremely careful so they don't get eaten. It is likely that the vast majority of hatchlings never make it to adulthood, or most importantly, to reproduce. That is why it ! is important that the laws protecting tortoises be obeyed and enforced. As for spotting them, it is probably just being in the right place at the right time. Keep an eye out for miniature burrows and watch them.
From: FluffyLouie
Date: 12 July, 2003
Subject: Does it harm the tortoise if it is flipped on its back for long peroids of time?
I have a gopher tortoise that was injured about 4-5 years ago, I kept him till his shell healed and hardened. But now I put him in an aquarium with some rocks for him to rub his old skin off with but he keeps climbing them and flipping onto his back, I was wondering if this could harm him if he does it constantly? I already talked to animal control officials about him and they told me I could keep him as long as I don't eat him or something like that. I tried to get a hold of the fish and wildlife commission to see about getting a license but was unsuccessful. I would very much like to release him but he is too tame, he eats from my hand and he likes to be shown affection. He also lost his fear of humans. So I was wondering if there is anyway for me to keep him legally or at least to find an indoor conservation facility.
Please try to find a local wildlife rehabilitator and take the tortoise to them as soon as possible. First of all, the animal control folks were wrong. It is illegal for you to keep a tortoise without a permit, no matter if you are planning to eat him or are taking excellent care of him. Also, healthy tortoises and turtles do not lose their skin, but will do so when they are having dietary or improper housing issues. Please get the tortoise some help now (look up wildlife rehabilitation in the phone book, or call a zoo). If you cannot find a place to go, let me know what town or city you live in, and I will try to find somewhere for you to take it.
From: Colleen
Date: 10 July 2003
Subject: Russian Desert Tortise
We have had a Russian Desert Tortise for about 1 yr. He seems to have done very well until today. I noticed in the tail area his/her private organ has come out and has been out for some time. It looks like the head area of the organ is dry and shedding skin. I am soaking him in water to sooth the area, but am at a loss as to whether it's a problem. This is the first time it's been out in the last year. It is out about 1 inch and the tortise's long part of the shell measures about 6 inches, just to give you a reference to his size. Colleen
Dear Colleen,
I have no idea if it is a problem or not. My suggestion is that you contact a vet (either private or from a zoo) that has reptile experience. You may be doing more harm than good by soaking it, so I would get some professional help a.s.a.p. Please let me know what you find out, so I can get smarter, too.
From: JuJuNan
Dave: 9 July 2003
Subject: Gopher Turtle Harassment
Please advise on what action i should take in regards to children harassing a gopher turtle. This poor turtle has decided to make his home at a community sports complex and none the less right next to the football field. I have constantly ran the kids off, shouted loud enough so the parents would hear me and still it continues. As far as i am concerned they need to have an officer come out and issue a few sitations. The turtle deserves to be there more than any of us do! I have managed to educate a few of the children and they now will stand gaurd when they are there and "try" not to let him get poked with sticks and his hole kicked dirt into. I am at my witts end. This turle is very large, about 16 to 18 inches from the front of his shell to the back. I also want to know what kind of parents would let their kids do this. I have a big mouth and i know half the place hears me when i yell at these kids. I don't care, that turtle has not once poked a child with a stick! UUUUggggghhhh!
There are bigger problems in your situation than just the harassment of one poor tortoise. It is sad when our kids get satisfaction from harming a defenseless animal. My first suggestion is that you stop yelling; the kids may be messing with the tortoise just to keep getting a reaction from you. My next suggestion is that you print out a sign that says "The gopher tortoise and its burrows are legally protected by the State of Florida. Harming, harassing, killing, or interfering with a tortoise in any way is a violation of state law." Laminate it and put it in an obvious spot near the burrow (not blocking the entrance). You might also look on the Gopher Tortoise Council website ( They have a brochure that you can get (probably for free). Ask for a bunch and hand them out to adults at the games.
Date: 9 July 2003
From: Scott
Subject: [Building near burrow] I own a piece of property with two holes, may be tortoise. It is 2 acers of land. If I do have a tortoise, I would like to develop the property without moving the tortoise, as this seems it may be best for the criter.
  • What do I need to do?
  • How far away from the hole opening do I need to stay?
  • Who do I need to contact?
  • What else should I know?
  • Try to plan your development so that you stay as far from the burrow as possible. I believe that the setback criterion is 25 ft., but check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to be sure. Remember that the burrow is more than just the opening and that it can be 20 ft. long or longer, so it is best to draw a good, wide circle around it to avoid. Also remember that the tortoise will need resources to eat, so try to leave as much of the low-growing vegetation as possible.
    Date: 7 July 2003
    From: bunny
    Subject:[lose skin]
    are the turtles suppose to lose its skin? because mine has white on its head were his shell is rubbing and on his legs and i wasnt sure if they lost some of there skin or if there is something wrong with him. and i cant get him to eat very much. he eats maybe once every two week and only a little bit. he will only eat brocalii and nothing else are they suppose to eat just a little like that???? thanks for your time
    I suggest that you get your turtle to a vet experienced with reptiles as soon as possible. It does not sound well and needs medical attention.
    Date: 6 July, 2003
    From: mark
    Subject: tortoise's home
    Didn't find this one on website...
      SITUATION: Homeowner in Florida, 1-3 Gopher Tortoises in backyard (not fenced in) and they come and go as they please, I think they're great.
      PROBLEM: Homeowners Association (HOA) has ordered me to plow over yard (overgrown) and fence in the backyard.
    Solution (I hope): Inform the HOA that the gopher tortoise is a state-listed species of special concern and that it is illegal to destroy their burrows or confine them. They can contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission if they need more information. Keep me posted.

    P.S. The tortoises will appreciate it if you keep your grass short so they can munch on it, and it might help satisfy the neighbors as well.

    Date: 4 July 2003
    From: FRED
    Subject: found gopher tortise
    I live in river side county California and we recently found a gopher tortoise in our drive way what do we do and can we keep it???
    Dear Fred, It is unlikely, but not impossible, that it is a gopher tortoise. They are found in the southeastern U.S. You may have found a desert tortoise. Search on Desert Tortoise on the web for information on their range and legal status in your area. I suggest that you get the tortoise positively identified at a zoo, university, or a tortoise/turtle club. If it is a native tortoise that belongs in your area, you should just let it go about its business. If it is a gopher tortoise or other exotic tortoise that was released, you should contact your state wildlife agency and ask them for guidance. I am not sure what the laws and restrictions are in California.

    FYI: Tortoises are often difficult to keep healthy in captivity. They have fairly specific dietary and thermal requirements.

    Date 3 July, 2003
    From: Larry
    Subject: Baby Gophers
    We live in Oviedo, Florida and have at least 3 gopher tortoise on our property. We love to watch them graze, etc. Recently we encountered a baby one, about 6 inches long and still had a soft shell. Do they usually stay with the adult gophers or head out on their own soon after birth? We are concerned for it's safety, but do not want to interfer with Mother Nature, if you know what I mean? What natural enemies do the Gophers have, other then cars?
      Also, we have a lot of grass and vegetation and do not mind the gophers, deer, etc., chowing down on our plant material, but we also have started to get insect and other pest infestation in our grass. We don't want to hire a lawn spraying company because we are concerned about pesticides harming the wildlife, so is there anyway to control the harmful pests without harming the animals?
    If the tortoise you found was six inches long, it was probably two or three years old. Their shells do not get hard until they are about five years old. Gopher tortoises do not take care of their eggs or young. Small, soft-shelled tortoises are extremely vulnerable to many predators, including crows, vultures, rodents, skunks, snakes, raccoons, really anything that can grab them. Once the shell gets hard, the automobile becomes their major problem.

    Regarding pesticides: most of the ones available to homeowners are supposed to be safe for wildlife, but I am not sure I buy that, especially when it comes to frogs and other amphibians. My suggestion is that you contact a native plant nursery and get some advice from them.

    Date: 3 July, 2003 From: Larry
    Subject: Habitat
    Do new born Gopher Tortoise stay with the parents for any length of time? How do you tell the age of Gophers?
    Gopher tortoises do not take care of or guard their eggs or babies. However, you might see hatchlings or juveniles near adults or other young because they do not travel far. They are so vulnerable to predation that is makes sense for them to stay close to home and not be out and about. Aging tortoises is a guessing game at best. Newborns will have an umbilical scar on their plastrons (bottom shell). They stay small and orange, and their shell is soft for three or four years. About year five or so they shells will get brown and hard. After that, about all you can say is that they are young vs. an adult.
    Date: 29 June, 2003
    From: Jr1177
    Subject: [vegetarians?]
    every where you read they they are vegitarians but i noticed they really seem to like meal worms .and white grubs .when they see one the go for it really fast and seem to enjoy them . i have two box turtles so i know its not one of them. these live in a burrow out back by the horse pasture .
    That is a very interesting observation. I have not seen that myself, but am not terribly surprised. Gopher tortoises have also been known to eat road killed mammals, probably for the calcium in the bones that they might use to shell eggs. Thanks for the information.
    Date: Sat, 28 Jun 2003
    Subject: Re: GopherTortoise in New Jersey?
        Recently I was shocked by the behavior of a tortoise.
        I found her while parking as she was lying in front of my car. Not sure of what to do I brought her inside and and started to research the care of her. I found it difficult to locate anything that looked like her and tried to make her comfortable in the bathtub until I could get more information.
        She seemed very aggitated by the water which distressed me as I only wanted to make her as comfortable as possible. So I put her back in a box. I determined she could not be a "housepet" as she never left her shell while in my hand and I was surprised to see that she had a flap that completly closed when she ducked into the shell. I had never seen a tortoise with a "hinged door" that "whoosed" when it shut.
        Thinking she would be better off outside I placed her on my front stoop and expected her to "run" away. instead she turned and ambled into the garden and proceeded to dig her way underground until all but her back few inches were exposed. I immediately thought of a gopher and went back onto the internet and there she was but with a few differences. Her talons were longer than any picture I could find and appeared to be quite sharp.
        She is still in the hole she dug about two hours ago but I am left wondering if it is reasonable to expect her to survive in New Jersey or is there a different kind of tortoise here that resembles and behaves the way a gopher tortoise does. -- MK
    Dear MK, The turtle you have is not a gopher tortoise because they do not have hinged plastrons (bottom shell). It is likely a box turtle, as they are terrestrial, and will dig a hole and hide in it. If it is a box turtle, they are native to your area, so just let it be and enjoy. If you determine that it is something else, write me back. You can i.d. the turtle using the internet (search on eastern box turtle), using field guides, or I can help if you send me a digital picture.
    Date: Wed, 18 Jun 2003
    Subject: gopher tortoise?
    about two hours ago a found a tortoise, and I think is a gopher tortoise according with the description here in the web. I am reading about its habitat and I found that is not a Texas native animal. I am going to take it to ou local zoo tomorrow. -- Marcos
    All's well that ends well, and that sounds like a good ending to me. Thank you so much for doing the right thing.
    Date: 6/24/03
    From: Briand
    Subject: tortoise [a proper pet]
    I realy want a tortoise i was gonna get sulcata and found out they get over 200 pounds i was going to get a gopher tortoise but i dont no if it is a proper pet can you suggest any kind of tortoise for me please thank you
    Hi, Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal to keep them as pets. You are smart to look for information before choosing a pet. Tortoises are often difficult to keep and have complicated dietary and housing needs. I suggest that you do some research on the internet and and at the library. Do not depend on the pet store workers to tell you what you need to know.
    Date: 6/1/03
    Subject: Gopher Tortise [holes]
    Hi, I'm Matias a 12 year a old boy, Me and my friend saw a Gofer Tortise on this day, I couldn't believe my eyes how big it was. Anywayswe saw it go up it's whole and then went in. A couple hours later we went looking for it again, and we saw it going from it's hole to another. My question is, does the gofer tortise have a connected big whole or diffrent wholes. and what would happen if we were to interfere with it/them.
    Dear Matias, When we radiotracked gopher tortoises here on Kennedy Space Center, we found that males used an average of 15 burrows each, and females used an average of 9 burrows each. The burrows are separate and not interconnected. Gopher tortoises are legally protected in the State of Florida, so you can not harass them, feed them, keep them, touch them, or mess with them in any way. Just stay back and watch, and enjoy it!
    Date: 6/1/03
    From: Ryan
    Subject: Report on Gopher Tortoise
    Hello Becky, my name is Ryan. I live in Pemberoke Pines, FL. and my biology teacher gave us an assignment to do on an animal. i was given the Gopher Tortoise. i wanted to know if you could answer a few questions i have:
    1. What role does it play in the ecosystem? 2. To who is the gopher tortoise prey for? 3. Some interesting facts about the gopher tortoise?
    Dear Ryan, The answers to most, if not all, of your questions can be found on the Enchanted Forest web site tortoise page. There are also links to other sites on the Enchanted Forest web site that have lots of tortoise information. Read through that, and if you have other, specific questions, write me back.
    From: Ericka
    Subject: Box turtles
    Hello, I'm wondering what the average of a babies a box turtle has.
    Dear Ericka, Eastern box turtles lay between 3 and 8 eggs, depending on the size of the female. Younger (therefore, smaller) box turtles lay fewer eggs than older (therefore, larger) box turtles.
    Date: 5/26/03
    From: James & Sharyn
    Subject: Diet of this tortoise
    I was wondering what is the preferred diet of gopher tortoises. I found a baby one in my yard and I was wondering what he will be munching on.
    Dear Sharyn, The dietary requirements and habits of gopher tortoises are not well known, especially for the young ones. They are strictly vegetarian, and eat a wide variety of low-growing herbaceous plants. They will also eat lawn grass if it is tender. The best thing you could do is keep your yard frequently mowed and don't get rid of the weeds. Good luck, and enjoy!
    Date: 5/24/03
    From: "Donna
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise in our yard, lawn disturbance
    We recently bought a house in an older, well established neighborhood in Pasco County. I had recently reported to my husband that I thought one of the roaming neighborhood cats were using under a Hibiscus bush as a litter box. Didn't think much more about it until we had a house full of guests last weekend. My brother & sister-in-law were up before dawn and were sitting outside.
    My sister-in-law saw a gopher tortoise coming out of the burrow. We did some research and were excited to have such an exalted guest.
    A week later, the burrow is getting much bigger, exposing most of the roots under the bush but the other puzzle is our yard. I read where you said they are vegetarians. We are seeing little plugs of grass dug up all over the yard. Nothing deep, more like something was scratching to get bugs under it. I know that many animals do this and am now wondering if the tortoise could be sharing the burrow with a possum, armadillo, raccoon, etc. or if it could actually be the tortoise doing the digging to get to the roots of the grass.
    Also, who would we call to have the turtle relocated if this is an option? Thank you for your assistance.
    Dear Donna and Mike, The holes in your yard are probably being dug by an armadillo. Tortoises are "grazers" and munch grass much like a cow does. They do not pull things up by the roots or dig small holes to get roots. Regarding the burrow and tortoise: tortoises will often "share" their burrow with smaller animals such as snakes, rodents, lizards, frogs, invertebrates, etc., but not armadillos or raccoons. I am just guessing, but the tortoise may have been "passing through". Has there been recent development in your area? The tortoise could have been displaced and looking for a new home. You can contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission office in your area, but they will likely tell you that they will not relocate the animal. It will be interesting to see if it hangs around; if he does, sit back and enjoy!!
    Date: 5/23/03
    From: Scott
    Subject: Found baby gopher tortoise
    We found a baby gopher tortoise (Probably no more than 8 months old in our yard. The shell was alarmingly soft, even for a youth. Is there concern to be had with a shell that literally conforms to your hand? Should we help it with food or take it to a vet? Any help would be great.
    Dear Scott, If there is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area, you could take it there. They will be better equipped to take care of the tortoise for the long term than a vet. It sounds like there may be a dietary deficiency involved, and that will take a long time to correct.
    Date: 5/21/03
    From: Curt
    Subject: Have a Gopher Tortoise in my yard, more in area
    We have recently moved into the NW Orlando area and have seen a few Gopher Tortoise on our walks. There is much talk of zoning changes and development in the area and we are concerned. Presently, the area we are in is low density and there are plans for shopping centers and apartment complexes to be built.
    Is there anything that can be done to stop, or at least slow down, the development to protect the Tortoises living in the area? Curt
    Dear Curt, I don't want to sound pessimistic, but in most cases of Tortoises vs. Development, the tortoises lose. The best thing you can do is be vigilant for rezoning hearings, survey markers, etc. It is also helpful to band together with other like-minded individuals. Once a development has its permits to either "take" (kill) or relocate the tortoises, very little can be done. Concerned citizens can do much to slow down or stop rampant development in their immediate area. However, the tortoises (and many other species of wildlife) are doomed if we do not elect officials that are just as concerned with preseving and conserving natural areas as they are with making money.
    Date: 5/18/03
    From: gl
    I wrote early about the gopher tortoise that I found in the dirty road beside a tree leading to our house. I wanted to give some more information. I am from Georgia and I think its only listed as a threatened species here. I am concern because I did not see any burrow and I am not sure where he is headed and going and my brother-in-law has a dog that constantly walks that path. Beside the rode is a field that has been recently harrelled up. And I am concern that he will make his way into our yard since the road he is on leads directly to our house. I know my father would not be happy about that. There are young children living with us and we know that dangerous snakes also borrow with them. Is there anyone I can call in Georgia about this Gopher.
    Sincerely, loretta
    Dear Loretta, I had already answered your earlier email before I read this one. Hopefully, there is no problem and the tortoise has moved to a better place than your yard.

    P.S. Occasionally, venomous snakes will use gopher tortoise burrows for den sites. This is not that common, especially in someone's yard (probably not good snake habitat). The chances of you or anyone else in your family getting hurt by a snake because there is a tortoise in the area is virtually nonexistent. It is like worrying that an airplane is going to crash into your house on its way to the Atlanta airport. Sure, it could happen, but it is extremely unlikely. People should not ever stick their hands into holes or burrows where they can not see, and they should never, never, never mess with snakes that they know are venemous, or that they can not identify. Tell the kids.

    From: gl
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise Found
    Hi, I found a gopher tortoise in our drive way. I left him there. I know that there is a field near the road that has been harrelled up. Who should I contact about him or her? He is huge and I am afraid the dogs will get to him.
    The best thing to do for the tortoise is leave him alone unless he is harm's way at that moment (i.e., sitting in the middle of a busy road). Once a tortoise is an adult, there are very few things that can kill him. Big dogs can sometimes turn a tortoise over and it could possibly die, but that is not a reason to move it out of its home range. I am not sure what you mean by "harrelled up". Do you think that something happened in the field that drove the tortoise out? Every tortoise digs many burrows; males average 15 each and females average nine. So, if something did happen to one or some of that tortoise's burrows, it will have others to go to, or it can dig new ones if there is habitat available. He may have been crossing your driveway on his way to a different spot.
    Date: 5/13/03
    Subject: Gopher turtle in my backyard!
    I was wondering if there are any gopher turtle conservation areas in Orlando. I just recently had a gopher turtle move in my backyard. I would not mind, but I have 2 large dogs (a Boxer and a Bulldog). They harass the turtle constantly, if he is out of his hole they bark and bite at him and if he is in his hole they try to dig him out. I feel really bad for the tortoise. I waited a couple of weeks hoping the turtle would move, but it looks like he is here to stay. I am worried that snakes are going to move into the hole and my dogs will be put in danger of being bitten by a snake. We have already found one snake with in 5 feet of his hole. I live in a subdivision by the University of Central FL. I realize they are endangered and think the gopher turtle would be happier and safer some place else. The tortoise is getting used to my dogs and allowing them to nudge his shell and bite at him. I try to keep my dogs away from him but the backyard is where my dogs go out to go because it is fenced in. I did contact the FL department of fish and game and was told not to move him because it was illegal and that there was nothing that they could do to help my situation, permit wise. Do you have any suggestions or know of someone that could help me?
    Dear Ashley, As you know, gopher tortoises are legally protected in the State of Florida. That is because their habitat is being developed at an incredible rate and they crowded into places that are less than suitable for them, like your yard. If you move the tortoise or allow your dogs to continue to harass it, you are breaking the law (as well as adding to the problem). My suggestion is that you consider yourself lucky to have your new "neighbor" and enjoy it. Train your dogs to leave it alone. Worrying about you or your dogs being harmed by a snake because you have a tortoise in your yard is like worrying that a jet from the Orlando International Airport is going to crash on your house. Sure, it could possibly happen, but it is extremely unlikely. You think that the tortoise might be happier somewhere else, but the same could be said for you. There are plenty of places in and around Orlando that are now solid concrete and buildings. The only wildlife that will bother you or your dogs there are pigeons. Excuse me for being gruff, but it gets frustrating.
    Date: 5/12/03
    Subject: Harrassment of gopher tortoises
    I live in a neighborhood in Volusia county where gophers are in relative abundance in a forested area behind our house.. Over the 25 years, I have lived here I have tried to instruct neighbors children to leave these reptiles and their burrows alone. Recently, a new family and their two dogs have moved in next door. A few minutes ago, for the second time in two days, I had to rescue an adult tortoise from the two dogs who each time manage to flip them over unto their backs and then proceed to play with it like it was a ball, pushing it around and barking and carrying on.
    Both dogs jump over the 4' fence with ease. I know there are some regulations regarding the turtles but not clear what protection if any, they now have.
    I plan to speak to the neighbor, but what else can you suggest that I do? Vic
    Dear Vic, We need good people out there to help keep these types of things from happening. Your neighbors probably just do not understand the consequences of their dogs' behavior. You can tell them that the gopher tortoise is a protected species in the State of Florida, and that it is illegal for anyone to keep, kill, harass, feed, or interfere with them in any way. Your neighbors are responsible for their dogs, so they are breaking the law if their dogs are harassing the tortoises. Now, it is your call as to what to do. You can try talking to them and educating them. Hopefully, that will work. If not, you can contact your local office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and they may be able to send someone out to speak to your neighbors. Also, there must be leash laws that are being broken, because dogs aren't generally allowed to run loose and jump fences, so you might check that avenue. Best of luck, and I hope you can come to an amicable agreement with them
    From: Bryce
    Subject: gopher tortoise [on property]
    Hello. I have just moved into a house in the Sanford area with a large yard. There are two gopher tortoises with extensive burrows on the property. The yard is mostly native grasses and wildflowers (no mowed turf). I would like to just enjoy watching them live out their normal lives but am concerned that I may get in trouble for having them on my property. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Dear Bryce, You are very lucky, and have a great attitude toward your "neighbors". As long as you are not holding the tortoises (i.e., they are free to come and go), you do not have dogs, cats, or kids that are harassing them, and you are not feeding them or interfering with their natural behavior, you are in the clear. It is great that you are keeping your yard natural. I wish their were more tortoise-friendly folks out there just like you!
    Date: Mon, 05 May 2003
    From: Duink
    Subject: [planting for tortoise]
    What kinds of plants can I plant for the gopher tortoise to eat?
    Duink, The first thing I must tell you is that the gopher tortoise is a listed species protected by the State of Florida. It is illegal for you to keep, feed, move, or do anything to a gopher tortoise. However, if you are in an area where tortoises are present and free to come and go as they please, it is fine, and even wonderful, for you to plant vegetation for them. The dietary habits of tortoises are not well understood, and they change seasonally as well as during the day (in response to temperature). My suggestion is that you plant a variety of native, low-growing herbaceous plants. You might look at a native plant nursery or on Florida native plant websites for potential ideas. Of course, the characteristics of your land and soil will also make a difference.
    Sent: Saturday, May 03, 2003
    Subject: Fwd: Gopher Tortoise Diets
    Question missing
    Hi, The first thing I must tell you is that the gopher tortoise is a listed species protected by the State of Florida. It is illegal for you to keep, feed, move, or do anything to the tortoise. It is o.k. to move them a short distance off of a road or out of harm's way, but not to take it to your house and keep it as a pet. The best thing you can do for the tortoise is to take it back where you got it, find a place near that (within easy walking distance for you) and let the tortoise go. You are partially correct that they are not easy to keep; they are easy to keep, but not easy to keep healthy. Their dietary habits and requirements are not well understood and can change with season and even time of day. Besides that, once you have a tortoise in captivity, you have removed it from the breeding population, and it will never produce baby tortoises in the wild. We need all of the baby tortoises out there that we can get.

    Please, please, please, do the right thing and release the tortoise.

    Date: 5/19/03
    Subject: Turtle vs. Horses
    Today while training horses on our track we found a gopher turtle. When we picked it up to move it off the track and it started to lay eggs. We placed her out of the way where she continued to lay 15 eggs. Our question now is what can we do with them? I have not seen any burrows around and quite frankly hope not to find any because they are life threatening to our horses. Is there anyone I can get in touch with who might be able to hatch these eggs? If not, how deep are gopher turtle eggs buried and what should the temp. be for incubation? Would it be possible to hatch them in an incubator and release them after hatching? Please advise. We would like to see these turtles survive, but also would like to keep our horses from harm.
    Dear Horse Folks, Unfortunately, there is probably nothing you can do about the eggs to hatch them if they were dropped yesterday. If the female started laying them without having a cavity dug, they may not have been fertile anyway and she was just getting rid of them. Fifteen is a bunch(!!); the average is about seven. She must be a big, old girl. If you want, you could bury them in a sand hole eight or so inches deep where they get a good amount of sun during the day. You might get lucky! Make sure the sand is well drained. If the eggs are too wet, they will rot. Incubation time is around 80 days.

    I have dealt with the tortoise/horse issue before. First, I have to tell you that tortoises are a protected species in Florida and it is illegal to move them or destroy burrows without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. My suggestion is to continue to be vigilant for burrow openings in your fields, etc. If you find one (or more), mark them with tall pvc pipes and flagging tape so that the horses will be able to see them easily. The important thing is that you continue to look for burrows, because the tortoises will move around and dig burrows elsewhere.
    P.S. I love horses!

    Sent: Wednesday, May 14, 200
    Subject: Fwd: Public Info.
    question lost
    Hi. Thanks for the nice complements about the web site. We have a web guru that keeps things in order! Your questions are very good; unfortunately, I can not answer them. Those are all Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issues. My suggestion is that you email or call your regional office:
    South Region
    Mark Robson, Regional Director
    8535 Northlake Boulevard
    West Palm Beach, FL 33412
    (561) 625-5122
    Mark is a good guy and will either answer your questions or send you in the right direction
    Date: Wed, 28 May 2003
    From: Mer84
    Subject: [eaten by?]
    what eats the gopher tortoise.
    Although it is illegal, people consume the most adult gopher tortoises. Not too much else can get through the shell, except maybe a large alligator. Sometimes I hear about large dogs and coyotes putting holes in the shell, but not actually eating a tortoise. Young tortoises are a different story. They are small and the shell stays soft until they are about five years old. Anything with teeth or a beak can easily munch on them. That is why such a small percentage of gopher tortoise eggs and hatchlings ever make it to be adults.
    From: LilChiliWillie
    Date: Tue, 27 May 2003
    Subject: gopher tortise eggs laid across yard
    hi, my 9 yr old daughter, called me out to our backyard in central Fl where it is about 90 degrees during the day, because the tortise that lives in our backyard was laying eggs. No-one touches this turtle. We just let her(apparently) just do her thing, she has worn a path across the yard and just laid the eggs across the path. Is this turlte okay, and what do we do with the eggs, they are not cover and are about 5 ft away from each other out in the sun, we do have dogs and cats please help. thankyou,
    A mom and a daughterr
    Dear Mom and Daughter, If the tortoise laid her eggs in the open, and did not dig a hole to put them in, she is not acting normally. It is too late to help the eggs, so I would throw them away before they get stinky. There are several reasons that she might have dumped the eggs without putting them in a proper nest cavity. She might be sick and unable to carry them anymore. She might not have been able to find a suitable nest spot that had the right conditions to suit her. If she did not mate this year, they might not have been fertile eggs. There could be other reasons. The best thing to do is continue to let her go about her business and hope that she does better next year. Feel free to write back if you have more questions or need more information. Becky (a mom with two daughters that love turtles, too!)
    Date: 5/26/03
    From: Albert
    Subject: injury
    i have recently rescued a gopher tort from an alligator and its shell is punctured, 3 times what can i do to fix it?
    Dear Albert, Did you actually see the gator? What is the story? I would like to hear it. The best thing to do is take the tortoise to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area. It is going to need treatment with antibiotics and will take a long time to heal correctly. Reptiles are like that because they are cold-blooded.
    Date: Thu, 01 May 2003
    From: Renata
    Subject: I love gopher tortoises and I have a concern
    I have two gopher tortoises living in my backyard. One is a little smaller than the other. I love those gopher tortoises so much. They are very close to my house and I can see them on my back porch . I always talk to them and watch them. Two houses away there is another gopher tortoise living in a neighbor's backyard.
          Last year one of my neighbors that moved away said they saw a baby gopher tortoise. I also found many burrows around the forest surrounding my neighborhood and around my house and the neighbors' houses. There are a couple of burrows that appear to be inactive, some that appear to be active this moment and some that I am not sure about. I am not sure how many gopher tortoises live in the ecosystem behind my house and surrounding my neighborhood. Four have been spotted including the baby my old neighbors saw last year, but there are many burrows so my question is, "Can a gopher tortoise have more than on! eentrance to a burrow?" I think I saw a gopher tortoise use two burrows but I am not sure if it was the same tortoise or if the tortoise just moved to another burrow or if the enterances are connected to one burrow.
          I am very worried about these gopher tortoises because my neighborhood is fairly new and I know they are planning on building more houses and that would mean destroying the ecosystem. However, I talk to the developer who build our house and I asked him if he was going to keep on building in my neighborhood. He said he was planning on it but the "old lady" that owns the forest surrounding my neighborhood will not sell. This made me happy, but I am still concerned because he referred to her as an "old lady" which means she might pass away soon or might change her mind about selling. This means building will take place and no more gopher tortoises. The county is also planning on building a major road through the forest. I even saw the road on a map! but I heard about this road five years ago and still no road so I am hoping the road isn't going to be built. What can I do if building will take place in the future?
          I love these gopher tortoises and I don't want them to leave or die. I am really attached to one of the tortoises that lives in my yard. Is there any way that the land can be protected since there are many gopher tortoises and burrows there? should be deep enough to keep it safe from cats. The biggest worry would be raccoons, and there is not much you can do to keep them out if they want in badly enough. The best thing to do is stay away from it so human scent doesn't attract predators. Was the nest in the grass, dirt, or associated with a burrow?
    The dilemma you face happens every day, many times, all over the state. Unfortunately, the tortoises often lose the battles, and may eventually lose the war. The best thing you can do about the development is to find out from your local government if the developer has paid for tortoise surveys and acquired permits. If not, they are breaking the law. If they do have permits, there may be nothing you can do (they have the "right" to use their land as they please), but they will have paid for the tortoises that they will "take" and the habitat that they will destroy. That money will be used to purchase habitat in large areas that will remain protected. Of course, that doesn't do anything to help with "your" tortoises. Talk to the "old lady" and ask her intentions. Maybe she will keep the land and you will be safe for awhile. Also, there are lots of roads on the books that never happen because of funding issues.
    Date: Wed, 07 May 2003
    From: Equinik
    Subject: Incubation time
    My neighbor noticed a gopher laying eggs in her yard. What is the incubation period? They are going to construct a barrier to keep cats and other animals from destrooying the nest. Do you think this is a wise idea?
    Dear Nikki, The incubation period is 80 to 90 days, depending on temperature. It is illegal for your neighbor to interfere in any way with the nest, nest site, or the tortoise. Besides that, the nest
    Date: Wed, 07 May 2003
    From: Bryce
    Subject: gopher tortoises in my yard
    Hello. I have just moved into a house in the Sanford area with a large yard. There are two gopher tortoises with extensive burrows on the property. The yard is mostly native grasses and wildflowers (no mowed turf). I would like to just enjoy watching them live out their normal lives but am concerned that I may get in trouble for having them on my property. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Dear Bryce, You are so lucky! As long as the tortoises are there on their accord and are free to leave, you will not get in any trouble. You should not feed them or interfere with them in any way. They may move away during different seasons, or they may be permanent residents. Again, you are lucky! Have fun.
    Date: [Wed, 30 April, 2003]
    From: jen
    Subject: turtle infection
    i have a box turtle and it has a respatory infection n i dont have the money to bring it to the vet n it looks like its really sufering and it wont eat. please e-mail me if there is anything i can do to help save my turtle.
    Jen, Please find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area and take it there. They will care for animals for free, but it is nice to make a donation to them. You might call the SPCA or animal shelter to get the name of the rehabber.
    Subject: Juvenile Burrows
    Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2003
    From: Lynn
    During a recent visit in Lake County, my colleague and I discovered numerous small burrows in an area that also had the larger, more typical gopher tortoise burrows. Some of the burrows we determined were that of rodents (they went down no more than two inches and also had nesting material). Others were determined to actually be fire ant mounds, the entrances to which held a striking resemblance to a tiny tortoise burrow. Some holes where too round and lacked the typical apron. Then there were those that just appeared to be juvenile GT burrows. We have not come across very many juvenile burrows in the past and I'd like to do some more research on them to ensure that is what we are looking at (without excavation or trapping). Are there sources that clearly discuss the juvenile burrows and have pictures? Also, do you have an idea of what species might be digging the other holes? Lynn
    Hi Lynn, Lots of things could be digging small burrows/holes: rodents, snakes, lizards, and juvenile tortoises. People often overlook juvenile burrows. The ones that I have seen are shaped like a tortoise, have some apron, and are about 2 inches wide. Of course, as they grow, the burrow entrance will get larger. I can not tell you where to find pictures, but search the net. Next time I see one, I will try to remember to photograph it and send the picture to the Enchanted Forest web site. That would be a good addition.
    FYI: Juvenile tortoises often will not dig their own burrow, but will hide under vegetation, in root stumps, or use adult burrows.
    From: Linda
    Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003
    Subject: [found a gopher tortoise]
    I am 13 and was recently in port st. Joe, Florida and found a gopher tortoise in the middle of the road well I was just visiting the state and my mom decided for me to take it home and take good care of it and I was wondering what they eat and if they are endangered if not cool I also wanted to know what put it in like a tank or something and what kind of water they drink fresh or salt please help me thanks.
    Dear Sir and Mom, The first thing I have to tell you is that the gopher tortoise is a protected animal in the State of Florida and it is illegal for you to have it. Please, please, please contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (352-955-2230; ask for Paul Moler or Joan Berish) and let them advise you what to do and how we can get the tortoise returned. Try to remember exactly where you picked it up so that it can go back there.
    In the mean time, keep your tortoise in a large box, and provide it with a dish of fresh water that is big enough for it to sit in (it probably won't drink the water). Give it a variety of things to eat, such as Romaine lettuce, grapes, broccoli, squash, etc. Keep it in a cool, but not cold (70 - 80 degrees), and do not leave it in the direct sun. Gopher tortoises are burrowers, so keep an eye on it or it will dig out and escape. Put a lid over part of the box, so it can feel like it is hiding.
    Again, please do the right thing. We need all of the wild, free tortoises we can get out there in the world. Write back if I can assist you in any way.
    From: Bridey100
    Date: Sun, 20 Apr 2003
    Subject: [population boom]
    Hello...i live in altamonte springs, fl....we have had several gopher tortoises living in the empty, fenced in, (vacant) lot, across the street from us, for a couple of years now...all of sudden, we have about 10 of them living there...population boom?...what can we do to keep them safe or help them get any food, ect.?... They are fun to watch, ...which we keep our distances, but watchful eyes are around...anything we can do to help protect? .... thanks, peg
    What you have experienced across the street is probably not a population boom, but the result of tortoises taking advantage of some open space. Has there been development in nearby property that might have "chased" the tortoises there? Another possibility is that the lot provides a particular resource that the tortoises need this time of year (perhaps even mates!). Because they are a protected species, it is illegal to do anything to them or for them. The best thing to do is continue to enjoy them and make sure the lot is not developed or destroyed. Of course, if someone applies and receives a permit to develop the lot, there is not much you can do. Hopefully, that will not occur.
    From: Taggy
    Subject: [what do tortoises do?]
    Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003
    I am doing a school project and I was wondering what do gopher tortoises do in the morning and afternoon?
    Tortoises are what scientists call "diurnal", which means they are active during the day (as opposed to "nocturnal" - active during the night). Tortoises determine what they will do based on the outside temperature because they are cold-blooded. If it is hot out, they are hot. If it is cold out, they are cold. That is why they dig and live in burrows; the temperature underground stays constant and comfortable for them. So, on a typical day, they will come out of a burrow to feed or look for mates whenever the temperature is good for them. That could be anywhere from the beginning of the day to the end, or right in the middle, depending on season and weather.
    From: Tom & Sherri
    Subject: [nocturnal?]
    Date: Wed, 9 Apr 2003
    Is a Gopher tortoise a nocturnal animal?
    Gopher tortoises are thought to be strictly diurnal. However, a friend of mine that has tortoises on his property in Gainesville, FL, has seen one animal feeding after dark, but only one time.
    From: Maxine
    Subject: gopher tortoise shell
    Date: Tue, 8 Apr 2003
    how many segments are contained In the shell
    There are 37 scutes on the carapace (top shell) and 13 scutes on the plastron (bottom shell).
    From: funnyushoodask
    Subject: tutles
    Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003
    hey! i was wondering what the habitat of the gopher tortise is and also what the niche of a gopher tortise is and just one more thing i need is wat are the correct colors of the gopher tortise please try to answer all of this and please send it to me asap! please and also can you please give me a good research page on endangered animals such as the snail kite,bobcat,manatee(west indian),and a schaus' swallowtail butterfly if you can thanks so much for your help.
    Dear Funny, The answer to your gopher tortoise questions can be found on the gopher tortoise page of the Enchanted Forest website or on the Gopher Tortoise Council website. For the correct colors, look in a field guide that can be found at your local library or on the web. My suggestion for the other species is that you do individual searches for each of them. There are tons of valuable resouces out there that you can tap.
    Subject: Protecting a tortoise in pastureland
    Date: Tue, 1 Apr 2003
    From reading your e-mail messages, it sounds like there is little I can do to protect "my" gopher tortoise. The trouble is that his burrow opens just beyond my fence. He has lived there peacefully for who knows how long. Then the 10-acre parcel was sold and the forest cleared (devastated) to create horse pasture. The new owners have been ruthless and spared few trees with their onslaught of bulldozers and illegal fires, for which they incurred some penalties. To my surprise and relief, the gopher tortoise survived and can still be seen "soaking up some rays" at the mouth of his (her?) burrow. The land owners continue to plow the land and will probably create a beautiful pasture, although tortoise and I would have preferred to keep the forest. But since the owners had no regard for the magnificent trees, they aren't likely to care much about a tortoise, and they might be concerned that the burrow was a threat to their horses.

    My dilemma is this: If I point out the burrow to the land's owners, they may try to fill it in or otherwise try to drive the animal away. Even if they went through legal channels, it sounds as if they could get a permit to destroy the tortoise. Perhaps the best thing would be to do nothing and hope they never notice the burrow. What would you advise? Would there be a way to list the site with some authority in order to afford protection for the tortoise? Thanks a lot. - Richard

    Dear Richard, This is a tough dilemma and without knowing the people involved on "the other side of the fence", it is impossible for me to know the right answer without any doubt. Gopher tortoises can do quite well in pasture if there are adequate food resources and available mates. "Your" tortoise likely has several burrows in the area that it uses; in radiotracking studies on Kennedy Space Center, we found that female tortoises used an average of nine burrows each, and males used an average of 15. So, if your buddy doesn't like the looks of the present circumstances, he will go elsewhere, given the opportunity. My feeling is that you not bring it up to your new neighbors. If they have already been fined for violating environmental laws, they are probably not going to be sympathetic toward a state-protected species holding up their plans or endangering their livestock. They could easily get rid of the burrow, forcing a "your word against mine" situation, or they can get a permit to kill the tortoise for a small price. Maybe you can get to know them and figure out how they feel, and then bring it up if and when the time is right.
    Sent: March 31, 2003
    Subject: Length of a gopher tortoise
    I was just wondering, how big can a gopher tortoise grow?
    Thanks, Diane
    The field guides suggest that Gopher tortoises can grow to 10 inches long. The measurement is straightline (not over-the-curve) from the shell behind the skull to the farthest point of the shell over the tail. There may be bigger ones out there in the world (I have seen bigger), but it is not typical.
    From: Elliot
    Date: Sun, 23 Mar 2003
    Subject: gopher morality dilemma

    If gopher turtles cannot reproduce until they are over 5 years of age and they have soft, easily injured shells until that time, isn't it somewhat justifiable to raise them to maturity (law not withsanding)? I have successfully kept many adult gophers healthy and am not sure what I should do with a newly acquired hatchling. While I know the laws, I can't help but wonder if she's significantly safer in captivity.

    Everything you say about hatchling/juvenile tortoises is true. They are very susceptible to predation, road mortality, dessication, etc., etc., etc. However, I still do not condone keeping gopher tortoises in captivity, even with the intention of releasing them later. The dietary requirements of tortoises, especially young tortoises, are not well known. Research has shown that tortoises not only eat different foods during different seasons, but also during different times of the day. Proper metabolic rates are dependant on temperature, and some foods are digested better at higher or lower temperatures.

    You may have successfully kept adult tortoises alive for many years, but were they really healthy (from the tortoise's point of view) and most importantly, were they reproductive? There are lots more reasons (for example, genetics and acquiring immunity to diseases) to keep the tortoises out in nature, no matter how dangerous, and let them be free to do what tortoises do - MAKE MORE TORTOISES!! So, please, please, please, let the hatchling go back where it came from, out of harm's way, and send it on its way. If you really want to help tortoises, contact the Gopher Tortoise Council (they have a good website) and get involved.

    From: Dorothy Guisande
    Subject: Long ways from home
    Date: Fri, 7 Mar 2003
    I recently found a turtle of some kind in my back yard. while looking to see what kind it was on the net, I determined it to be one of your Gopher Tortoises. my question is how could one of them get to my back yard, being that I live in Loomis California just out side from Sacramento. the tortoise is 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. It also appears to be female due to the horn.
    I forgot to mention, i found the turtle while i was feeding my koi in my back yard pond. it appeared that he had fallen in. i retrieved her and noticed her feet were not adapted for water. he must have been in the water for a long time, because i looks like she might have a cold. on the side of her runny nose, both of her eyes are sealed shut with the occasional gray seepage. i wanted to make sure she was ok, so i took her to the veterinarian and he told me that they were sealed due to hibernation. he told me to take a Q-tip with some eye drops and moisten the lids to help them open. upon doing this for a short period the eyes opened. I am wondering if i did the right thing, or did I hurt her.
    Hi, The only way that could be a gopher tortoise is if some human transplanted her there. Unfortunately, that is a real possibility. Could it be a desert tortoise? They are more likely to be in your area. Once you determine what it is, if it is a gopher tortoise or a desert tortoise, you should call the local wildlife officials. The desert tortoise is federally protected and it is illegal to keep one without a permit. A gopher tortoise should be turned over to a zoo or brought back east because it is doubtful that it could survive in your area. Please email me back if you need more information.
    I am not a vet, but if it looks like the animal is doing well, then it is probably fine. Becky
    From: "Christine
    Subject: 2 Gopher Questions [white shell & permanent home]
    Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2003
    I live next to about 12 acres of state land where I have seen 20 plus Gopher caves/tunnels. We have enjoyed watching and taking pics of the adults and babies each year. I have 2 questions. #1. This week on a hike through the acreage, I came across an empty shell. It was white in color and only about 8 inches wide. With only this information, can you adive the possible cause of death?#2. I am afraid to tell anyone where these Gopher homes are because of the failure rate in relocation practices but at the same time, I want to guarantee this land will remain a permanent home for these Gophers. Should I keep my mouth shut and enjoy them while I can? Or is there anyone I can trust out there to give me good solid legal advise in reference to their "special concern" status?
    Take Care
    PS, THANKS for being a guiding light to those who really care.
    Dear Christine,
    Do you know what future plans are for the land? If it is owned by the State, that information should be available. Because the tortoises are legally protected, no one is allowed to develop the land without the appropriate permits. You can look at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site for legal standing information.
    As for the shell, there is really no telling what happened to the tortoise. It probably was not a roadkill if the shell was intact. It could have been killed by weather, disease, or a predator.
    Feel free to write back if you need more information. Thanks for the good questions and nice comments.
    Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2003
    Subject: Conservation efforts
    I'm doing a report on the gopher turtle and I need some help on conservation efforts. If you could help me any at all I would greatly appreciate it.
    Thank You, Brittany
    Dear Brittany, The gopher tortoise is listed as a species of special concern by the State of Florida. If you look on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, you can read what that designation of protection means.
    From: Kenneth
    Subject: building permits
    Date: Wed, 19 Mar 2003
    If gopher torroises are present on a lot to be developed, What is the process for protecting them?
    Contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or the city/county entity that is in charge of development permitting. If tortoises are present, the developer should have a permit that either allows him to "take" the burrows and tortoises (i.e., kill them) or relocate the tortoises on-site or to an off-site location. If there are no permits, the developer is breaking the law until such permits are obtained. My advice, if you know of such a situation, is take pictures, get other witnesses, inform the developer that you know, etc., because once the bulldozers start, there will be no proof and nothing will happen. Good luck, and let me know if you need more information.
    Date: Thu, 20 Mar 2003
    Subject: how do I care for this turtle?
    I was given a gopher turtle,that was taken from a campsite. I read that they cant be released in other areas. How do I care for this little guy? He is about 3 inches long, so very young I assume. Right now he is in a pretty big box with sand in it. I have been giving him water, lettuce and hibiscus flowers. I dont see that he eats alot, but he has been having bowel movements so he must be eating something, right? HELP! Looking forward to hearing from you,
    Dear Tara,
    The first thing I must tell you is that gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and it is illegal to keep one without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you do not have a permit, you should take the tortoise back to the campground and release it out of harm's way. Tell whomever picked it up and brought it to you that they are breaking the law and need to stop. If returning the tortoise is not an option, you need to contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (look at their website for locations) and tell them what has occurred. The dietary requirements and other things that young tortoises need are not well known, and it is very difficult to keep them healthy. Besides, we need all of the tortoises out there in the world that we can get. Please, please, please do what I have asked you. Feel free to write back if you need more information.
    From: FluffyLouie
    Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003
    Subject: Strange color and shell strenght of young gopher tortoise.
    I found a young Gopher tortoise and it's a very strange color, it's a orangeish color.It's shell is abnormally flexible, it tends to move around as if it has a calcium problem.I was wondering if it was possibly a kind of mutation or hybrid between a gopher tortoise and a box turtle.Please answer question soon.Oh and it tends to be very aggresive towards me and my dogs, it bites alot and seemingly on purpose.
    When gopher tortoises hatch, and for three years or so, they are orange and their shells are soft. They are very vulnerable at this time to predation, which might explain its attitude toward you, and especially your dog. Box turtles and gopher tortoises belong to two widely separated groups of turtles and are not capable of interbreeding and producing hybrids.
    Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and it is illegal to keep, harm, or allow your dog to harm them. The best thing you can do for the tortoise is let it go in a safe place where you found it. Thank you.
    Subject: Tortoise found
    Date: Wed, 5 Mar 2003
    From: Steve
    I live in Dallas,Tx. I have a friend who owns property in S.E. Oklahoma. While walking his property one day,he found a Tortoise. He brought the tortoise back wanted me to have it.I took the tortoise to a local pet shop who said it "might be" a hinge back forest tortoise.
    Why question is how can I tell the type of tortoise it is & should I keep it? I have an aquarium with mulch,heat lamp,UV light,plants & water dish.
    I suggest that you go to the library or search the net (there are some great tortoise websites out there) to find out what it is. Another option is to contact the herpetologist at a local university or contact a local herpetological society. It is very important that you know what species the animal is so that you can take proper care of it. Good luck, and feel free to email me back if you need more information.
    From: Chris
    Subject: gopher toroise habitat display
    Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003
    I am a marine biologist at a small public aquarium in Mississippi. We are currently "remodeling" our gopher tortoise display. He has grown much to big for his current enclosure. We want to accurately portray the burrow in our exhibit as well as focus on the importance of this keystone species. I am having some trouble finding accurate accounts of the "typical" size and shape of burrows. Is there a source where I can find out the proper dimensions? We want to keep our tortoise happy, while being practical in our exhibit area.
    Thanks in advance for your help.
    Dear Chris,
    There is no such thing as the "typical" burrow. Size, length, and configuration depend on the size of the tortoise, the habitat, the climate where the animal lives, and the vegetation in the immediate area. My suggestion is that you make the inside environment of the burrow (i.e., temperature) conform to what would be normal in your area for a tortoise in the wild. You may not be able to do this without artificially heating or cooling the burrow, but you should be able to figure that out, with the help of an engineer. Why do you have a tortoise at an aquarium? You might check out what other zoos have done that keep gopher tortoises, possibly throught the AAZPA. Good luck!
    Becky Smith Rebecca B. Smith
    Date: Wed, 26 Feb 2003
    Subject: Galapagos Turtles
    1.this is Emilio from milwaukee and i want to know how are babies born and how long does it take to develop into an adult? does a Galapagos turtle communicate?
    3.does this turtle use camouflage,chemicals or warning colors to warn danger is coming or something else? does this turtle hibernate, estivation or migrate?
    5.where does this turtle live? does this turtle adapted to its enviroment?
    7.does this turtle reproduce sexual or asexually? does the turtle move?
    thank you for your time and it would be greatful if you could give me some answers soon, thanks
    Emilio R.
    Dear Emilio,
    You are way out of my area of expertise. Check out the following web sites.
    Rebecca B. Smith

    From: Jonatan
    Subject: russian tortoise
    Date: Mon, 24 Feb 2003
    i have a litte russian tortoise that got away from me several months ago like around april of last year and of the two that got away from me i found the shell of one probably eaten by the racoons, Huge mistake i know so after looking for so long fot he other one and with finding the shell of one of them i gave up, well just the other day our neighboor return the one to me alive and well for the most part, i mean almost a year later, it's skin is better than i've ever seen like it's be exfoliated beyond belief, but teh bad thing is that it has something horrible with it's shell, it was covered in mud and as i washed it off the shell was flaking off and now it looks like in areas it's just dry bone, but it's seems to be alive underneath where i can see through the fizzures. Anyhow i sent you some pictures hoping you might be able to tell me what it is and what i might do about it, i'm going to go to the vet but i can't get to it for a couple of days so i'm just emailing a few of you who i think might be able to help, i don't think it's shell rot cause i've experienced it before but i don't know.
    thanks for you help
    Dear Jonatan,
    I hope you got this poor thing to the vet. It looks like freedom was not good for him at all.
    Becky Smith
    Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003
    From: Terry
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise Permitting
    I am interested in obtaining a gopher tortoise permit. Can you direct me to the proper procedures. thank you. Also I am interested in becoming a rehabilitator for tortoises in my area,tallahassee, florida. Any suggestions or comments would also be greatly appreciated. terry
    Dear Terry,
    You can obtain the information you need from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They have a website that will help you. Becky Smith
    Date: Mon, 27 Jan 2003
    From: Jan"
    Subject: Found possible baby gopher tortoise

    My son and I were camping and he discovered a small (about 2 inches long) yellow and black shelled turtle/tortoise? I am trying to tell from pictures if it is a baby gopher tortoise or a Florida Box Turtle. I thought he put it back where he found it, but he brought it home in his pocket. The campground is about 1and a half hours to the northeast of Orlando. What identifying characteristis differentiate the baby turtle/tortoise? I know he needs to go back if he's protected, but would like to know which type he is and how to care for him until we can return him to his sight. He ate some green leafy lettuce and some box turtle and tortoise food.

    The location of the campground was Umatilla. I believe that is Northwest of Orlando instead of Northeast

    Dear Jan, The best way to find out about the tortoise/turtle is to look in a field guide or book with pictures. There will be books at the library or a book store. A baby box turtle is going to have a high-domed shell and a gopher is going to be more flat. If it is eating, that is good. Put a shallow dish of water that it can crawl into in its box so it can absorb water. Make sure the rest of its box stays dry.

    The best thing to do is take it back and release it, no matter what kind of turtle it is. It is legal to keep box turtles, but figuring out their dietary and temperature requirements is not easy, so they often die or are not healthy. Once it grows very much, it will be too late to let it go and expect it to fend for itself. Also, it will not be able to reproduce, and we need all of the babies out there we can get.

    From: bethany
    Subject: what is the scientific name
    Date: Wed, 22 Jan 2003

    what is the scientific name for a desert tortoise?

    Gopherus agassizii.
    From: James
    Subject: Cutting Fire Lines in a Forest and Gophers
    Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2003

    When cutting fires lines in a forest, if a gopher burrow is covered can the gopher dig his way out?

    Dear James, Fortunately, tortoises are miniature bulldozers. They can dig their way out of most situations where the burrow is blocked and/or partially collapsed. However, if the burrow is so collapsed that the breathing space is destroyed, they will die. It takes quite a disturbance to totally collapse a burrow, and I don't think that cutting a firebreak would do it.
    Date: Mon, 16 Dec 2002
    Subject: Baby Turtle [injured]

    While my husband was weedwhacking he accidentally hit a baby gopher turtles head (his shell is about 2 inches in length) just above his eye. It doesnt seem to be a mamor cut, unfortunately he wont open his eye, and it seems his other eye never formed. He doesn't pull all the way into his shell when touched or anything. I really dont want to release a blind baby gopher turtle, not to mention it is very cold out right now.

    I can't get him to eat, and just today put a lid with water in it in his tank. weve had him mor 2 days now. Im not sure how to help it or who to call here in Palm Coast, Florida for any help. The phone book was no help. Do you have any suggestions for me?
    Thank you, Kim

    Dear Kim,
    Try to find a rehabilitator in your area that will take it, or call some of the vets. You might also call pet stores and ask them if they can suggest a reptile vet. If none of that works, call your local office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They are the governing agency for gopher tortoises and should be able to give you some guidance. Write me back if none of this works.
    Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2002
    Subject: The place where they are on the food web

    I'm doing a school project and I need to know where they are on the food chain!

    Dear Joshua,
    Gopher tortoises are vegetarians, eating grasses and low-growing herbs. Adult tortoises are safe from most predators and are rarely killed to be eaten by anything. However, tortoise eggs, hatchlings, and juveniles are eaten by a large number of animals, including fire ants, crabs, alligators, snakes, vultures, crows, rodents, skunks, raccoons, feral pigs, and armadillos. A young tortoise's shell becomes hard when they are around five years old, so they are very vulnerable until then.
    Subject: found turtle
    Date: 25 Nov 2002

    Our home is located in Daytona Beach, Fl., and we recently found a turtle in our yard. It is very small and has a light cream color around the bottom of it's shell, it also has a cream colored strip down it's back. We have placed it in a box and provided a cat food cover with water in it so it wouldn't get dehydrated. It has been in the lower 40's here and I wasn't sure when I should release it. It seems to like cooked sweet potatoes but I have no idea what I should be feeding it. Any advice you can offer would be appreciated. Sincerely, Barbara

    Dear Barbara, It sounds like a mud turtle; there are a couple of different kinds and I would have to see it to be specific. Are its feet webbed? If it is a mud turtle, it may be an adult because they don't get very large. Look in a field guide or search on the web. If you find a picture of what it looks like, make sure that the picture is of a species that could potentially occur in your area.

    The best thing you can do for the turtle is wait until a day when the temperature is in the 70s and let it go. As long as it has some warm hours before it gets cold, it will be fine. Let it go out of harm's way, but as near to where you found it as possible. If it is a mud turtle, near the water (a lake or ditch) would be a good place to let it go.
    Turtles are not difficult to keep in captivity, but they are often difficult to keep healthy in captivity. It may love sweet potatoes, but its dietary requirements are much more complicated, and would be hard to duplicate. The turtle will do best in the wild where it can feed and, most importantly, reproduce. We need all of the baby turtles out there that we can get!

    From: lori
    Subject: tortoises [live?]
    Date: Fri, 22 Nov 2002

    where do tortoises actually live

    I am not exactly sure what your question means. Gopher tortoises live in Florida and the southern parts of the adjacent states. They occupy upland (high, dry) habitats that have low-growing herbs and grasses that they eat. Within those habitats, a tortoise will dig several burrows where it spends the night and other time that the weather is unsuitable. The burrow also protects them from some predators and fire.
    Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2002
    Subject: [baby in cold]

    My son found a baby gohper turtle today upside down in his sandbox. He had fallen in apparently and couldn't get back out. He was covered in sand that i gently removed as well as i could. It is suppose to be extremely cold for the next 4-5 days and i'm not sure where he came from. He's only about 3 inches long. What should we do with him? Thanks, Pam

    Dear Pam, As long as the daytime temperature is above 70, and the nighttime temp is above 50, he will do o.k. I looked at the weather forcast (, and I would put him out on Monday (high 76, low 57). It is going to get cooler again after that. Put him out mid-morning, so he will have plenty of warm weather left in the day to choose where he wants to be. Place him either in an adult burrow or underneath palmetto fronds or other vegetation. Really, any shelter where he can hide will do fine, and if the weather is warm enough, he will go to where he needs to be.

    Of course, you should check your local weather because what I just told you was for the Port St. John area, where I live. If you haven't used, pull it up, put in your zip code, and it will give you a specific forecast. Feel free to write back if you have other questions. Oh yes, don't worry about trying to feed the baby; he probably wouldn't eat anyway.

    Keep him in your house somewhere cool, but not cold. Put a shallow dish with water in a small box with him so he can get into the water if he wants. That will keep him from getting dehydrated before Monday.
    Good luck, and thanks very much for your concern. Becky

    From: SGreer7053
    Date: Sun, 17 Nov 200
    Subject: Inactivity During Winter months for Gophers
    We have a lot of gopher tortoise burrows on our property. I notice during the winter that I never see the gophers wandering about. Do they stay in their burrows most of the time during the winter months in Florida? Is this a type of hibernation for them? They don't even seem to come out to eat during this time.
    Gopher tortoises do become less active during the colder months. In north Florida and the southern parts of the adjacent states, they may stay in their burrows for several weeks or months. In central and south Florida, most tortoises will stay in their burrows during cold days, but come out whenever the temperature is around or above 70 degrees. Because tortoises are cold-blooded, their metabolism becomes very slow in cold weather, and they can go long periods without eating.
    From: SRMKA
    Date: Sat, 16 Nov 2002
    Subject: [43 year old tortoise]
    I have a gopher tortoise who is over 43 years old and another (age unknown) who has been his companion for over 40 years. Recently, my 43 year old's shell color has lightened and I am worried. There has been no change in nutrition or environment. I have read that their life span is 40 to 60 years, but in the same article it said they do not survive as pets.
    The first thing I am obligated to tell you is that the gopher tortoise is protected in Florida, and it is illegal to have one without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That being said, let's address your specific problem. Your tortoise might be fine and is exhibiting a color change strictly due to age, but I have never observed that in old (large) tortoises in the wild. It may have a disease or a nutritional problem. Because tortoises are cold-blooded, it takes them a long time to manifest problems that may have been occurring for quite some time. My suggestion is that you find a vet that has reptile experience, and let them have a look. A forty-three year old tortoise should have many good years ahead. If you have trouble finding a vet, check into rehabilitators or a university herpetologist to see if they can recommend someone for you.
    From: HoZyzBoYz
    Date: Thu, 14 Nov 2002
    Subject: [Florida]
    how is the gopher tortoise related to florida??
    Florida is one of the states in the southeastern U.S. where gopher tortoises live. Florida has the largest population of gopher tortoises, and they are legally protected by the State as a species of special concern. Feel free to write me back if that doesn't answer your question, or if you need more information.
    From: Daniel
    Subject: Burns
    Date: Mon, 11 Nov 2002

    Is there any study on the possible harmfull efects of forest fires on the tortoises?

    Dear Daniel, I do not know of any study specifically done to see how fire affects gopher tortoises. The burrows they inhabit protect them from fire, but I am sure that occasionally tortoises may get caught in a fast-moving blaze that kills them. However, the habitats that gopher tortoises need for survival are dependent on fire to keep them healthy. If unburned, the trees grow and eventually shade out the low-growing grasses and herbs that the tortoises eat. The shrubby underbrush becomes too thick and there are no open sandy spots for burrows or nest sites. The tortoises are forced to move into less suitable habitats, such as roadsides where they are likely to be hit by cars. So, even though individual animals may sometimes die in fires, the overall benefits of fire to the gopher tortoises' habitats and ecology far outweigh the harm.
    From: "ruby"
    Subject: cost, chances, help
    Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002

    What is the cost of the preservation efforts
    what is beindone to save the species of golpher torroises
    what are the chances of the species long-term survival
    What is being done to save the species of Gopher Tortoises

    Dear Ruby, The gopher tortoise is legally protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. It is illegal to harm, keep, feed, harass, or kill tortoises without a permit. This protection is extended to gopher tortoise burrows, but, unfortunately, not gopher tortoise habitat. These non-wetland areas are being developed in Florida at a frightening pace. It is relatively easy to get a permit to kill or relocate tortoises if they are in the way of your development, whether it be a single home or a large shopping center or subdivision. You can voice your concerns to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has jurisdiction over tortoises. They have a website which has email addresses and phone numbers for contacts. I encourage you to let them know how you feel.
    Date: 31 Oct 2002
    Subject: Infant tortoise
    I recently inquired about amadillo destruction in rural southeast Alabama and now have an interesting situation. I went out early this morning to take the dogs for a walk and noticed an extremely tiny gopher (2" diameter) situated near the gate. I know this is a gopher that I have not seen before and noticed that it was not moving at all and contributed the lack of movement to the cool temperature (48 F). Yet, the gopher did appear to still be alive. I did not see a small burrow anywhere and decided to just go on to work hoping that it would be gone when I got home. When I arrived home this afternoon I found the tiny gopher exactly in the same spot and it concerned me that it had not moved all day. I checked on the gopher again after dark and still found it in the same spot. My wife and I were hesitant to intervene but felt that if we didn't that he would not survive the cold night. We placed it in a cardboard box with sand, green vegetation, cover, and a low wattage light to provide some warmth. We would appreciate any advice you can offer on how to get him back outdoors and protected from the elements since he doesn't appear to have a burrow. We really want to make every effort to help it live but are aware that it needs to be back outdoors as soon as possible.
    Thanks, Phillip
    Phillip, Are there adult burrows near where you found the hatchling? It has been documented that juvenile gopher tortoises will use adult burrows, and I have seen this myself. Are your daytime temperatures getting to 70 or better? Wait until they do, and then let him go in an adult-size burrow. In the meantime, keep him in a comfortable temperature (70 - 80 degrees F). Don't worry about feeding him for a couple of days, but give him a small, shallow dish with water so he can sit in it if he wants. If you can not find a large burrow, or your weather is going to be cold for several days, look for a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area and take it there.
    Date: Fri, 25 Oct 2002
    From: Glenn
    Subject: Developers and gopher tortoises
    I know that there are many posts on your list about my topic, and I am pretty sure that I have read them all, but I still have a question. How do you make sure that these developers are abiding by the laws? My concerns are for 700 acres that are between Hwy 27, Thompson Nursery Road, and Cypress Gardens Blvd. in Lake Wales, Florida. I was made aware that this property was to be annexed into the City of Winter Haven a few weeks ago. I know from others that have lived here for years that there are probably hundreds of gopher tortoises, indigo snakes, and at least one active bald eagle nest (known as nest #68 C to Fish and Wildlife) on this property. I went to the City Commission Meeting to voice my feelings about the annexation because I am certain that the annexation is a precursor to development. Why else would they do it? I am sure that Winter Haven property is worth more than Lake Wales property. This 700 acres is currently being taxed at a value of around $6,4000.00, which seems ridiculously low. They already proposed a road that would go through where the bald eagle nest is and some wetlands. I have now received a letter from the owners, Winter Haven Corporation, by means of their lawyer warning me and others that anyone "wandering around" on the WHC property is trespassing, which prevents anyone from looking for any of the three threatened species that I mentioned above or taking any photos. Where do you start with a situation like this?
    Dear Glenn,
    Unfortunately, your situation is not unusual and is happening all over Florida every day. If the developers are smart, and they usually are, they have or are procuring all of the necessary permits needed to proceed. You can check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission or your local (city or county) government to make sure the permit process is being followed. All they really have to do is be willing to pay for the right to destroy the land and anything that might happen to be living there. You can plead your case to whatever government body is in charge of controlling development in your area. If that fails, as a last resort, you can involve the press, but be careful, as that can backfire depending on the slant the reporters decide to take. The whole scenario is extremely frustrating and until the masses decide that there are more important things than money
    From: Mike
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise [House Lot]
    Date: Tue, 22 Oct 2002
    I own a 1.23 acre lot in Valkaria that I wish to build a house on. I intend to keep as much of the property in its natural state. Can you provide me with specific links or information on how I can protect the gopher tortoises during the construction phase.
    Dear Mike,
    My suggestion is that you stay as far as possible from any burrow, protect as much of the resources (i.e., food, such as grass and low-growing herbs) that you can, mark the burrows very visibly, and watch the equipment drivers carefully. Realize that the burrow tunnel will extend 15 to 25 feet under the ground at a 45 degree angle from the mouth, and you should try to keep heavy equipment from driving over the tunnel, especially near the mouth. If you are successful with your efforts, you might contact the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative through their website. They can give you lots of good tips and you may want to join them.
    Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2002
    From: Cassie
    Subject: I have a question [reptile scales]
    Hi, my name is Cassie from California. I wish to know the types of scales on reptiles and where are their locations on the body of the reptile,including the scales on the head,the top part of the body, and the belly scales. I am doing a research on reptiles:). I need the answer as soon as possible. Thank you very much.
    Dear Cassie,
    My suggestion is that you go to a library and find a Herpetology (study of amphibians and reptiles) textbook. That will have diagrams of the scales and their names.
    Date: Sun, 13 Oct 2002
    Subject: gopher tortise food

    What is a good, healthy food source for a gopher tortise that will give them the neccesary nutrition they need. I was told Romaine lettuce and grapes, but the grapes he wont touch and he constaltly is eating lettuce that has barley any nutritonal value. Any help would be greatly appreciated by me and "chompers".

    Dear Kris, My apologies for taking so long to answer your question. This time of year is very busy for me, at home and at work.

    First, I must tell you that gopher tortoises are a state-protected species and it is illegal to have one without the proper permits. If this is a problem, please write me back so that I can give you some guidance on how to proceed.

    Regarding diet: the food requirements for tortoises are very complicated and change, not only seasonally, but within a day, depending on the temperature of the environment. My suggestion is to offer Chompers a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lettuce, and some access to weeds in the yard. Try bananas, peel and all.

    Subject: Help [gender names?]
    Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2002
    Please can you help me I am trying to fine out if the is a special name for a Male, Female and Baby tortise. Like a female rabbit is called a dow and so on. I am working in a class and the children have ask this question.
    Thank you for you help
    As far as I know, they are just called males and females. The age classes are adult, juvenile, and hatchlings.
    Hope this is helpful. Good luck with those kids!!
    From: The Basketman
    Subject: gopher turtles [ticks]
    Date: Mon, 7 Oct 2002
    i had found your website and had a question. i had heard that gopher turtles harbor ticks. is that true??
    Hi! We see ticks on tortoises quite often.
    Date: Sun, 06 Oct 2002
    Subject: Armadillo destruction
    I live in very rural southeast Alabama and own 200 acres. I have quite a few gopher dens on the land, even very near the home. I have found three extremely small gophers, smaller than the palms of my hand, that have started dens within ten yards of my home. They are probably offspring from the very large gopher that resides near their dens. Upon inspection of a shallow hole near the three dens I found a dead gopher about the same size of the other three. I have terrible problems with armadillos around the home and I wondered if an armadillo had dug up the den and killed the gopher. Will armadillos prey and eat an infant gopher if they locate the den? I really enjoy watching them eat grass from my window and just walking around the yard and want do do everything in my power to protect them. Also, can you recommend a good research book on the gopher tortoise so I can have a better undrstanding of them? There seems to be limited research going on. I have great repect for your conservation efforts in Florida. I am still fortunate that my area is still rural, even though silvaculture is quite widespread.
    Sincerely, Phillip
    Dear Phillip, Thank you for your very nice comments. There is actually quite a bit of work that has been done on gopher tortoises, but most of it is in the scientific literature. You can go to a university library and look at the Journal of Herpetology and Chelonian Conservation to find some articles that will lead you to more. You can also contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (they have a web site) and ask them to send you the publications that they have produced over the years.

    You have touched on one of my favorite nagging questions, and I don't know that anyone has researched it. How do armadillos affect tortoises and other species of native amphibians and reptiles? I don't know that an armadillo would chase down a hatchling tortoise to eat it - they don't seem to chase anything - but, if they bumped into one, especially inside a burrow, they probably could eat it. I think armadillos are a big problem and a subject that should be investigated further.

    From: ReALBeAtz
    Date: Thu, 3 Oct 2002
    Subject: [government helping?]
    has the goverment taken any actions to help the gopher tortoise?????
    The gopher tortoise is legally protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. It is illegal to harm, harass, interfere with, or keep tortoises or tortoise parts without a permit. This also protects the burrows. However, the State issues hundreds of permits each year to landowners and developers to relocate or "take" (i.e., destroy) tortoises. These permits must be purchased and the money is used for gopher tortoise conservation efforts. Tortoises located west of the Tombigbee River are federally protected by the Endangered Species Act.
    From: lakesha
    Subject: TURTLES
    Date: Wed, 2 Oct 2002
    I recently purchased a turtle, and its a baby. But my question to you is whether its a boy/girl I'm not sure but it sleeps and awful lot, and the food that was given to me it doesnt seem to eat so I would like to know what can I feed, and how many times a day should I do that? Any information you have for me would be greatly appreciated because I wouldnt want it to starve on my behalf..thank you.
    I can not give you any advice unless I know what kind of turtle you have. My suggestion is that you go back to whomever sold it to you and ask for help. If that is not possible, try to find a good pet store or vet that knows about turtles, or find the local herp society in your area.
    From: David B.
    Subject: [Fire Ant problem]
    Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002
    We recently purchased a new home, and in our back yard lives a gopher turtle. He comes in our yard frequently to eat the grass. I have noticed a large number of fire ants living in the grass and would like to get rid of them. What, if any, product could I use on my grass that would not harm the gopher turtle but get rid of the fire ants. We currently use Amdro on the mounds, but did not want to spread it everywhere in the grass feeling it may be harmful to the turtle. Thank you, David B.
    PS - In our last home we had a gopher turtle that loved bananas - would they be harmful to them in any way?
    David, Amdro is supposed to be safe, and we use it around our reptile and amphibian traps to keep the ants at bay. It is illegal to feed the tortoise anything because gophers are protected by the State of Florida. Besides that, it is not really a good idea to supplement their diets. That tortoise may love bananas, but if he fills up on that, he may miss feeding on something else that provides important nutrients. We are just beginning to understand dietary requirements, but it is very obvious that they are complicated. Not only do they vary seasonally, but even within a 24-hour period. Makes sense for a cold-blooded critter, but it is not immediately intuitive. Thanks for writing and good luck battling the ants!
    From: tlh0137
    Date: Mon, 30 Sep 2002
    Subject: Gopher tortoise relocation
    What responses are provided when gopher tortoises who have been relocated, return to their previous area. How can they be encouraged to stay?
    It is not a requirement of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission relocation permit to determine the fate of relocated tortoises, so we really do not know much. What work has been done shows that some tortoises stay where you put them, others wander (usually until something bad happens to them), and a few make it back to where they started.

    People have tried fencing the tortoises in the new area for a while until they "become accustomed" to their new home. That may or may not help. Digging starter burrows is another method that has been tried.

    On those occasions that I have to move a tortoise to get it out of harms way for a project of some sort here on the Space Center, I try to move it to a nearby place that would still be within the tortoise's homerange. Each tortoise digs several burrows; males average 15 and females average 9 here on KSC. My rationale is that if the tortoise is removed from one burrow, but is still in familiar territory, it will go to another one of its own burrows and won't be wandering around looking for trouble. This seems to work pretty well.

    Before the end of the year, we will be doing some radiotracking of 10 relocated tortoises on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That should provide some interesting, new information. Thanks for your interest.

    From: hildam357
    Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002
    Subject: i have seen them (gopher tortoises i mean)
    how do i keep them safe i have 2 adults in my back yard and at least onebaby how do i keep them safe from cars and the baby from dogs birds and anyother predators there is at least 2 burrows in my unfenced back yard i waswalking the edge of my yard when i saw the two adults about 2 weeks ago and just today i saw the little baby there were 4 more unhatched eggs it looked like some thing had dug the nest up what do i do i want to protect them but iam moving soon and i am afraid that the next person that moves into this house will not care as much about the turtles as i do i am afraid that they will destroy the area
    thank you, hilda
    Dear Hilda, There is not much you can legally do to protect the tortoises, other than keep dogs, cats, and other people from bothering them. If you own your house and are going through a real estate agent to sell it, make sure that the agent is aware of the tortoises so he/she can inform potential buyers. It would be illegal for anyone to destroy a burrow without a permit, so tell the real estate agent that. If you are renting, send your landlord a note when you give your notice.

    I know that is not much help, but you just have to believe that if they have survived there and are reproducing (a very good sign), it must not be a bad place for them. Wish them luck before you leave! Thanks for caring.

    From: belinda
    Subject: Gopher turtle [Thanks]
    Date: Thu, 26 Sep 200
    I'm a Floridian so it was hard for me to understand all the concern over the handling of gophers. But when I visited your website I very concern too. We had one as a pet kind of 35 years ago and it would come for food and water and then leave and maybe two weeks or so come again. My suggest is if Floridian's don't know this info shouldn't we be educating the kids in school to help spread the word. I know I will teach all I know to everyone now in my path so that they understand to problem for the gopher and all the other animals this effects. Thanks for your website. The reason I visited is because one was brought to me which will be return to where it was found. But I will now begin to educate others too.
    I teach so I will inform there too. Thanks Belinda
    Dear Belinda,
    Thank you so much for your kind words and your good work. You make this job worth doing!
    From: CHAN (Singapore)
    Subject: Will Tortise/Turtle shed their shells?
    Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002
    I haven't really been attentive when I was young on bio classes. Can you please enlighten me will Tortise or Turtle outgrow it's shell? What'll happen after that? Thanks!
    Dear San, The shell of turtles and tortoises is an outgrowth of their bones and will not be outgrown or shed. If you ever get to see a shell, look in the top and you can often see vertebra from the spinal column. That is why shell injuries are often fatal.
    From: Dorene
    Subject: Natural deterrents
    Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2002
    Good Morning, I am writing from Palm Bay Florida. Which is near Melbourne. ( zip 32909) We had a new home built in July 2001. We have a family of Gopher tortoises residing 50 or so feet away from our house. We have enjoyed their presence since we have been here. I have recently planted a vegetable garden next to our property on an open lot. It's about 30 or so feet away from the tortoises den. I planted corn, beans and broccoli. I have had to construct a fenced in area around the plot. I am having a hard time keeping the family from eating what I've planted. I was hoping to get some suggestions on possible natural deterrents which I can put around the garden area. I would never harm any of them. Can you offer any advise? Thank You, Bill
    Dear Bill, Here are a couple of ideas. You might try planting something around the outside of the garden that they can eat, so they won't be as interested in your veggies. A better idea is to put a low fence around the garden made of something like chicken wire. At the bottom of the fence, extend it out flat on the ground for three or four feet, and then cover it with dirt. That used to work on my Houdini dog that would constantly dig out of my backyard.
    From: lindsay
    Subject: new born gopher turtles
    Date: Sun, 22 Sep 2002
    I have a report to do on baby gopher turtles and need to know what a new born baby gogher turtle feeds on. I also need to know what kind of habitat they live in. If you could send me this information it would be of great help.
    Dear Lindsay, All gopher tortoises are vegetarians that eat low-growing grasses and herbs. They live in high, dry habitats where the soil is suitable for digging burrows. Young tortoises often have only one burrow (unlike adults that have many burrows per tortoise), or they may just use adult burrows, plant masses, or other refugia on the ground.
    From: Candice & Ricky
    Subject: Laws
    Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002
    So you said that It is completely legal for the developer to pay the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for a "take" permit that allows them to destroy the burrows and any tortoises that might be in the burrows. But it is illegal for a person to take a turtle from a harmful environment and provide a proper habitat for it to live in. This is a crazy law if you ask me. How is it illegal for a person to keep a gopher as a pet given that they provide a suitable environment but it is ok for these people to just run them over with bulldozers because they want to build a Wal-Mart or something. It looks like if something is on the endangered list or whatever they would be protected from all people destroying them. I live in the city and found a very small gopher. I tried to donate him to a wild life place that would give him a good environment with other gophers but they said they could not touch him. They told me to let him go where I found him but I found him in the middle of the street in the middle of town. no one around here has a yard no bigger than 1/2 acre. He would surely die in the street.
    Dear Candice and/or Ricky,
    It is true that a developer can "take" as many tortoises as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will permit, and that stinks. However, there are just not any good options for tortoises, other than stopping development (which sounds fine to me, but is not the majority opinion). There are many good reasons why people can not keep tortoises as pets, or move them around without a permit. These reasons are biological, related to disease, social, and ecological. (I can go into specifics if you are interested.) The short story: it is often better to lose individuals than to risk the entire population. This is not a popular stand with individual animal lovers, but it is, nonetheless, an unfortunate fact of life.

    If you really want to help tortoises, and all of our native wildlife, educate yourself on the issues, and vote for people that value our natural resources as much as they value growth and short-term financial gain.

    From: RippinGrom8
    Date: Fri, 13 Sep 2002
    Subject: how? [to tell sex]
    How do you tell if a gopherus polyphemus is male/female???
    The way to tell a male from a female tortoise is to look at the bottom shell (plastron). If it is totally flat, the tortoise is a female; if the plastron is concave toward the rear end, it is a male. This is true for many turtle/tortoise species.
    From: "Nancy
    Subject: Is this a Gopher hatchling?
    Date: Sun, 8 Sep 2002
    When I let my cat out this morning he immediately found something that caught his interest. I went see what he was curious about, as we have coral snakes on our property. It was a very small turtle with yellow markings. The cat did not harm the turtle in any way. I brought the cat in the house and grabbed my digital camera. I picked the turtle up only to photograph the underside of the turtle, then let him go on his merry way. I have a couple of questions. Can you tell from the photos if this is a gopher turtle hatchling? If it is, would there be more hatchlings in the area and does the mother look after the hatchlings? On my property we have several raccoons, a couple of foxes, snakes, owls and hawks are the likely to harm the turtles? Is there anything I can do to protect them without interfering with there lives? Lastly, do I have to notify any wildlife authorities that the turtles are on my property?
    That is definitely a juvenile gopher tortoiseThere may be more around; the average clutch size is 7 eggs, but many of them don't make it to that size. There is no parental care, which is the case for most reptiles. Your best tact would be to leave it alone and let it go about its business. That is the law, but it is also the best for the tortoise and the tortoise population around your house. It must be fairly healthy if there is reproduction going on!
    From: Lclcjere172
    Date: Sat, 7 Sep 2002
    Subject: [soft shell]
    We have a turtle in on home at this time we have tried to find out information about it. But we can't seem to find nothing online about it. Maybe you can help us. The turtle/tortise have a soft shell and a pointed nose. It is gray in color it seem to have flipper instead of feet. We have tried to feed it vegetable and turtle food. live gold fish. He haven't eaten a thing. Hopfuly you will be of some help we would greatly appeciate it.
    It sounds like you have a softshell turtle. I don't know how they do as pets (they will bite very hard), but I know that they are raised in turtle farms as food. You might try contacting a turtle farm to see what they feed them. Actually, the best thing to do would be to take it back where you got it and let it go, if that is possible.
    From: "Pamela
    Subject: Gopher Tortoises in Virginia?
    Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002
    ... Two young men at a flea market in Hillsville Virginia handed me a small terrarium with 2 baby turtles in it and told me to take them home ... they said they could not keep them! I think they might be gopher turtles...they look like some of the pictures I have seen ... their bellies are yellowish with dark spots... what should I do if they are?
    My suggestion is that you look in field guides (available at the library or in bookstores) and try to i.d. the turtles. You might also find a local herpetologist through a herp society or university that could help you. Once you know what the turtles are, you can decide what to do with them. If they are not a protected species, it would probably be better to keep them in captivity (either you or someone else) than release them into the wild. If they are gopher tortoises, you should contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for advice. They should tell you where to take them.
    From: Dinoe
    Date: Tue, 3 Sep 2002
    Subject: ??boxed turtle or gohper?
    Hello, We recently purchased a "boxed turtle" from a nearby pet store. We I am uncertain as to the real "name" of this turtle. It has a high dome and moves pretty fast! It is completely brown and the legs are brown and black, the head is somewhat black. The person at the pet store told us it was a "boxed turtle." However, in trying to research this turtle, it does not appear to be a "boxed turtle." This one that we bought he said is between 4 to 6 months old, this turtle is not that big. But i've noticed he likes to bury himself. In some pictures on this internet, he looks like a gohper turtle, but without the colors......can you direct me to a site that I can find the right name for him? and his habitat and feeding besides meal worm? It would be much appreciated.
    Thank you, Donna
    Gopher tortoises don't typically have a high-domed shell. My suggestion is that you look in some field guides (available at a library or bookstore) to try and i.d. the turtle, or take it to a local herpetologist (university?). Once you know what you have, you will be able to better take care of it properly. You might try going back to the pet store where the turtle came from, and talk to the owner or manager. It is very irresponsible for a store to sell a turtle, or any animal, with such misinformation and lack of resources to help people buying pets.

    I might be able to direct you somewhere specifically if I knew where you are located.

    Date: Tue, 10 Sep 2002
    Subject: swimming turtle
    Thanks for your website. It has helped me already. I tried to find someone with my question but I didn't find one just like my problem. I live in Gainesville Fl and went swimming today and found a very very baby tortoise swimming in the pool. Based on checking him out I would say he is a gopher tortoise and I know he is protected. But before I let him back to the wild I just wanted to know if he is old enough to go back to my yard. This is a real little guy. I live on 5 acres and would be happy for him to live in the yard and of course I know I won't keep him trapped in anyway but I just wanted to hear from you that he should be released as oppossed to taking him to a vet or wildlife person.
    My only worry would be about the ants as we don't have a dog who would bother him. But I do worry about him going back in the pool and drowning. What do you think.
    Thanks, Katie
    Hi Katie
    Attached is a picture of a baby tortoise that should help you identify your turtle (right, in boxes). baby gopher tortoise baby gopher tortoise - 2 If it is a tortoise, I would take it to the nearest woods and let it go under some vegetation where there is grass or low-growing herbs for it to eat. Unless it is obviously sick, I would not take it to a vet or rehabilitator. If it is not a tortoise, try to determine if it is a box turtle (left, in someone's hand) or some kind of water turtle. If it is a box turtle, let it go in the woods. If it is a water turtle, let it go in a pond, lake, or ditch.

    Click on a picture to enlarge it. Use the BACK button of your Browser to return here.

    Date: 10 sep 2002
    subject: gopher tortoise [school project]
    hi becky i need all the info you have on a gopher tortoise ive been looking for days and my school report is due very soon its about 'animals that live in your area' and a friend told me you helped him a while back with his report and i hope u can due the same for me thanx!
    Hi Jose,
    The Enchanted Forest website tortoise page should have everything you need about general tortoise biology, including pictures. If you need specific information about something else, let me know and I will do the best I can to get it to you.
    Date: Mon, 09 Sep 2002
    From: julie
    Subject: giant blackwood turtle
    hi becky ... can you give me any info ... i have a pair of rhinoclemmy funeres turtles that i acquired from a breeded in florida ... the little mail appears to have a upper resp. infection...what can i do???
    Hi Julie, My suggestion is try to find a reptile vet and take it there. You might check through a zoo to locate someone. If that doesn't work, I would call the breeder and ask their advice. Sorry that I can't be more help. Good luck!
    From: Shannon
    Subject: flooding
    Date: Thu, 5 Sep 2002
        Hi and thanks so much for your website. I am a native floridian (although not nearly as native as the gopher tortoises!) and am glad when I see people being educated about tortoises, alligators etc. I wish everyone would realize what a gift it is to be able to witness these creatures in nature.
        We live in Oviedo and have been fortunate to have two adult tortoises living (visiting) in our yard for years. Sadly, one of them was killed by a loose dog. It seems that before the one was killed, the 2must have mated. We have recently happily discovered two babies (less than 3 inches) with burrows in our yard. We have received quite a bit of rain the last few days and our front yard is flooded. I went to check on the burrow and it is completely filled with water. The baby was out and quite happily eating, but I am concerned for its safety. My first instinct is to just let it be and hope that he/she figures it out. My question is whether not that is ok or if should move it to the back yard which is higher and drier (and where the other burrows are). Thank you.
        Thank you for the kind words about the website. It is a challenge, but quite rewarding. My advice is to leave the tortoises alone. They will not let themselves drown, and we often see tortoises using flooded burrows. Moving a young, inexperienced tortoise to "unknown" territory could be devastating for it.
    Date: Tue, 27 Aug 2002
    Subject: Pesticides
        After two months of gopher tortoises sharing their land with me, I need advice on maintaining the pasture land.
        We have numerous ants and ant mounds (some hard and some soft). We also have a lot of weeds. We would like to try to get rid of the ants and weeds, but I don't want to put anything down that might hurt the tortoises ~ we love our 3 or 4 friends and would hate to see them leave the property.

    Sent: Friday, August 30, 2002 - After Becky had told her she was researching the answer.

    I have no problem baiting the mounds, however, there are a lot and they keep multiplying. Additionally, the mounds are not all the same. Some look "normal" and others almost look like a big pile very, very thick spaghetti. Whatever he feels is best and will not hurt the tortoises.
        Thanks for your help ~ Doreen

    Dear Ms. Doreen,
        In response to your question to Becky re: ants and gopher tortoises, here is some advice.
        Use a baiting strategy to best effect long-term control. A product like Amdro (very low toxicity poison on a foodstuff ants like) works just fine. However, it needs to be applied correctly.
        Follow label directions. DO NOT sprinkle it ON the mounds. The ants would most likely mark it with an alarm substance and not carry it into the mound.
        Sprinkle it around the mound out for a distance of a couple of yards or so VERY, VERY sparingly. The broadcast application rate for an entire acre is only 1-1.5 lbs. What you want is to put it out in areas where the ants will be foraging so they pick it up during their normal activities.
        Put it out in the morning after the dew has dried or in the afternoon as it cools down. Avoid applying it in the heat of the day. Rain will make it spoil and become worthless. If it unexpectedly rains, a reapplication may be necessary.
        Don't expect instant results. It will take several weeks to see the difference. However, baiting is the preferred approach unless the mounds are in a critical area like a playground.
        Award, an insect growth regulator on a foodstuff ants like, is another bait of choice. The application methods above are generally the same, but the application rate may be slightly different.
        It is nearly impossible to drench a mound sufficiently to kill all of the ants, including the queen. While you may see dead ants after the drench, rest assured there are ants underground that will resurface somewhere else and in force. If you can stand the wait, go with the bait.
    Rick Smith



    From: Ed
    Sent: Wednesday, August 28, 2002
    Subject: Re: A feel good law! - #2
        Thanks for youir response Becky but you have avoided the question.
        Why does Florida list it? Possibly I should look up what qualifies as a Species of Species of Special Concern. In my opinion the gopher tortoise should not be a Species of Special Concern because they appear widespead and abundant in Florida. They are listed in Alabama but not because of collecting or building but only because the habitat is marginal in the areas where they occur in our State. Not allowing people to collect, harass etc. is a good law and should be inforced if the species in threatened. In my opinion the gopher tortoise in Florida is no more threatened than the alligator! Land is at a premium in Florida and money and people will always take prescedent. I don't think money should but people are certaintly more important than wildlifebut in reality by protecting our wildlife we really are protecting ourselves. It all comes down to compromise and unless it can be scientifically demonstrated that impacting a species is extremely detrimental to man, they ride in the back of the bus; that is reality.
        If you want to protect the gopher tortoise, indigo snake etc. continue to expand your parks and critical habitat in Florida and these species will survive in those areas.
        Man will live in his box and the species will live in theirs. The gopher tortoise appears to be able to live in both!
        Florida lists the gopher tortoise because there are good scientific data to show that their populations are rapidly declining. They may "appear widespread and abundant", but that is because they are fairly large, dig burrows that are easily seen, and often hang out by the sides of roads, on golf courses, in yards, etc. No wonder that people who visit Florida often leave with the impression that "tortoises are everywhere".
        Your argument that tortoises and other threatened species will suvive by living in our parks and protected areas is often the same idea that many habitat managers and landowners espouse. Unfortunately, more and more of our "protected" lands are impacted by development outside their borders (water quality, air pollution, disease transmission, road mortality, encroachment, etc., etc., etc.). Within their borders, many conflicting interests vie for management attention and dollars, such as recreation, different species of wildlife and plants, hunting, and non-consumptive uses such as hiking and birdwatching.
        Several of our state and county parks have reported tortoise die-offs, likely due to Upper Respiratory Tract Disease. Every time a small population is lost, it moves the entire species closer to extinction. It is naive to believe that tortoises will survive in perpetuity in isolated islands of habitat amidst the sea of humans and concrete. This is especially true for larger animals such as panthers, bears, and indigo snakes. Without a large system of interconnected habitats, these species are doomed.
        The gopher tortoise is a long-lived animal (70+ years) whose reproductive output is low. It takes a tortoise 15 - 20 years to become sexually mature and able to reproduce. They lay 8 - 10 eggs, and predation rates on nests and hatchlings are extremely high. It may take several years for a tortoise to replace itself. Finding mates is also a problem when populations are isolated and separated by roads, borrow pits, and shopping malls. There are many factors working against the tortoises in the best of circumstances (i.e., natural) that are only exascerbated by all of the things I have mentioned above.
        I hope this has made it more clear to you that the protected status for the gopher tortoise is not only appropriate, but absolutely necessary. Thank you for your interest.
    From: "campmom"
    Subject: Babies
    Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002
    Three days ago upon checking out my various gopher residents on my property, I found a nest that the mother had left the hole and moved to another. There was disturbance in the mouth of the hole with a whole lot of fire ants. Upon inspection I found 7 eggs. One had already been eaten and the others had been attacked to the point that the babes were trying to get out of the shells. They still had the egg sack (?) on their bellies. I wiped them off and put them in a dark place in my house. I contacted my vet, who does have the required licenses . He told me that there was not alot of information on babies, but I could try. I don't handle them except to make sure they are alive. They hiss at me when I touch their shells. I still have the six. Two of them have almost completely used the food sack on their bellies. When this is gone, do I take them back to the nest and hole and release them or should I not wait for the sack to be gone. I want to do the right thing and not put them in any more danger or stress than possible. Any info will be greatly appreciated.
    Dear Kathy,

    My suggestion is that you take them back near the hole where you found them, find some low vegetation where they can hide, and release them. Your vet is right that we know very little about dietary requirements, shelter (i.e., temperature) requirements, or behavior of hatchling tortoises. They will do better on their own. The yolk sac provides enough nutrition so that they don't need to eat for the first few days, but they need to be exploring and learning. So, wish them the best of luck and let them go a.s.a.p. They probably won't all make it, but some will, and that is the way of nature. You have certainly done your part! Thanks for your concern.

    From: Ed
    Subject: A feel good law!
    Date: Mon, 26 Aug 2002
       Becky, I recently visited the State of Florida and was amazed at the number of gopher tortoises I encountered. I was even more amazed that this species is listed as a Species of Special Concern and thus it is illegal to collect or harass them. Yet everywhere I looked developers were bulldozing their habitat, cars running over them by the thousands but a child who wants to learn about this animal is prohibited from keeping one to learn about it! A person who wants to help an injured one can even be fined for doing just that! It's these small children who will one day help protect our vanishing species but we hinder them. We make a law that penalizes a young mind just so we can feel good about ourselves. We have accomplised nothing! Its just another typical liberal feel good.
        It is rare that I see a species that is that abundant and yet is protected! From what I could see the species is doing quite well considering the odds against it. This species is surviving only because it has abundant food and can live most anywhere in Florida. The Endangered Species Law certaintly is not helping it at all.
    Thanks for listening.
    Ed .../Biologist/Environmental Affairs/Alabama Power Company
    Dear Ed,

    You have made many good points. The tortoise is listed by the State of Florida, but receives no protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is responsible for issuing permits for actions that disturb or destroy tortoises or their burrows. They are sadly understaffed and overworked, and are also hampered by political issues related to the power of the development community. Local (county and city) governments are also to blame for the current lack of true protection for gopher tortoises. Speaking from my own experience and that of others in this business, most government officials will freely tell you that building a strong local economy through development of businesses and housing is their priority. They do not understand (or care, in some cases) that maintaining "natural Florida" is important to many of us, and that responsible development is possible without totally destroying our remaining green space.

    Ultimately, we are all to blame for the current plight of the tortoises and other wildlife and habitat in Florida. The majority of officials are elected by us, and until we put people in office that share our views and concerns, things will contine to go downhill. Watch out! Alabama may be next!

    From: Forkworkshop
    Date: Sat, 10 Aug 2002
    Subject: [turtle - tortoise ?]
    what is the differnce between a tortoies and a turtle.
    "Turtle" is a scientific term that refers to any animal in the Order Chelonia. This includes all of the extinct and living turtles. The term "tortoise" has no scientific meaning; it is a general word for a turtle that lives on the land, such as a gopher tortoise or Galapagos tortoise. However, not all land turtles are called tortoises, such as the box turtle. Confused yet??

    The best way to remember is this: All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises!

    Date: Thu, 08 Aug 2002
    Subject: Question if I can quote Rebecca Smith

    Hi Rebecca,
    I am doing a project for one of my summer classes and the questions that I wanted to ask you are listed on the website and so I was wondering if I can use it to quote you in my science news report. Thanks, I do need a response ASAP. Thanks for your time
    Sincerely, ---April

    Hi April,
    It is fine with me if you use any information from the gopher tortoise page of the website. Just one word of caution: Please make sure that you don't change the meaning of the answer by editing it too much. Very often, statements are taken out of context and end up conveying something that is not correct.

    Good luck with your project, and if I can help anymore, email me.

    From: BILLCOC
    Date: Tue, 6 Aug 2002
    Subject: gender identification

    How do you tell the difference between a male and female tortoise?

    The way to tell a male from a female tortoise is to look at the bottom shell (plastron). If it is totally flat, the tortoise is a female; if the plastron is concave toward the rear end, it is a male. This is true for many turtle/tortoise species.
    From: Becky
    Subject: Food-Buy or Plant
    Date: Sun, 04 Aug 2002
    We moved to Florida 3 months ago and we are the first owners of our new house in a newly developed neighborhood. Almost instantly we found a turtle burrowed by our back fence away from the house. How exciting! Come to find out is is a gopher turtle the builders have seen around for the last 10 years. A couple of week later we saw TWO turtles hanging out there and after thier encounter realized our turtle was female. (I told hubby we were gonna be grandparents) I don't bother her much, just check on her and watch for babies.

    I just have a couple of questions. 1.) Is it ok to feed her fruit or veggies we buy and what grapes, broccoli, oranges...what? 2.) Is there anything that we can plant in our back yard that might be a treat or nutricious for her or make her prefer my burrow over any other :) I enjoy having her back there. The only thing back there right now are olianders (sp?), which I hear are poisonous for animals.
    Thank you for your information.
    Becky (Great name by the way)

    Dear Becky,
    Because you are new to Florida, you don't realize that gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State. As a result, it is illegal to feed them. There are many good reasons for that. The dietary needs of tortoises are fairly complicated and not well understood. If we are filling them up with calories they don't really need, they might not be out looking for the foods that would be the best for them. Besides the legal issues, it is really better to let them take care of themselves. However, if you wanted to plant your yard with some low-growing herbs that are native to Florida, that would surely provide the tortoise an opportunity to graze on food that it would normally find in the wild. Any native plant nursery can help you decide what would grow best in your particular situation. I suggest planting a variety of things, because we do know that tortoises not only change their diets according to season of the year, but also according to the time of day. They are cold-blooded reptiles, so their metabolism, and therefore their digestion, is highly correlated to air temperature.

    As far as persuading the tortoise to stay in that burrow, that is not likely. Each tortoise digs many burrows within its homerange. Here on the Space Center, females had an average of nine burrows each, and males averaged 15. Your tortoise may come and go, depending on what the land vs. development situation is around you. If she disappears for awhile, it may mean that she has moved to a different part of her homerange, and will be back. Remember, it is also illegal to hold the tortoise in your yard, but it is fine if she can come and go of her own accord.

    Welcome to Florida and enjoy one our neatest, most interesting creatures. There are several websites that will help you learn more that are linked to the Enchanted Forest website gopher tortoise page.

    From: Marcus
    Subject: Relocation Documentation and Studies.
    Date: Fri, 2 Aug 2002

    Interesting Site you've got here. Thanks.
    I'm faced with a Rezoning Meeting Aug 6th, 2002 to address a 70 acre parcel that's surrounded by Sensitive and already protected land. The parcel contains more than 42 Gopher Tortoise. I require documentation on the research and effects that relocation has on this animals. Currently, the information has been slim to none.

    I have contacted Ray Ashton Friday, Aug 2 and I'm awaiting a response (which may not come until next week). Can you point me directly to any documentation, research and studies that show the effects of relocation. Obviously, my time is short considering the ZHM is this coming Tuesday.
    Thank you

    Dear Marcus,
    There has not been very much work published on the effects of relocation on gopher tortoises. That is a fact that you might be able to use in your favor. We just do not know if:
    1. the relocated animals stay where they are put, or if they wander off, potentially becoming roadkill
    2. what effect introducing "extra" animals into a habitat has on the food resources, burrow sites, nest sites, or other tortoises already living there. If the habitat is good for tortoises, there should already be a resident population.
    3. There are many other issues relevant to relocation, such as disease transmission (specifically, Upper Respiratory Tract Disease or URTD), genetics, and social structure, that are rarely addressed by the developer or consultants.
    4. Tortoise habitat does not remain appropriate for tortoises over time without active management. The days of "letting nature take its course" are long gone because of the degraded, fragmented condition of our landscape. If the tortoises are relocated, who is responsible to manage the habitat so that the tortoise population will still be there and healthy (i.e., reproducing) in ten or more years?

    I hope these points are helpful. Tortoise dilemmas are never easy and there are no good answers at this time. Until we have city and county managers that are just as interested in preserving our natural heritage and way of life as they are interested in growth and development, this will continue to be a problem.

    Date: Fri, 2 Aug 2002
    Subject: food<> i love to go in nature trails and stuff i always see these turtles i want to feed them what should i take
    Dear Sam,
    It is not really a good idea to feed turtles and tortoises. They are quite capable of getting their own food, and they know what they need much better than we do. For some species, such as the gopher tortoise, it is illegal to feed them because they are protected. My advice is that you just watch them without interfering with their natural way of life.
    From: LCTorres
    Date: Mon, 29 Jul 2002
    Subject: [measurements]
    What is the average width of a mature gopher tortoise (shell) and hatchling(shell)? What is the range for each, mature/hatchling shell?

    I am a 2nd grade teacher and will be attempting to make gopher tortoise models out of paper mache with my students. I want them to be as true to life as possible, however, I can't find an average width measurment for the shell of a gopher tortoise and/or hatchling. If you can give me an average and range for the width, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thanks!

    That is a great project! None of my books give an average width measurement. A shell I have is 9 1/2 inches long and 7 inches wide. Average adult length is 9 - 10 inches and the shells are oval. Hatchlings are about 1 3/4 inches long, and their shells are more rounded than oval. I can email you some tortoise pictures so that you could get the proportions correct. Where are you located?
    From: JPelto9
    Date: Tue, 23 Jul 2002
    Subject: gopher tortise vs developer
    We have been witness to 70 + - tortises in a 9 acre area . we found out that the developer has paid 50,000 to florida wildlife game fish .and now they dont have to move them test them or anything else they can bury them alive

    is this a normal thing or what i wrote a couple months ago and when we talked to game and fish people they told us they would have to move the we thought they would be put in a new place where they could thrive this land has supported these tortises for many years so obviously the food source must be there even the baby tortises have been seen there again is this buyout option happening around here right we realise that the land /money paid for scrub jays they can fly these tortises cannot relocate themselves that easy and find the food they thrive on just anywhere can they ill be watching for a answer because the next town hall meeting is aug 13 at west melbourne city hall thanks

    It is completely legal for the developer to pay the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for a "take" permit that allows them to destroy the burrows and any tortoises that might be in the burrows. This option is often much less expensive than paying for a relocation of the tortoises to another area, or taking the option of relocating the tortoises to a preserved area on the development site.

    There are lots of problems with both of the relocation options, such as disease, genetic issues, tortoise colony social structure, providing enough appropriate habitat, and future management of the habitat. Very often, tortoises are relocated, but it accomplishes nothing except making people feel good because they didn't kill the tortoises outright.

    There are few good answers. The only good answer for the tortoises in your situation is for the development not to occur. What are the chances of that?? Getting the press to the public meeting might help. My only other suggestion is that people on "your side" speak up, but do it calmly and without getting emotional. The only long-term solution is for us to vote for local government officials that value natural resources as much as they value "progress" and growth. Good luck.

    From: HGardensP
    Date: Sat, 20 Jul 2002
    Subject: gopher [road killed]
    Today I helped a gopher get across the road he was trying to cross. Only ten minutes later, I was leaving the place where I was at, and the same gopher was upsidedown, and half his guts were falling out. Pices of his big shell laying around him. He was in the road again, causing traffic problems. I brought him to the ditch, to die. The big guy was trying to walk. I cried, because I love these gophers.

    I live in New smyrna beach, and routinely bring gophers I find, out to Kennedy space center. I never knew it was illegal. When I lived in Flagler beach, we had several gophers on the property. Believe it or not, these gophers would come and eat the "dog poop", after it had sun dried a few days. They did this for four years.

    Gophers are so cool. I had a bad day after seeing a gopher die.

    Dear Friend,
    I am sorry that you had to experience such a terrible thing. It is heartbreaking to see something harmless and vulnerable die for no good reason. I, too, have tried to get gophers out of the road, only to have them hit right in front of me. It is not something that you can forget right away.

    There are many reasons why it is illegal to relocate (move around) tortoises. There is a highly contagious respiratory disease that they can carry without outward signs. It is easy to take an infected tortoise into a healthy population without knowing it, and spread the disease. Tortoises are social animals that live in groups, and we donŐt know what happens to the pecking order within a group when new tortoises are introduced. Also, there may be genetic issues that we do not even begin to understand. I know that you were doing what you thought was best by bringing tortoises to the Space Center, but it would be better if you didnŐt do it any more.

    I can tell from your letter that you are a kind person with great love for tortoises (and probably all creatures). DonŐt let your bad experience get you down. Keep moving tortoises out of the road; occasionally they may walk right back out there and get hit, but more of them will live than will die. Just be very careful not to become road kill yourself!! We need all of the tortoises out here in the world that we can get, but we also need people like you that care.

    From: ktrn
    Subject: Do Gopher T's stay in the burrow at night
    Date: Wed, 17 Jul 2002
    We are in an area that has a zillion of them. There are burrows for miles around. We see poor dead bodies in the roads all the time and have taken many to a Vet who will accept them, that were cracked but not dead. I wish there was something more we could do to protect them. Knowing how long and pleasantly they could live if not for humans makes me feel horrible.

    Can you tell me please if these are nocturnal creatures? I would like to know if they stay in their burrows at night, safe from marauding dogs etc.
    Thanks, ktrn

    Dear KTRN,

    Gopher tortoises are generally considered to be diurnal, coming out only during the day. However, a friend of mine near Gainesville that has a tortoise reserve with several gopher tortoises says that he occasionally sees them out at night, feeding.

    Because they are cold blooded, and their body temperature depends on the ambient temperature, I think they are more influenced by how warm or cold the weather is than if it is day or night.

    From: Mike Monlezun
    Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2002
    Subject: [School Totoise Reserve]

    Hi. I am a 7th grade science teacher and past president of the Jacksonville Herpetological Society. I recently found your Q & A on gopher tortoises and loved what I read. I have a permit for the six tortoises I have in a courtyard at school. The Fort Caroline Gopher Tortoise Reserve (FCGTR)has been a HUGE success! We will hatch out serveral clutches that were layed in May. The herpetology club at school has maintained the reserve with enthusiasm and we are open for tours. I just finished a booklet on the tortoises and we are looking for another successful year. Joan Berish has been a tremendous help!

    One of the projects I want to have the herpetology club do is a booklet on any and all species of animals known to inhabit the burrows. I know most of the species will only be mentioned in scientific papers and probably not available on the net. Can you direct me to a few references that you know of that would help in this endeavor?

    I am trying to create an awareness and educate as many as I can on the gopher tortoise situation. Please help me spread the word about our reserve, as I am seeking any help I can to create this mini ecosystem of almost 1000 sq. ft.

    You can catch a glimpse of the FCGTR at:
    Thanks, Mike Monlezun — Jacksonville Herpetological Society —

    Dear Mike,
    Your letter was forwarded to me via the Enchanted Forest website. Your website is great and so is the work you are doing. I am a big believer in getting the kids enthusiastic about wildlife and conservation as soon as we can.

    A couple of suggestions: I think it is important that people know that gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida and that it is illegal to keep them without a permit. It says on the site that they are not an endangered species (i.e., federally protected), but you do not want people to think that they, too, can go get tortoises and keep them. It is amazing how many folks ask me about that very thing via the Q&A section of our website. You might explain why the woman who donated them had them in the first place (I assume they were development refugees or something like that?). Also, the site mentions that you eventually want to add other burrow commensals to the habitat. Please do not take animals from the wild for this, and make sure that people realize that you are not taking animals from the wild. I could agree that taking a small number of animals, especially for educational purposes, is not crucial to maintaining populations and worth it; however, you must consider the message that you convey

    You may have already considered these issues, but I would feel irresponsible if I didn't mention them. Maintaining the tortoise Q&A section has really opened my eyes to the public's perceptions and misconceptions about wildlife and conservation in general.

    I gave a talk at the J-ville herp society a few years ago on our indigo snake work. They were a fun group, very interested and talkative. And we went out for sushi afterwards!

    Thanks again for the great job you are doing.

    Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2002
    Subject: do they have ears
    We were just wondering if the gopher tortoise have ears? I say yes .... my husband, and son say no .... which one of us is right?
    Thank you, Ronnie, Michelle, and Dana
    Dear Ronnie, Michelle, and Dana,
    Mom's right, sort of. Turtles do not have external ears like we do, so nothing sticks out of their heads that looks like ears. However, the tympanic membrane, the part of the ear that receives sound vibrations, is on the surface of the head near where one would look for an ear. In aquatic turtles, it is thin and transparent. In land turtles, such as the gopher tortoise, it is covered by thick skin. Gopher tortoises do not hear sound waves through the air as well as mammals, and they probably "hear" best by feeling the vibrations moving across the ground.
    Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2002
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise burrows [mowing]
    What a great website for information on Gopher Tortoises. I have read almost every question and answer on the site. We just purchased 5 acres of property in Alachua County, Florida. As we began mowing the lawn (pasture), we noticed large holes, and to make a long story short, our neighbor told us they were burrows made by Gopher Tortoises. We have about four of them.

    How do we know if they are active or inactive? If they are inactive, can we cover them up? We did not go over the hole with the mower, however, we did go over the mounds of sands outside the burrow. Hopefully we didn't do any damage to any eggs. I can't wait to actually see them on our property. Thanks for your help.

    Thanks for the kind words about the site and the webmaster and I are thrilled that it is useful. Congratulations on your reptilian neighbors; you are very lucky.

    In the old days, it was common practice to call burrows "active" vs. "inactive", and to assume that the inactive burrows were empty. Experience, especially with the advent of burrow cameras, has taught us that it is not wise to make such calls. Inactive burrows very often have a tortoise inside, and this is dependent on soil type, time of year, weather, and lots of other factors that we don't even understand. So, my answer is no, please don't cover up inactive burrows. Tortoises are little bulldozers and could likely dig out, but there are many other animals potentially using the burrows that could not.

    If there is a nest in the apron of a burrow (sandy mound in front), mowing over it would probably not hurt the eggs. They are buried several inches from the surface, and the depth depends on the size of the tortoise that dug the nest, the type of sand or soil, and the depth needed to ensure proper incubation temperatures. However, compaction of the dirt above the nest could be a problem once the tortoises hatch and are trying to emerge. Avoid mowing them if you can help it.

    From: Pate...
    Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2002
    Subject: sick turtle
    we found a turtle n have him for a week now but he seems to be very sick,,,, we cant get him to eat anything including banana, lettuce, grass, etc weve tried everything his eyes are swollen in also,,,,, do u have any suggestionss????
    My suggestion is that you take the turtle to a local vet or wildlife rehabilitator. Reptiles are often difficult to treat because they are cold-blooded, and not that many vets are familiar with their specific problems.
    July 10, 2002 5:24 AM
    Subject: [decline of the gopher tortoise]
    Here are a few questions you may be able to answer for me:
    1. What are some of the factors effecting the decline of the gopher tortoise?
    2. What can be done about the problem?
    3. What is already being done about the problem?

    I've got some overall information about these questions but I would like some specific information about them. I know about the diseases and stuff, but it's hard to get information about how it is already being dealt with.
    Thank you, Lauren

    Dear Lauren,
    1. Gopher tortoise populations are negatively affected by habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, disease, and road mortality. There are other things that may negatively affect individuals, such as being taken as pets.
    2. Each of the problems listed above is complicated and there are very few good answers. As long as human populations continue to demand land for houses, businesses, roads, etc., the tortoises are going to lose. There will be loss of habitat and the remaining habitat will be so highly fragmented that it is basically useless for wildlife. Fragmentation leads directly to disease contraction and transmission, because more tortoises are forced into smaller areas and stress is increased. Fragmentation also greatly increases the incidence of road mortality.
    3. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. It is illegal to harm, harass, feed, relocate, capture, or keep them. It is also illegal to destroy their burrows. However, you can get a permit to do any of those things through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Commission gets hundreds of permit requests each year, most of which it grants. They are terribly short-handed and it is difficult for them to enforce the laws that protect tortoises. So, the gopher tortoise outlook is not pretty. As far as the Upper Respiratory Tract Disease goes, there are many researchers that are doing blood tests to determine if tortoises have been exposed to the disease, and much work is being done at the University of Florida.

    There are some bright spots for gopher tortoises. All aspects of them are being studied very well, and there is a wealth of information available. A strong advocate for the tortoise is the Gopher Tortoise Council, a group of scientists, teachers and lay people.

    From: Donna
    Subject: Gopher Turtles [in yard]

    I have aGopher Turtle that lives by our shed. I need to know about foods, and how it gets water. I'm asking this because our dogs (we have 9) don't like the turtles presants. So they try their hardest to kill it , but we have a fence around our backyard.So they can't get it. But everytime w let them out and its tryng to eat they try to bite it. So it never comes out of its hole so I have to go and put grass in the opening of its burrow so it doesn't starve to death.

    Me andmy aunt wondered how it gets water, so we put a bowl of water out by its home. We live on 7 acres of land and we have had a lot of gopher turtles around here and we know that hey are a protected species so we help them. I have been taking care of it for about the past week or so and I need some profesional help by you an how to help it survive. Please help me with it . Oh, and how do you tell if its a boy or a girl. Plase help.Thanck you very much!!
    Sincerely, Ashley

    Dear Ashley,

    You are right that the gopher tortoise is a protected species, so it is illegal for you to allow your dogs to harm or harass them. Each tortoise digs several burrows, so the one by your shed will probably go to another one of its burrows (if it gets a chance) where it feels safe. If you have not actually seen it in or near the burrow lately, it may have already moved.

    Tortoises get their water from the foods that they eat, and will likely not drink out of a bowl. Legal protection also prohibits feeding and watering tortoises. That may seem crazy, but gopher tortoises have very complicated feeding habits and dietary requirements that we do not understand completely. You may be harming the animal by feeding it, because it won't go find the foods that it really needs to be healthy if it is not hungry.

    The way to tell a male from a female tortoise is to look at the bottom shell (plastron). If it is totally flat, the tortoise is a female; if the plastron is concave toward the rear end, it is a male.

    My suggestion is that you keep your dogs away from any tortoises, if possible, and train the dogs not to bite them. With seven acres, you have plenty of room for the tortoise near the shed to move to a spot where it will feel safe, if you will control the dogs.

    From: "Dave
    Subject: rock question
    Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2002
    I have a gopher tortoise that is approx. 23 yrs old and visits a local vet that specializes in reptiles on a regular basis. She is in excellent health and is on a great diet of dark leafy greens, wild grasses, and weeds. I just got back from the vet because I noticed she was lethargic and showing signs of a respitory problem. It actually turned out that she was eating rocks! The doctor said I should mix her food with some vegetable oil and go back for more x-rays in two weeks from the date of this email. She is eating and grazing with just periodic moments of laziness and depression. I just wanted to get your opinion on what my vet said.
    Dear Dave,
    I have never heard of a tortoise eating rocks, but I have heard of them eating bone. If you trust your vet, and he/she x-rayed and saw what appears to be rocks, then I certainly can't argue. It would be nice to know if the tortoise ate the rocks on purpose because of some dietary deficiency or if it ate them accidentally. I know that vegetable oil is recommended to keep things moving through mammals, but maybe that will work on a tortoise. I would keep an eye on droppings to make sure they look normal and happen at regular intervals.

    You may already be aware and in compliance, but you are supposed to have a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in order to keep a gopher tortoise.

    From: Jenniegator
    Date: Wed, 19 Jun 2002
    Subject: burrows
    Do gopher tortoises share burrows? Do they tend to move from one to another? If so, how frequent could these movements/burrow-interactions be?
    Thank you, Jennifer
    Dear Jennifer, We found by radiotracking tortoises here on the Space Center that they will share burrows. It happened occasionally, but was not terribly common. Each tortoise digs several burrows within its homerange (males averaged 15 burrows, females averaged 9), and they move between those burrows quite frequently.
    Date: Tue, 18 Jun 2002
    Subject: Gopher tortie [Serious Injury]
    I have a few questions for you concerning a gopher tortoise that I have in my yard. I found this gopher in the middle of a busy street. He had apparently been hit, as his shell was broken and oozing and he had numerous scrapes on his legs. He also had an upper respiratory infection. I know it's illegal, but I picked him up anyway, and took him to my house in hopes of being able to rehabilitate him. The following day, I took him to The Environmental Center, thinking they could take him, heal him, and set him on his way. Instead, they sent me home with him and told me to put him back where I found him, despite the fact that he was bleeding and oozing and wheezing (I know the torties hiss at times.....this was a definite wheeze). I couldn't see taking him back to the city street where I found him, so I took him home and medicated him myse! lf. I treated him with injectThanks,

    P.S. I live in Mobile, AL

    Dear Susan, I have replied once to your plea for help, and my answer is still the same. You are doing nothing but prolonging the suffering of the tortoise by trying to take care of it yourself. PLEASE take it to a vet that is willing to have it, a zoo with someone experienced with turtles/tortoises, or a wildlife rehabilitator. They may very well put the tortoise to sleep (and from your description, they probably should), but that is much more humane than letting it slowly die. You rescued it from the road because you cared about it.

    Finish the job.

    From: larry
    Subject: What is the fine
    Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2002
    We were given a Gopher tortoise by a friend, and we found out that they were protected. So we want to do the right thing and release him. But we are afraid if we call anyone about the turtle that we will be fined. What is the fine?
    I do not know the fine is for possessing a tortoise, but I do have a couple of suggestions that hopefully will help you and the tortoise. If you can find out from your friend where he/she got the tortoise, the best thing to do would be take it back there and let it go out of harm's way. A tortoise has a home range with several burrows where it spends a lot of its time. The home range habitat provides the resources that the tortoise needs to live and possibly reproduce. Removing a tortoise from its home is not a good thing.

    If it is not possible to take the tortoise back, try to find a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in your area that will take it. They should have the proper permits and facilities to care for the tortoise. They should not release it anywhere other than where it was found; there are disease and genetic issues that make relocating the tortoise a really bad idea. If you must take it to the rehabilitator, please give them a donation. That is an expensive business that provides a wonderful service and not much income.

    Most of all, educate your friend. Picking up and moving tortoises are illegal activities that are harmful for the individual animal. It also thwarts the efforts of many people that are trying very hard to conserve and protect gopher tortoise populations for the future.

    Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2002
    Subject: Fw: Gopher Tortoise laws
    From: Priscilla
    Dear Becky Smith, Below you will find a message that I recently sent to the FWC regarding possible ways to make the public more aware of the laws concerning the gopher tortoise. I also want to state that your site and Q&A section were most helpful to me. Thank you.

    --------- Forwarded message ----------

    From: Priscilla
    Date: Sun, 16 Jun 2002
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise laws
    Dear Joan Berish:
    My family and I moved to Florida two years ago, due to the US Navy. Recently we saw a gopher tortoise and thus began researching this fascinating creature. I will add that my husband and I both applied for FL driver's licenses and to make Florida our "permanent home of records" for the military, upon arrival in this state. During our two years of residency here, it was only recently, through our own researching, that we discovered that "handling, feeding, possessing" gopher tortoises is illegal.

    My question/concern is: why were we not made aware of this earlier? Such as when checking aboard the Navy Base, applying for Florida residency, registering to become Florida voters, applying for public library cards ... Our son is involved in Cub Scouts and no one there ever mentioned this law to us. Then after reading the Q &A section of the Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary by wildlife ecologist Becky Smith, I realize that MANY Floridians are not aware of this law.

    It seems to me that the "Species of Special Concern" Act needs to become more advertised. If signs were posted at public buildings and brochures handed out when people apply for various licenses, Florida citizens would become aware of this law. Brochures could also be distributed at the Florida Welcome Centers along I-95, I-10, and I-75. This would NOT be costly to the State, as well-meaning citizens and agencies could cover the costs for printing the material. Every year, I hear on the television and the radio about how to help the baby loggerhead turtles reach the ocean by not having one's beachfront lights shining out towards the sea; so, why shouldn't the media also address concerns and laws for the gopher tortoisies?

    Perhaps your organization has already thought of theses possible solutions to making the public more aware ... In the meantime, I wanted you to know that another citizen cares for the plight of the tortoises. I commend you and your Agency for the efforts to help save these remarkable creatures.
    Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Priscilla and Family

    Dear Priscilla and Family,
    Thank you very much for your eloquent message. You have hit the nail on the head in many respects. The level of ignorance and misinformation regarding tortoises is mind-boggling.

    Joan Berish is the tortoise queen and has devoted much of her life studying, protecting, and educating folks about gopher tortoises. You can not find a better qualified, more sincere tortoise advocate anywhere. Unfortunately, tortoises have lots of problems with few solutions:

    1. Gopher tortoises live in habitats that are prime real estate for development (high and dry).
    2. They are not federally protected by the Endangered Species Act like sea turtles, so the level of funding for protection is lower.
    3. They are not cute and fuzzy, which also helps procure money for conservation, research, etc.
    4. They are susceptible to disease and road mortality.
    Conservation of remaining habitat, continued research on disease and habitat requirements, and EDUCATION are crucial if we are to keep a viable population of tortoises in Florida. Your newcomer's viewpoint makes it very clear that we still have lots of work to do.

    I am forwarding your message to a few other gopher tortoise researchers/educators/advocates. None of this is news to them, but it is eye-opening to hear it so well put from the "outside".

    Subject: Gopher Tortoise Under Car
    Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2002
    I noticed a gopher tortoise running down the fence line between our apartment porch and another apartment parking lot, after being spooked by a lawn mower. I noticed it crawled under an older car in the parking lot, to seek some shade from the sun. I decided I would go check out the situation, because there is almost always oil and antifreeze puddles in such parking lots. Sure enough there was ahuge puddle of green antifreeze and oil dripping all around the tortoise. I did not know what to do, so I called the department of wildlife and they advised me that it was illegal to relocate the endangered gopher tortoise. They said that I could move it away from the parking lot, just not off of the property. I went to the apartment office next to get some assistance. A maintenance man was able to move the tortoise to a better area near a pond at the center of the apartment complex. This area is surrounded by busy roads and interstates, what type of situation would allow for the relocation of the gopher tortoise? It is to bad that there are so many toxins from automobiles in so many areas. What is the gopher tortoise's ability to with stand toxins such as antifreeze and oil? What else would you recommend to do to make people more aware of the endangered animals that may be resting under their cars?
    Thanks - Jessica
    Dear Jessica,
    You are becoming familiar with a common problem that has no good solution. It doesn't sound like either place (near your apartment or near the pond surrounded by roads) is going to be safe for the tortoises there. I am not aware of any studies that have been done on the effects of antifreeze, oil, etc., on tortoises, or any reptiles for that matter. However, I do know that road mortality kills more tortoises than any other cause.

    My suggestion is to bring the tortoise back to where you picked him up in the first place (if you can retrieve him from the pond area). I realize that is probably not safe, but he has made it this far. If he is put into an unfamiliar place, he will likely wander around looking for "home" and there is an excellent chance that he will get hit by a car. He was naturally hanging out where there is food, suitable places to burrow, and other resources that we don't even recognize.

    Maybe the folks at your complex would let you put up a sign in the office, or include something in their "moving in" packages that would make people aware of the the tortoises. Thank you very much for your interest and concern.

    Subject: sulcata and gopher
    Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2002
    My husband and I are buying 10 acres of land and we live in florida, we own a sulcata tortoise, and as tortoise lovers we would like to know if the sulcata and gopher tortoise can get along, as there are many that live on the land that we are interested in buying for our home, with respect to the tortoises habitats, I am certain that we will not disturb their burrows, but when we are established, would our sulcata, and the gophers be able to coexists on this land?
    Thanks in advance, Leyla
    Thanks for the great question. It is a first for me! I assume that you will confine your sulcata somehow. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal to confine them. As long as you do not force the tortoises to be together, they should be o.k.
    From: Ashley
    Subject: Errrm? [release?]
    Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2002
    On the way to work this morning, I found a turtle/tortoise (?) in the road. Before he got hit, I quickly picked him up, and dropped him in a baby pool where I'd been keeping my two other turtles. When I got home, I realized that this doesn't look like my other turtles. He's got a bigger shell and head, and the part where his head goes in kinda folds up. Is mine a tortoise? And where should I release him into the wild? There's a lake down the road, and a forest across the street.
    My only concern is the forest is next to the road, and I don't want him crawling back in. Should I move him deep into the forest?
    The best thing to do is go to the library or a bookstore and look in a field guide to identify the turtle. When you find turtles that look like the one you picked up, make sure that they are supposed to occur in your area.
    Once you have figured out what it is, please take the turtle back near where you got it, but out of harm's way, and let it go. If it is a land turtle, it should not be placed in the water. If it is a water turtle, a nearby lake would be o.k. Do the best you can to put it back in appropriate habitat, but if you are close, he will go there. There is no way to guarantee that he won't go back into the road sometime, but you have given him a second chance! Thank you.
    Date: Tue, 28 May 2002
    From: Robin
    Subject: Age of gopher tortoise?
    Recently my dad and I photographed two gopher turtles in Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Jupiter, Florida. One of the turtles (see pictures) appeared to have layer upon layer of shell, and even bulges on the plates. I am guessing that this particular turtle is very, very old. Can you estimate its age for me? My guess is at least 60 - 70 years. Thank you for your time!
    Robin, Artist and Nature Enthusiast
    Hi Robin,

    After conferring with a few folks, I think it is safe to say that the tortoise with the weird shell had one of two problems. He might have had a physical problem at an early age that caused the shell to grow like that, such as a wire wrapped on his shell while he was growing. Another possibility is that he has been kept in captivity and did not receive the appropriate nutrition. Both of the tortoises are adults, but they could be anywhere between teenage years and their 60s or 70s. It is very difficult to age tortoises once they become adults.

    I hope this is helpful. Feel free to write back if you have other questions. Thanks for sending such great pictures; that makes it much easier. Becky

    From: PhoenixZun
    Date: Wed, 5 Jun 2002
    Subject: help [run over by car]
    Hello, Thank god and you for your web site. Last week while I was driving home from the store I found a turtle that had just been hit, as always everyone is driving by with not a care for this bleeding creature in the road. It makes me so mad!

    It's a male as I have learned from your site. He's so big that it looks like the car tryed to go over him and hit the top of his shell caving it in. He was bleeding pretty bad but I had gotten it stopped. Then I called my vet who has taken squirrels but they don't do turtles. I called other vets ( them saying no ) then the sea turtle lady Beth she said that he would probably be put to sleep because of his back legs that are fine but weak.

    I deceided to try and save him myself. It's been a week and one day now and he's still with me. He's very big over a foot half long. He's also very sweet. I write childrens books and there is a turtle in all of them Daisy which is what I call him I know , I know. I can't put him outside to eat because of the ants. His back is healing and never smelled bad, he's pushed it back out some. I don't think he has eaten anything since I'v gotten him . I have washed him off with water and he opens his month but thats it. I'v been keeping him quiet and outside in a box in the day

    The best thing you can do for the injured tortoise is get it to a vet or a wildlife rehabilitator as quickly as possible. These professionals may decide that the tortoise needs to be put to sleep, but that may be the only alternative to keep the animal from suffering. The shell of a tortoise is an outgrowth of its bones, not a separate entity from its body. A broken shell is analagous to a broken back in a person. That is not something that will heal without serious medical treatment, or it may not heal at all.

    I must also tell you that gopher tortoises are protected and it is illegal for you to have it in your possession.

    PLEASE ,PLEASE do the right thing and get the tortoise to someone that can help him. Feel free to write me back if you need further information or have other questions.

    From: firelite2000
    Subject: please help!! dog found gopher nest!!
    Date: fri, 24 may 2002
    Hi and I hope you can help me
    My dog dug into a gopher tortoise nest. I gently covered it back up w/ loose dirt, played like a turtle and used the tips of my fingers flipping in the dirt. I did not tap down ... mom is still hanging around. I saw her but is there anything else I should do ... I have made sure Jake (the very bad dog) can't get to the nest again (or even into the woods except on a lead) ... and I am sure he really doesn't want to either.
    We own land and the turtles are well away from our home site ... I have rehabed a racoon from a few days old to release time ... and I too believe that one day of freedom is worth the risk of life ... better than old age in a cage. Please help me and tell me what else I can do to save these babies
    Thanks very much for your concern and efforts. Most people would never have given the situation a second thought! It sounds like you did exactly what I have done on those occasions when I have accidently gotten into a nest. As long as you left the eggs at approximately the same depth and did not pack the dirt too tightly, they should be fine.
    Gopher tortoises do not exhibit parental care, so Mom won't do anything to help the eggs or hatchlings. Keep poor old Jake out of there, and you hopefully will have babies in the next couple of months!
    From: So. Florida Land Conservancy
    Subject: gopher tortoise natural habitat
    Date: Thu, 23 May 2002
    My name is Dimitri, originally from France. I have lived in Forida for over 17 years now and have been in love with the Florida native vegetation and animals. My wife and I live in Jupiter, Fl where the house market is booming. Just a week ago we decided to take our bikes to a parcel being developped and found out that 10 or + borrows were still active. To my dismay I understand that the Gopher enjoys very little pritection or none. The developper can ask for a "take" permit which enables him to destroy everything in sight including the Gopher Tortoises. Do you think we can change this ridiculous law and do you know who should be contacted.

    We have since started a not for profit organization: The South Florida land Conservancy, Inc. so we can purchase and set aside hundreds of acres of native land for the enjoyment of the people and the protection of our native wildlife.
    Thank you so much for your valuable infos!! A bientot. Dimitri

    Dear Dimitri,
    What you say is true, that developers can get a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that allows them to destroy tortoises and their burrows. However, they must mitigate for their actions; in other words, they must pay money to buy land elsewhere that can support tortoises.

    The only other option to the "take" permit is a relocation permit, where the tortoises are moved from the development site to a totally different area, or are moved to somewhere within the development. This sounds like a good idea, but there are so many problems that relocation is often no better than just killing the tortoises, and you don't get the money for mitigation. There are many disease issues and genetic concerns related to relocation. If you are interested in contacting the Conservation Commission, search for their website and contact the main office in Tallahassee.

    Good luck with your efforts to conserve habitat in south Florida. That is badly needed down there.

    Webmaster: You might start here: Gopher Tortoise Permits

    Date: Fri, 17 May 2002
    Subject: [Successful relocations?]
    Have Gopher Tortoise relocations been successful? Can habitats be created? How long does it take before Gopher Tortoises adapt to a new home range?
    Thank you, Willie
    Dear Willie,
    Thanks for the good questions and your interest. Unfortunately, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not require radiotelemetry followup as part of their relocation permits. That is the only practical, reliable way to document what happens to relocated tortoises, and the tortoises that may already be present at the recipient site. What little work that has been done shows that some tortoises stay in the relocation area, and some don't. Putting them in pens for a while before releasing them may help, but there are problems with that technique as well.

    The phosphorous mining industry has tried "reclaiming" scrub habitat after it has been totally destroyed, with varying amounts of success. You might try searching the web for homepages of some of the mining companies to see if they discuss their habitat mitigation efforts.

    From: ICKC
    Date: Wed, 15 May 2002
    Subject: Building home/Gophers
    I'm planning to build a house on 2 acres. Around the perimeter of this land are gopher turtles. I can build the home without disturbing the holes. Am I allowed to do this?
    You should call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in your local region to get the official word, but I believe that if you stay 25 feet away from the burrow, you are not causing an impact. My suggestion, if you are interested in keeping the tortoises healthy and happy, is to leave as much native vegetation as possible, don't let your dogs harass them, and don't put down any more concrete and sod than is absolutely necessary. You might also contact the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative, a non-profit organization set up to help home and land owners successfully cohabitate with tortoises. Their email is
    Date: Tue, 14 May 2002
    Subject: Hi [Rattlesnakes]
    Hi - My family recently built a new home and shortly after we moved in, we discovered 3 tortoise burrows in our backyard. We have enjoyed watching the tortoises come out to eat and stroll across our backyard. I have seen up to 4 tortoises wandering around at one time.

    My concern is about the snakes that may inhabit these burrows - particularly rattlesnakes. Our landscaper suggested "gassing" any creatures out and filling up the holes but I'd rather just get rid of the snakes only, if possible. Does the Snake-Away product work for applications such as these? Do you have any other suggestions for getting rid of snakes in these holes? I just want my yard to be safe for my children.
    Thank You, Beth

    Dear Beth,
    It is true that rattlesnakes have been documented using gopher tortoise burrows, but the chances of that occurring in a neighborhood situation with a landscaped lawn are almost zero. Rattlesnakes are shy, secretive animals that do not prefer to live near people. Activities such as mowing, sprinkling, and cars driving are enough to discourage rattlesnakes from staying in the area. Most snakes do not use burrows that are currently being used by tortoises, because tortoises are mini-bulldozers that run over whatever is in front of them. Rattlesnakes will look for old, abandoned burrows that are in quiet, dry habitat.

    Gopher tortoises and their burrows are legally protected by the State of Florida. Gassing burrows is absolutely prohibited. It is disturbing to me that a professional would give you that advice, and that he is probably telling other people the same thing. You could receive heavy fines and jail time if you were caught gassing burrows. Gassing kills or injures every creature in the burrow, renders the burrow useless for anything after that, and continues to kill things for as long as it takes the residue to disappear. Your tortoises would be gone.

    Beth, I honestly feel that worrying about rattlesnakes in the burrows is analagous to worrying about a tree branch falling on your roof, or someone robbing your house. You do your best to prevent these things from happening, but do not be so concerned that it impacts your freedom and lifestyle. My advice is to be aware of what is going on with the burrows. If a large snake is using one of them, it will leave a distinctive track on the apron of the burrow (the sandy pile at the entrance). Teach your children that there is no need to be afraid of snakes (I worry much more about dogs and overly friendly raccoons), but that they should never pick up, tease, poke, etc., any snake. Published surveys of rattlesnake bite victims show that the overwhelming majority of bites were caused by the person, not an "attack" by the snake. The likelihood of being bitten by a shark or struck by lightning is much greater.

    I have two girls, 12 and 10, so I know that your children's safety is one of the most important things in the world to you. However, I also know that there will be great benefits to their happiness and curiousity about the natural world from having the tortoises in your yard. In my opinion, those benefits far outweigh the extremely minute possibility that there is a rattlesnake around, or that anyone would ever get bitten.

    Feel free to write me back or call me if you have other questions, or if you would feel comfortable telling me the name of your landscaper. Thanks.

    From: HEYU90
    Sent: Tuesday, May 14, 2002
    Subject: (no subject) [take one to a museum?]
    i was just wondering again a gopher was in my yard and it just won't stop following me
    accually it was in my godmothers yard and it had a burrow and it walked out and i took it to my house so it could be left alone and i thought about taking it to the tallahassee museum.. can i do that?? im only eleven.
    Hello, No you can not take the tortoise anywhere, and you need to take it back to your godmother's house immediately. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and it is illegal to move, harass, kill, feed, or do anything else to them or with them without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Besides, if the tortoise was living at your godmother's and had a burrow, that means it has everything it needs to be healthy and happy. Taking it to a museum or zoo means that it will no longer be free, and it will probably never get the chance to reproduce again. We need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get. Please, please, please take it back to its home as soon as you can get somebody to drive you there, and let it go.
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise's in the back yard
    Date: Tue, 14 May 2002
    Hi my name is Candice and I recently found out that my boyfriend has tortoise's living in his back yard. This was very interesting to me since I had never seen one in the wild in Florida. He's had around 4 or 5 different ones that come to visit and have burrows in his yard. So I was curious and decided to get on the internet and find out more about these creatures and what kind of tortoise's they were.
    I can't seem to find any other names than Gopher Tortoise that live in Florida, and the tortoise's look allot like the gopher tortoise's on your cite. I know they are Tortoise's, is there any other kind they could be?? Also I want to make sure he or his family has enough information so they can make sure they their or their two dogs that often go in the back yard for there business don't destroy any food sources or habitats. Can you provide any information??
    Thank you so much!!
    Hi Candice,
    Thanks for asking such good questions and having a wonderful attitude. So often, I get questions from people with tortoises in their yards that are afraid of them ,or want to get rid of them. They just don't realize how lucky they are!!

    First of all, the only tortoise that is native to Florida is the gopher tortoise. Occasionally, misguided people will release an unwanted pet that is not native, but you would not see several of them at a time.

    There are several websites with good tortoise information. The Enchanted Forest website is one of them (if I say so myself!). The Gopher Tortoise Council is another. Just searching on "gopher tortoise" should get you plenty of hits.

    From: HEYU90
    Date: Sun, 12 May 2002
    Subject: [food]
    What do they eat?
    Gopher tortoises are herbivores and eat low-growing vegetation. Occasionally, they have been documented eating bones from a road kill, probably as a source of calcium.
    Date: Thu, 9 May 2002
    Subject: tortoise away from home
    I am a verterinary technician in Orlando, FL. A small tortoise was brought into my clinic today. I believe he/she is a gopher tortoise. Its the size of my hand and very very similar to the pictures on your website. I know this is a protected animal who needs to go back to nature but I don't know where he came from. Since the little guy provided a stool sample, I ran a fecal float. As I expected, there were parasite eggs. My question to you is this.... Where can I take this guy for rehab or release???? He seems healthy enough. He ate romaine lettuce for me. Can he be released with others of his species without fear of possible disease transmission? Can you give me a name or number of someone to contact so I can get him back where he belongs.
    I frequent New Smyrna Beach and see the gophers there. Could I contact someone there?????? Please help.
    Hi. If the tortoise is the size of your hand, it's probably at least three or four years old. It could easily have been exposed to Upper Respiratory Tract Disease in that amount of time, so releasing it into a wild population is not a good idea. There are also genetic issues to consider, as well as the fact that relocating a tortoise without a permit is illegal.

    So ... the best solution would be to try and find out where it came from and return it to a safe place there. If that is not possible, I would find a local rehabilitator that will take it. I am not personally familiar with any in the Orlando area, but you should be able to get some phone numbers. There is "BacktoNature" in Bithlo, just east of Orlando on Highway 50. If the rehabber takes the tortoise, they should have the necessary permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They should also be willing to keep the tortoise and not release it themselves, for the reasons I stated above.

    Thanks for trying to do the right thing.

    From: SurfnTurtl
    Date: Sun, 5 May 2002
    Subject: Where to bring her?
    I've got a Gopher Tortoise living in my back yard (and sometimes my patio when she sneaks in) and I love having her around. My dog and two cats get along very well with the little devil that she is. But, I'm very afraid of something terrible happening to her because I've noticed her starting to burrow under my fence. I don't want her to get hit by a car out front and I don't want her to get hurt in the ditch that's behind my house because every now and then the county workers come back there and plow through everything. I don't plan on getting rid of her, but if I have to, is there someplace in Orlando, FL that I could take her to? I just want her to be safe and happy.
    Thanks, Leann
    Dear Leann,
    The gopher tortoise is legally protected by the State of Florida, so you can not move the tortoise or confine it in your yard without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Tortoises usually have many burrows, so yours may just be going to another area in its home range for a while.

    I doubt that anyone would take the tortoise into a "wild" area, such as a park, because of disease and genetic issues. You would probably have to take it to a rehabilitator or zoo, where it would remain captive for the rest of its life, and likely never get the opportunity to reproduce. I agree that the road and ditch are causes for concern, but I would rather see the tortoise take its chances and hope for the best than to see it captive.

    Date: Sat, 4 May 2002
    Subject: Sulcata tortiose
    Could you please write me back with some information on the sulcata tortiose like what size they get to be, what they look like, if they are a good pet ect.? I would really appreciate it.
    Thanks, Ariel
    Dear Ariel,
    My suggestion is that you get on the web and search for sulcata info. There are tons of it out there, and from people who are experts with that particular animal. I do know that sulcatas are cute, small tortoises when they are young, but grow quickly into huge, hole-digging, voracious monsters that live for a long time. If you are thinking of getting one, do your homework and make sure you are ready, willing, and able to do a good job. An adult sulcata is not an easy pet.
    From: Patti
    Subject: re: gopher turtle [in middle of street'
    Date: Sat, 4 May 2002
    My son found a gopher turtle in the middle of the street and brought it home. What should I feed it besides lettuce and what should I do with it.
    The best thing to do (and a.s.a.p.) is to take the tortoise back to where your son picked it up, look for a close-by safe place (out of the road), and let it go. First of all, gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida, so it is illegal to move, keep, feed, etc., etc. Besides that, the tortoise will hopefully find its way on its own and live to reproduce. We need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get.
    Date: Wed, 1 May 2002
    Subject: tortise vs land development
    i live in west melbourne and they are surveying some property by my house the survey crew has only flagged 12 tortise holes just doing a quick walk thru we found around 50 or more holes most look active some look like they might be abandoned they have already dumped dirt within 3 feet of one we would be interested in any insight on the rules of tortise domain this is a area that has been built up years ago and the remaining land around my house has been untouched for years the sattelite pic i found of the area was from 1977 july first you can walk through and see no changes have taken place on this land since then
    these animals have enjoyed free life for years and now i believe they are going t o be run off the land with any means the developer can use . please let me know asap i will be looking for the answer it could mean the loss of many tortises there are definite signs the tortises are actively living on this land thank you in advance j r p
    Dear JRP,
    Immediately contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 352-732-1225, or their emergency number is 1-800-342-9620. The developers must have a permit to either destroy (bulldoze the burrows) or move the tortoises from the property. They are responsible to determine the number of burrows present in order to get the permit. It is common practice to intentionally underestimate the burrow count in order to acquire the permit with the least expense and trouble as possible.
    Tell the Commission exactly what you told me, and be persistent. They should first check to see if a permit application has been submitted, if it has been granted, and what type of permit was granted. They can also figure out how many burrows the developer said were present. If there is any suspiscion of hanky-panky going on, they should send an officer to the site. When you talk to them, just give them the facts that you know, and try not to be emotional. You will get better results. Again, the most important thing is to be persistent.
    Also, if you can and are willing, get some pictures, just in case they bulldoze the place before anything gets resoloved. At least then, they might have to make some restitution. That does not help those individual animals, but it helps "the cause" in general, and will make the developer think twice before bulldozing next time. Good luck, and keep me posted!

    Date: Sun, 28 Apr 200
    Subject: [Burrow under slab]
    I have a question for you. We have been privileged to have a gopher turtle to take up residence under the pad of our air conditioning unit. My question is, with him burrowing under the concrete, how far under the slab will the turtle burrow and is there a concern for cave-in?
    We do not want to lose this turtle or force him to go elsewhere, but we do not want him to be crushed either!!
    Also, would you recommend planting special vegetation for the turtle to feed on? Should we provide a water source for him/her?
    I thank you for your time and look forward to hearing from you soon.
    Dear Rob,
    A tortoise burrow will likely be less than 20 feet long and only the width of the tortoise. That should not be enough to cause a cave-in because the pad of your a.c. unit has a much wider base to support it. I would not suggest providing extra food or water for the tortoise. First of all, it is illegal to do so (per the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). Besides that, if the tortoise is there, it has everything it needs already. Tortoise dietary requirements are complicated. Research has shown that they not only eat different kinds of food in different seasons, but different kinds of food during the day. They are cold-blooded and need solar energy for digestion; the temperature determines what they can efficiently digest. In the wild, they probably get the majority (if not all) of their water from the foods they eat because there often is not a permanent source of fresh water.
    You may notice that the tortoise will leave the burrow under your house for a few days, weeks, or months. Tortoises dig several burrows within their home range, so he/she will probably come back sooner or later.
    From: Linda
    Subject: [tortoise eggs]
    Date: Wed, 24 Apr 2002
    I recently looked out my window and to my surprise there was a small gopher digging a hole in my yard. Not a large hole but about the size of a tennis ball. Then she cover some of the hole back in with dirt. I was pleasantly surprised. We used to have several gophers but I haven't seen any for about 15 years. Could this be another kind of turtle? She went to the middle of my back yard (in a broad open space) and dug this hole. I thought she would have chosen a more protected spot to lay her eggs. I did not disturb the hole but I am sure she laid eggs (what else?). After she left I went to see what she did and the ground around the hole was still moist.
    I guess I want you to confirm that this was a gopher and not some other kind of turtle that lays their eggs in the same way.
    Dear Linda,
    The best way for you to confirm if it was a tortoise digging in your yard is to look in a field guide or on the internet to see if it looked like a tortoise. Most species of turtles lay their eggs in holes that they dig in the dirt or sand and then cover up. There is no parental care, so the eggs will hatch on their own in sixty to ninety days, depending on the species of turtle. Gopher tortoise eggs are usually placed in the apron (pile of sand) in front of a burrow. However, I have heard of a tortoise that laid her eggs in a hole on a road shoulder. Many species of water turtles (cooters, sliders, etc.) will dig their nests right in the open, so that may be what you have. If you are really lucky, you might see hatchlings emerge, or egg shells after the nest is finished. Good luck!
    From: Kerry
    Subject: turtle age?
    Date: Sun, 21 Apr 2002
    I have a large male gopher turtle living on my land. I love to observe him grazing in my yard, and have grown a fondship towards him through out the years. I call him "Ottis". Please tell me how I can figure out Ottis' age. I know he is an adult measuring about 15" long or longer from his head to his tail.
    Dear Kerry,
    There is really is not a reliable way to age tortoises once they are adults. When they are young (5 years or less), you can often count the rings on the scutes of the bottom shell and get a rough idea. However, that method assumes that they put down one ring per year, which may or may not be true, depending on food resources and weather. Once a tortoise has spent several years crawling about on rough sand and dirt, the rings wear down. You will just have to be satisfied knowing that Ottis is a mature adult, so he is at least 20 years old. At 15 inches long, he is likely very old, maybe 50 - 70 years, but that is merely a guess.
    From: cody
    Date: Wed, 17 Apr 2002
    [Subject: small gopher tortoise]
    i have a small gopher tortise an i need to know what it eats. could u please e mail me as fast as u can so i can help this thing live. thanks for your time.
    Dear Cody,
    The gopher tortoise is listed as a species of special concern by the State of Florida and it is illegal for you to keep one as a pet. You need to take the tortoise back to where you found it and let it go out of harm's way. Besides, we really know very little about the dietary needs of gopher tortoises, especially young ones. They are reptiles (i.e., cold blooded) and have very specific temperature requirements as well. The best thing you can do for the tortoise is to let it go. It knows what to eat and where to spend its time. If you keep it, it will not ever get the chance to reproduce. We need all of the baby tortoises out there that we can get. Please let it go.
    Date: Sat, 6 Apr 2002
    Subject: question [horses around burrows]
    This morning while reading the paper I came across your name in the Earth Day article. Perhaps you can offer a suggestion or two on how a gopher tortiose and my horse can live together in the same pasture! Recently we moved to Windover Farms in Titusville. We are very lucky to have several tortiose burrows throughout the property. However, recently a burrow turned up inside my pasture where I keep my horse. The hole presents a danger to my horse as he could easily stumble and break a leg. I really would like to find a solution that would keep both the tortoise and my horse safe. Any ideas? Thank you so much -- Janice
    Janice, Here is what I got from a woman that knows horses, tortoises, and is a biologist, friend, and neighbor of mine (i.e., I trust her). She has seen folks in Ocala put logs across the top of the burrow, not blocking the entrance, but forcing the horse to step over it. They also use logs in a triangle around the burrow, again, not blocking access for the tortoise. Putting stakes around it with flagging should visually alert the horse, but the usefulness of that depends on the personality of the horse. She said that their pony, Rusty, considers anything inside flagging much more interesting than things outside of flagging.
    Date: Fri, 29 Mar 2002
    From: Ray and Ruby
    Subject: Tortoise of course!
    We bought a little 10 acre piece in the FLA panhandle in Oct. 2000. Since then we have become aware of numerous boroughs at the south end and have observed several larger tortoises. We also have a baby that moved into our garden. We are retired and don't have any money to throw around, but is there someone who could come and evaluate the area and make recommendations as to what we can do to keep these critters healthy, happy and here? Regards, Ray & Ruby in Jackson County
    There is a group that works out of Gainesville that does just the kinds of things that you need. Email them at That gentleman's name is Ray Ashton and he will be happy to send you information about the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. I think the Initiative also has a web site. Ray has been in the tortoise conservation business for many years, is very knowledgeable, and an all-around nice guy. Tell him I sent you!
    Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002
    From: Kurt
    Subject: Kids w/ Gopher Tortoise
          We're lucky to have serveral gopher tortoises living in our back yard that backs on some sand dunes. They are urious creatures that are not what I would expect from a reptile.
          I have some young kids that I am teaching to not approach the tortoises and to stay a respectful distance. Would they snap at a finger if too close?
          Also, I'm surprised to find that two share a den. Are they social? We have two dens and quite a few trails, but I've seen only two, together, using the same den.
    Hi Kurt,       Thank you so much for showing respect for the tortoises on your property, and teaching the same to the kids. So often, that is not the case, with the animals losing out in the end. Gopher tortoises rarely bite, but I would still caution people not to stick their fingers near the tortoises mouths. If these animals are becoming familiar with people, they are losing their fear and may not be as predictable as tortoises I encounter in the wild. I keep a tortoise that lost one of his front legs in an accident, so he can not be released because he can't dig a burrow. He is not "friendly", but is not really afraid either. He nipped at one of my daughters once, and their beaks are pretty sharp.
          We did some radiotracking of tortoises in the late 1980s here on the Space Center. We occasionally found two tortoises using the same burrow for short periods of time, but it was usually two males. If the area where your tortoises are living is crowded, they may simply be saving space
    Subject: Burrow temperatures
    Date: Wed, 27 Mar 2002
    I would like to know if you have data on temps inside burrows, especially concerning seasonal variations and also according to various depths along the burrow from entrance to bottom. I've once been told that it was a rather constant 76F, but I'm sure that can vary somewhat from the coldest part of winter to the hottest part of summer.
    Phil, Montreal
    I do not have those data myself, but they may exist out there somewhere. Look on the Gopher Tortoise Council website and contact them. If anyone knows who has done that work, it will be them.
    Date: Sat, 23 Mar 2002
    Subject: [names for sexes?]
    Hi there! Can you please answer this question for me: Are there any specific names for male and female tortoises? I mean are there names like "horse" and "mare" kind of thing? or are they just classified as males and females?
    Dear Shilpa, As far as I know, males and females. That is all I have ever heard or used.
    Interesting question!
    Subject: question [Australia]
    Date: Fri, 8 Mar 2002

    Just one quick question, Why aren't terestrial tortoises (gopher tortoises) found in Australia?

    thanks, ed

    Dear Ed,
    This might have been a quick question, but it took me awhile to figure out the answer. About 200 million years ago, the world was made of one large continent called Pangea. It started to break apart into two supercontinents, Laurasia in the north and Gondwanaland in the south. What is now the continent of Australia belonged to Gondwanaland. The fossil records of terrestrial turtles (i.e., tortoises) indicate that they originated in Laurasia. Because tortoises are not highly mobile (like a bird or large mammal), they were unable to cross the wide expanses of ocean that separated the continents. So, that is why there are no tortoises in Australia. Thanks for giving me the opportunity of educating myself!
    Subject: food that baby eat
    Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002

    i found a baby gopher turtle that my cat tryed to eat .need to know what to do about feeding it or where to turn it lose at. i think it is two to four days old.

    Dear Shana,
    Please take the baby back to as close to where you think your cat picked it up and let it go. Look for some woods and put it underneath palmetto fronds or in some roots at the base of a plant. It will need a place to hide. We do not know very much at all about what baby tortoises eat, or how they spend their time, but the tortoise will know what to do.

    Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida, so you can not keep the tortoise. Besides, we need all of the babies out there in the wild that we can get.

    It is very important that you not allow your cat to run around loose. House cats and feral (wild) cats are responsible for millions of animals dying each year, including birds, frogs, lizards, mice, and many other creatures, such as the baby tortoise. Even if the cat is well fed, it still has the natural instinct to pounce upon anything that moves. Please make your cat stay inside. It will live longer and be healthier, and the rest of the world will be a better place!

    From: Markus
    Subject: Gopher tortoise [breeding]
    Date: Sat, 9 Mar 2002
    I am breeding very rare tortoises from Malagasy. Now I want to breed the Gopher tortoise. Can I buy it from any breeder or a shop?
    Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the States of Florida and Georgia, and federally protected west of the Tombigbee River drainage. You would have to obtain a permit in order to legally have them in captivity.
    From: Daniel
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise Commensals
    Date: Sun, 17 Mar 2002

    I'm doing a bit of research for a conservation biology class, and am looking for any information I can find relating to the varied commensal organisms that share the burrow of the gopher tortoise. Not always easy going, unfortunately, as I've been able to find little enough written with regards to their relationship with the tortoise. If you know of any good information sources relating to this, drop me a line. Until then, I'm heading back to the libraries and search engines.
    Thanks in advance

    Daniel, There are lists of known commensals, but I am not familiar with papers that specifically deal with interactions among commensals or between commensals and tortoises. You are probably doing the right thing searching the available literature. Also look at the Gopher Tortoise Council web site. Good luck, and feel free to write me back if you have other questions or would like me to fax a list of commensals to you.
    Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 16:22:49 EST
    Subject: [i picked it up and took it home with me]
    Hi my name is Krista ... just today I was walking my dog when we came across a tortoise ... actually my dog, Kassie came across it but i picked it up and took it home with me. We have it in something like a dishpan and we put hose water with rocks and bunches of plants and dirt in a bowl. The rocks are in the water. It always seems to be scratching at the walls of the tupperware but everytime i take it out ... it doesn't go anywhere. My mom and I think that it is just a baby tortoise, but we aren't for sure. We counted the circles on its back and counted 14... we aren't even sure what kind of tortoise it is. I was wondering what would be a basic tortoise's habitat, what it eats, and would it be happy living with us? How should I set up a habitat for this animal if we were to keep it. Please write back, I am very desperate to know.
    Thank you
    Dear Krista, The first thing you need to do is identify what kind of turtle/tortoise that you have taken home. Try to find someone that is experience with reptiles, either through a local college, large pet store, zoo, or local herp society. If none of those are possible, go to the library or bookstore and look in a reptile field guide until you find the animal that you have. If it is a tortoise, they do not do well in water, as they are strictly land animals. Also, many species of tortoises and some turtles are protected and it is illegal to keep them in captivity.

    Probably the best thing to do is take the tortoise back where you found it and let it go. Animals in captivity do not usually get the opportunity to reproduce, and we need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get. Also, many of these animals are difficult and expensive to keep because of their housing and dietary requirements. You may not be able to do a good job and have a healthy pet.

    From: James - United Kingdom
    Subject: Tortoise [were do I get a Tortoise from] Date: Tue, 5 Mar 2002
    Hi my name is James hope you are well. I relay want a tortoise and I live in England and I am 12. How and were do I get a Tortoise from.
    Dear James, I agree with you that tortoises are wonderful creatures. However, you need to consider several things before getting one for a pet. First, many species of tortoises are protected because their populations are endangered or threatened, and you can not legally keep one in captivity. Also, the dietary and housing requirements are not always well understood, and they are more difficult to keep than many people realize. You certainly want your pet to be healthy and happy.

    My suggestion is that if you really want a tortoise, do your homework first. Find a species that is not legally protected and is available from a breeder or reputable pet store. Make sure the tortoise was captive-born (not taken from the wild). Research exactly what you need to do to house and feed the tortoise so that you can do a good job. If all of this sounds too difficult and too expensive, then I would ask you to wait. You might enjoy finding a breeder that keeps tortoises or a researcher or zoo that would allow you to do some volunteer work.

    From: Kaikai
    Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2002
    Subject: gopher tortoise [how many?]
    where did the Gopher Tortoise origainally come from?
    how many or left in the world?
    anything that makes the Gopher Tortoise special?
    what is currently being done to help them?
    The gopher tortoise's range once included all of Florida and the southern portion of the southeastern states from Louisiana to South Carolina. Their range has been greatly reduced and the stronghold is now in southern Georgia and the north and central portions of the Florida peninsula. There is not really a good estimate of the remaining population, but there are at least several thousand. Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern, and federally protected west of the Tombigbee River drainage.
    Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2002
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise burrows
    Thank you for your informative website. I am doing some research about on the gopher tortoise and its relationship with other animals that use its burrow. I know that many species of animal use the gohper tortoise burrow for shelter and protection. Is it possible that several of these animals, such as a mouse, a frog, and a snake could be found at the same time in a burrow with a tortoise? Thank you for your help.
    More than one animal can often be found in one burrow at the same time, especially if you include the invertebrates. I have seen a tortoise and frogs on several occasions, and a mouse with a tortoise once.
    Subject: keeping a gopher
    Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2002

    I had a turtle for a month almost ,I just think it was a mud turtle then when I went to bush gardens I saw the same turtle in the window and it was a gopher turtle .What should I do with my turtle (muddy) I cant give him up ?

    My name is margaret and my turtle is muddy

    Dear Margaret,
    The first thing to do is find out exactly what kind of turtle you have. Look at the library in some reptile field guides, or look on the internet. If your turtle is not a tortoise, it is not against the law for you to keep it. However, if it is a gopher tortoise, it is illegal for you to have it because they are protected by the State of Florida as a species of special concern. Your dad needs to take it back where he got it and let it go.

    Margaret, I know that you love the turtle, but you really should let it go, no matter what kind it is. Most wild animals are much happier and healthier living outside where they belong. Your turtle knows what it needs to eat, and where to sleep, and it will eventually want to find a mate and have a family. We need all of the baby turtles we can get in the world. If you want a turtle for a pet, you can buy a captive-born (not taken from the wild) turtle at a pet store or herp show. Please consider letting the wild turtle/tortoise go back home.

    Date: Sun, 17 Feb 2002
    Subject: gopher turtle food & houseing
    My daughter has found a baby gopher turtle at a playground. We have relocated it away from the surrounding roads of the playground to a wooded area next to our home. What we think is the same small turtle keeps returning to our home throughtout the day. Can we put food down for this animal? What does it eat? We have a sand box and was wondering if this animal maybe trying to make a home there? Do baby gopher turtles burrow in the sand like the adults? Do they need to stay warm at night? We are in the state of Florida.
    Thank you for your help.
    - - - - - - - - -
    Sent: Tuesday, February 26, 2002
    Subject: Re: gopher turtle food & houseing
    Thank you for your information. We DID release the turtle back at the playground awhile ago, and after reading what you had wrote we knew for sure that we did the right thing.
    Thanks again
    Although I am sure you were trying to do the right thing for the baby tortoise, it is illegal to relocate gopher tortoises without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. There are many good, sound biological reasons for this. At this point, the best thing you can do is go back to the playground, look around for some woods in the nearby vicinity, and release the tortoise. Apparently, there must be good tortoise habitat there somewhere because there is a reproducing population. Look for adult burrows to help you decide where to put the baby. Young tortoises do a number of things: they sometimes dig their own burrows, they often use adult burrows, or they just hide out under the vegetation. Tortoises (all reptiles) are cold-blooded, which means that their body temperature is the same as the surrounding environment. They will find shelter that will keep their temperature within the range that is good for them. Do not release the tortoise if the low temperature that night is going to be less than 50 degrees F. When you release it, either place it in an adult burrow, or set it in the shade under some low-growing plants.

    Baby tortoises are difficult to keep and their dietary requirements are not well understood. It is very doubtful that you would be able to feed the baby all of the right things that will allow it to grow into a healthy, reproducing adult. Please take it back where you found it, because we need all of the healthy, reproducing adults that we can get.

    Feel free to write me back if you have other questions or need more information. I know it may be difficult to explain this to your daughter (I have a 12-year-old girl and a 9-year-old girl that are both animal crazy), but try to get her to understand that the tortoise knows best how to take care of itself and that it needs to go back home.
    - - - - - - - - -
    Date: Wed, 27 Feb 2002
    That is excellent news!! It is so nice to hear a happy ending once in a while. Thanks very much.

    Subject: Question [Cold blooded animal]
    Date: Wed, 13 Feb 2002
    Hi, my name is sherrisa. and i am doing this chemistry assignment. i was wondering if you new the difference between the respatory of a cold blooded animal vs. warm blooded
    Dear Sherissa, Before I can answer your question very well, I need more information. Do you mean the way that these different animals breathe, or the way that their respiratory system is set up, or how the air is carried in their blood, or something besides any of those questions? There are many similarities between warm-blooded and cold-blooded creatures, but there are also many radical, important differences. If you can be more specific with what you need, I will try to help. Thanks. Becky
    From: Crarch
    Date: Wed, 13 Feb
    how do you sex tortoises
    It is fairly easy to distinguish between male and female adult tortoises. Look on the bottom shell (the plastron). At the rear end, if it is concave, the tortoise is a male. If it is perfectly (and I mean perfectly) flat, it is a female. Even a slight concavity indicates a male. Younger, and therefore smaller, tortoises are more difficult to separate, so anything less than 10 inches (25 cm) that is flat on the plastron may still be a juvenile male.
    Subject: feeding
    Date: Thu, 31 Jan 2002
    What do gopher turtles eat or like to eat?
    Dear Alina,
    Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and will eat most any low-growing herbaceous plants they can find in their habitat. They will also eat seeds, berries, and fruits that they can reach or that fall to the ground. One of the most interesting things they eat is our native cactus, the prickly pear (genus Opuntia). They eat the flowers, fruits, and even the cactus pads, spines and all. Occasionally, tortoises have been seen eating the bones of mammals that have been killed on the road by cars. They may be looking for a source of calcium, probably to shell their eggs.
    From: Paparome
    Date: Sun, 6 Jan 2002
    Subject: gall berry
    I am a volunteer with the national park service and my first project is to create a gopher tortoise habitat. In the area i am to manage I find alot of gallberry ilex glabra. I am wondering if gopher tortoise eat it. I know they eat wiregrass aristida stricta, gopher apple licania michauxii, saw palmetto berries, and prickly pear cactus can you add any other species to my list? Thank you for all of your help.
    Date: Mon, 28 Jan 2002
    I finally got the answer!
    Yes, gopher tortoises will eat Ilex glabra.
    Date: Tue, 08 Jan 2002
    From: Ora
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise Family Habits
    Hi. Thanks in advance for answering this question.
    Do gopher turtles live alone or in packs?
    Hi. Gopher tortoises live is loose-knit groups called colonies or pods. They have a social structure of dominant males and females (usually based on size/age). Tortoises of both sexes will move about the habitat between a number of burrows, and males occasionally move out of the colony, perhaps in search of new mates.
    From: Fignewton10
    Date: Wed, 26 Dec 2001
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise (relocate, runny eyes, male/female?)
          My class is trying to relocate 3 baby gopher tortoises. All of them seem to have a problem with their eyes. They always scratch them and we do not know why. We have asked veterinarians but they don't know much about Gopher Tortoises. Do you know why the Tortoises scratch their eyes? How can you tell if the Gopher Tortoises are Male or Female? We think our Tortoises are female. Thank you and please write back!
    Hi Fignewton10,
    You should take the tortoises to a vet or to a wildlife rehabber with reptile experience. Check your "yellow pages" and check around. If taht fails, you could contact the Gopher Tortoise Council for help in your area.
          It is illegal to hold or relocate Gopher Tortoises. Please see our previous responses.
          You can see good illustrations on how to determine the sex of a Gopher Tortoise in my article on the previous page. Your babies may be too young to easily determine their sex.
    Date: Tue, 25 Dec 2001
    Subject: The turtle and the dog :0)
    We have a gopher tortoise in our backyard. (Jupiter FL) We just moved in and our little dog likes to chase after anything and everything. I am concerned for the both of them. I was reading and you said the Gopher could carry disease (This extremely contagious and nearly always fatal illness is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma agassizii.) Could my dog catch it if he bites the gopher. We are putting him on a leash but he really likes to run around and we can't watch him every second.
    Also,does the tortoise have any teeth or pose any threat to my dog??
    Dear Lisa,
          There is no danger of the tortoise hurting your dog, or giving it a disease. Tortoises do not have any teeth; their "beak" is sharp, but it is very unlikely that the tortoise will try to bite your dog, even if your dog is biting the tortoise. Tortoises operate on instinct, not intelligence, and they will try to hide in their shells instead of becoming aggressive. The disease, Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, is communicable between tortoises only (and maybe box turtles), but not to mammals.
          My concern is for the tortoise. You are very lucky to have your resident and should treat it as though you have moved into its territory. Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, so it is illegal to feed, hold, harm, harass, move, or mess with in any way a gopher tortoise. This includes your dog, and you are ultimately responsible for harm the dog might do to the tortoise.
          Please excuse me if this sounds harsh. Gopher tortoises are on the decline throughout their range, and especially in south Florida. The land is developed so rapidly that the poor creatures have few choices left of where to go, which is why they end up in people's back yards. My suggestion is that you train or control your dog, and learn about gopher tortoises. You will probably decide that you are truly fortunate to have the opportunity to live near such a fabulous creature.
    Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2001
    Subject: gopher tortoise protection
    From: john
    Hello, I am new to computers and e-mail can you tell me if there's any way that a developer can be prevented from destroying a 25 acre active and recently active nesting sitethat has at least 46 burrows in it ? From what I have heard and read about mitigation ect. it doesn't seem to be a very good alternative.Please can you help with some information?
    many thanks
    You need to contact your local office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (I am assuming you are in Florida). Give them the address of the site and tell them what is going on there. If you do not get satisfaction from them, call the Conservation Commission headquarters in Tallahassee (850-921-5990).
    You should also call whatever local government has jurisdiction over the property (i.e., city vs. county). Go to the building and development permitting office. If nothing works, as a last resort, call your local newspaper. Best of luck, and don't give up until you get some answers. The development may have the proper permits and there will be nothing you can do, but it is worth checking.
    From: Michael
    Subject: tell me about gopher tortoises
    Date: Tue, 4 Dec 2001
    Hi i'm doing a project on you. In order for me to this project I need to know some things about, for instance, I would like to know if you are a produrer or a consumer? What is your habitat? What is your Food chain?, (at least three or more species). Can you please send me a picture of you and your species and your scientic name.
    Please and thank you for you cooperation.   Have a nice day!
    You are welcome to use pictures off of that site for your project; just be sure you give credit to the web site for the photos. The gopher tortoise's scientific name is Gopherus polyphemus.

    Gopher tortoises are consumers and their food chain is simple because they eat nothing but low-growing plants. Some of their favorite foods are prickly pear cactus (pads, flowers, and fruit), palmetto berries, gopher apple, and just about any kind of wild grass. Gopher tortoises dig their burrows in high dry habitats, such as scrub and flatwoods, but they will also feed along the edges of freshwater wetlands.

    Subject: Range map
    Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2001
    Do you know of a website where I can find a range map (map pointing out where there are a lot of Gopher Tortoise and few G.T)? I need an actually map rather than the percentages.
    Thanks. Amber
    The only range maps I know of have dots in the counties where tortoises are known to occur. That is not very helpful, I know. We are supposed to have a "meeting of the minds" this spring to try and improve that situation.
    Stay tuned!   Becky
    Subject: can you suggest a good info source?
    Date: Thu, 22 Nov 2001
    I live in west palm, florida and have been instructed and have begun volunteer work at a county park nature center. I search out new burrows take down info, such as apron temp etc. We also Study the tortoises themselves measuring them and giving each a number. I really like these critters and find them very interesting. I have searched on the internet for all the info i can find, but was wondering if you could steer me in the direction of an informative book or information source on these creatures. I want to learn all I can so my documentation will be the most helpful and correct. Any other tips would also be appreciated! Thank You,   Cherie,   Volunteer, Okeeheelee Nature Center
    Dear Cherie, Two good sources of information are: the Gopher Tortoise Council and the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative (GTCI). Both of these organizations have websites with other contact information. The GTCI offers a three-day course several times a year that would teach you all of the things you mentioned and lots more. I don't know if the nature center would be willing to fund you to take the course, but you could get the info and ask! Another source for written information is the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which also has a website. Best of luck, thank you for your efforts
    From: Mike
    Subject: (Population)
    Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2001
    What is the population number of the Gopher Tortoise presently? Are the populations still declining?
    There is not a good population estimate for gopher tortoises in Florida because it is incredibly difficult to do a decent survey. Suffice it to say that there are several thousand. Their population is believed to be declining, and will continue to do so as long as there is the rampant development of their habitat.
    Subject: found baby gopher
    Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2001
    Hi,     Today I found a baby gopher (teeny tiny little guy) in the middle of the road, a very busy road.There was a truck coming so I ran out in the road, not too smart I know, and grabbed him before he was killed.I didn't realize that he was a gopher until I got home.I was planning on taking him back to where I found him but it's in a largely populated area,lots of houses and buildings and roads not much nature at all. I was wondering if it would be okay to release him within a mile or two of where i found him,there are some woods a couple miles from the road I found him on.Please help!!!!! Thanx! Sarah
    p.s.-how do you think he ended up in that area????
    Dear Sarah,
    The best thing to do when you find a tortoise in danger is to rescue it and place it in the closest available habitat.

    Who knows how the animal got into the middle of a busy road in a populated area? It might have well crawled there on its own; they can go amazing distances fairly quickly. Or it might have been transplanted and lost by a person looking for a pet.

    From: Bernard
    Subject: tortoise can hear ?
    Date: Mon, 5 Nov 2001
    i wonder, Gopher tortoise can hear the sound around them ?....or more clearly, tortoise has ears ?
    Gopher tortoises do not have external ears, but have a thick membrane covered with skin on the sides of their heads that functions as ears. Even though they can hear some sounds, they probably use vibrations from the ground to "hear" what is going on around them.
    From: Cheryl - Ecological Risk Assessor
    Subject: lead toxicity
    Date: Thu, 18 Oct 2001
    Hi,     I am trying to find out any information with regard to the effects of lead on gopher tortoises. I used to work for Dynamac, so it was interesting to see your address. I am doing a risk assessment review for a skeet range located just outside of Jacksonville. The skeet range has lead in soils detected at maximum concentrations of 66,000 mg/kg. However, much of the range has lead concentrations in soil in the 50 to 400 mg/kg range and gopher tortoises are present at the site. Has there been or is there any ongoing research concerning toxicity of lead (either acute or chronic) to gopher tortoises?
    Subject: Questions about gopher tortoise eggs and range
    Date: Mon, 15 Oct 2001
    I sometimes give gopher tortoise talks. Someone asked two questions which I couldn't answer. What is the size of the eggs?
    What is the approximate size of a gopher tortoise territory or range?
    Thanks.   Doris
    Dear Doris,
    Gopher tortoise eggs are about the size of a ping pong ball. Home range size varies considerably between individuals, males and females, with latitude, and habitat quality. The safest, most accurate thing to say in an educational program is that they are a few acres, and that males generally have larger ranges than females. Thanks for your efforts. We need all the educators out there we can get! Becky
    Subject: Camera and Probe
    Date: Wed, 10 Oct 2001
    Hello. I am working on a project that will involve radiotelemetry on gopher tortoises. My question is, what company did you buy your camera and probe from (I have only found one company so far, Sandpiper) ? Are there different techniques to use other than a camera (which I have seen are expensive). Also, what is the greatest length a burrow can reach ? Do the tortoises generally stand still, or how do you actually reach them once you've spotted them inside the burrow? Thanks for any information,
    I purchased our camera system several years ago from a biologist. He is not a company, but builds camera systems for tortoise burrow use on the side. The applicability of "other techniques" depends on what you are trying to do; if you send me more details, I might be able to suggest something. My camera reaches about 20 ft., which is about the maximum that you can deal with efficiently anyway. The camera system is great and I love it, but it is not perfect.
          Many tortoise burrows twist and turn, or have forks, that make using the camera difficult or even impossible. I have hundreds of hours of field time with my camera, and there are often burrows that I can not reliably determine if they contain a tortoise or not. Also, my camera, which is black-and-white, is not very good for detecting burrow commensals. I hope this is helpful (and not too late). If you are interested in contacting the biologist that builds the cameras, please email me and I will give you that information, but I do not want it posted on the web site.
    From: tntwjw
    Date: Mon, 8 Oct 2001
    Subject: gopher tortoises
    in the gopher tortoises home range what length does ha and ac stand for
    Ha and ac stand for hectares and acres, respectively. They are units of area, not length. Hectare is metric and equals 10,000 square meters. An acre is an English unit of measure and one acre equals 43,560 square feet. One hectare equals 2 1/2 acres. These units of measurement are the same for everything, not just tortoises.
    From: Robin
    Subject: gopher tortoise information
    Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001
    I am a volunteer with the Eglin Air Force Base Jackson Guard. I am looking for information on the housing of captive gopher tortoise. Any information would be helpful to get us started. We are planning on building a pen area to hold any injured tortoise that after treatment would not survive if returned to Eglin property.
    My suggestion is that you contact the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative and ask them for information. Their email is
          They also have a web site that you can find by searching on Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. You can rely on them for good, scientific information.
    Date: Wed, 3 Oct 2001
    Subject: 5 baby gopher tortoises
    I live in georgia and we have 5 babies in the back yard. We had two adults up until june. How can we make sure these babies survive . I dont know the laws here in ga for the turtles and have not been able to find anything for ga. We know they are gopher. We had them id by a local person. They were in the yard for over 15 years and we think they are their babies. We found them burrowed in the place where the adults were. We dont want to lose the babies its good sandy black soil and several types of bushes and lots of grass. Thanks nan
    Dear Nan,
    If the adults in your yard have survived for so many years, and they have been reproductive, I would suggest that you let them be. Obviously, they know what they are doing! Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Georgia, but I do not know what protection that affords them. Contact your local office of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for more information.
    Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2001
    From: Niki
    Subject: Tortoise Research
    I am a student at the University of Florida and I am currently working on a research paper regarding Gopher Tortoises. Specifically I am looking for information about Gopher Tortoise laws and relocation programs. I was wondering if you know of any good literature about tortoises or have any information regarding relocation programs.
    Thanks for your help - reading other peoples' questions and your answers has been very helpful!
    Dear Niki,
    Thanks for your kind remarks regarding the tortoise page. It has been a very interesting experience answering questions and hearing people's opinions on different issues.

    The best place to get information on tortoise relocation and protection is from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. You can write the permitting office at FFWCC, 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600, or call them at 850-921-5990. You can also get information from the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. Their email is Good luck on your paper.

    From: Trish
    Subject: Gopher mating
    Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2001
          We live on 2 1/2 acres in Jax. FL, our resident male gopher, Ricky, has brought him home a girlfriend. She is currently in his burrow. If she has babies, will she stay in his burrow, or go somewhere else and lay the eggs? How long before the eggs will hatch? Approx. how many babies will there be?
          Gopher tortoises typically mate in the spring so that their eggs have the hot summer time to incubate; it takes around 80 days. They have temperature-dependent sex determination; that means that when the eggs are laid, the young inside are not males or females. It is the temperature of the soil/sand where the nest is located that determines what sex the young become. The pivotal temperature (the temperature where you get half females and half males) at Kennedy Space Center is around 85 degrees F. It probably is much the same for tortoises in your area. So, if they were just laying eggs now, the temperatures would be too cool during the next 80 days for the eggs to incubate properly.
          When we did radiotracking of gopher tortoises here several years ago, we occasionally found two tortoises using one burrow at the same time. Everyone assumes that the behavior is related to reproduction, but in most instances, both of the tortoises were males. They have very complex social interactions, so it is difficult to say what is going on, but it is interesting. My suggestion is that you watch what happens and enjoy!
          To answer your other questions, females will lay their eggs in the apron of a burrow (the big mound of dirt or sand just outside the burrow entrance). I think their choice of what burrow to pick has more to do with how the sun will heat it than who owns the burrow. Each tortoise will dig and use several different burrows throughout the year. Some tortoises have used other places for nests, such as digging a hole in the road shoulder, but that is not typical. Females lay an average of eight eggs, but as many as 14 have been documented.
    From: Shary
    Subject: Endangered?/ Protected?
    Date: Mon, 24 Sep 2001
          Not quite sure what kind of turtle is burrowing under the house, however I think that I have heard if it is a gopher turtle you can not relocate. Is this true.
          Please advise Thank you Shary
          The first step is to figure out if the animal is actually a gopher tortoise. Armadillos will also dig holes on the edges of foundations. If you have seen a turtle in or around the hole, then it is likely a gopher tortoise. They are protected in Florida as a species of special concern. You can relocate the animal, but not legally without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The phone number for your local office should be in your phone book (I am assuming you are in Florida; the rules are different in Georgia and other states where there are tortoises).
          Here are my two cents, for free! You are lucky if you have a tortoise residing in your yard. They are great to watch, and will not hurt you or your house. If you have kids, being exposed to such an intriguing part of nature is such a good experience. It is illegal to provide supplemental food or water, to harm, harass, pick up, or even be nice to the tortoise, but if it is there of its own free will and is not being kept from leaving, my suggestion is that you sit back, watch, and enjoy!
    Sent: September 16, 2001
    Subject: releasing gopher tortoise
          Someone gave my daughter a baby turtle (tortoise as we have come to find out) a few years ago, knowing how much she loved animals. Since that time, we have done research and realize it is a gopher tortoise. She has taken excellent care of it, but after reading your web page, we realize it would be better to release it back to its natural habitat. Her concern is that her beloved tortoise "will not survive in the wild...will not find others like him...will get hurt..that he will get hurt in a storm..that an alligator will eat him"...etc... and the thought of that makes her very sad.
          I have told her that we are doing a disservice to him and the gopher tortoise population by keeping him, and that he will find his way around and be happier out in the wild. We have all come to think of him as "one of the family" and she is very sad to think she may not ever see him again. Is there any way to reassure her this is the right thing to do?
          Also, do we need to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conversation Commission first before we release him in the area where he was found, or can we do it ourselves? We know the area where he was found.
    Hello. This is quite a dilemma and I am not sure exactly what to tell you. If you answer some questions for me, maybe we can make the best decision for the tortoise and your daughter. How long have you had the tortoise? Is the area where it came from still intact (i.e., does it still support a tortoise population)? Does the tortoise appear to be healthy, without runny eyes or nose, or wheezing? Where are you from?
    From: Roddy & Mary
    Subject: We could use some help
    Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2001
    Hello, I wanted to write to express some concern for a small Gopher Tortoise my wife found on the side of the road. Mary found this small tortoise on the side of the road after it was hit by a car. This was several weeks ago. She brought the poor thing home, not wanting to leave it to die. (There are way too many dead ones on the side of the road here.) We tried to save it, but had little hope.
         Hope is what we should have had! She did recover, despite the serious cracks in her shell. Now she is almost fully healed, except for a bum forward right leg, and we want to do something for her. We realize that we can't keep her long term. We just wanted to do right by her, but we think that we've outgrown our usefulness. She is now happy and healthy, but we don't dare release her because of her one bad leg. It has been gaining strength, but I just don't think she'll be able to dig.
         Can you help us? We want to find her a proper home. She has been welcome in our home for many weeks now, but she needs more than we can provide.
          Thank you for your anticipated cooperation from all of us, including Maggie the tortoise.
    Dear Roddy and Mary,
         Where are you from? I would like to put you in contact with a local licensed rehabilator that can make sure the tortoise is healthy and assess its potential for release. Because they are cold-blooded, reptiles often take a very long time to show the signs of an infection. After a health assessment, it can be decided if the tortoise should be released near where you found it in appropriate habitat, or should be given to someone to keep as an "educational" animal. I have a 3-legged male at my house (via a legal permit, of course) that I use when I do talks at schools and other organizations. Write me back, and we will try to do the best for the tortoise.
    From: Vespinoza
    Date: Sat, 15 Sep 2001
    Subject: foods?

    what does the gopher tortoise eat?

    Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and prefer short herbs and grasses that are easy for them to reach. Occasionally, they will eat the bones of a dead animal they find, probably for calcium needed to shell eggs. If you have other questions, or need more information, please do not hesitate to write me back. Becky

    P.S. It just occurred to me that you might be asking about foods because you want to feed a gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoises are protected by the State of Florida and it is illegal to possess, harm, harass, feed, or relocate them without special permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If you are keeping a tortoise, please release it where you found it immediately, and if that is impossible, contact the Commission for information on how to proceed. If you are not intending to keep or feed a tortoise, please forgive my paranoia, but it is amazing how many people do not realize that gopher tortoises are protected and can not legally be kept as pets.

    Subject: adopting a tortoise
    Date: Sun, 2 Sep 2001
    my name is Alex and I would like to adopt two gopher tortoises for my biology classroom. We have already received a permit, and we have a suitable habitat for them as well. if you can help me, please email me or call me. thank you very much
    Dear Alex,
    What agency issued you a permit? Gopher tortoises are protected by the state in Florida and Georgia, and federally protected in most other places. It would be up to the permitting agency to tell you where to get the animals. Here in Florida, there are plenty of injured tortoises or those that can not be released into the wild for various reasons, that would be perfect candidates for the classroom. It would be a shame to take healthy tortoises out of the wild when there are animals that need homes. Please contact your permitting agency and ask them what they suggest.
    Date: Sat, 01 Sep 2001
    Subject: found gopher tortoise
    my wife and i were visiting her parents in orlando fl. last week (23-30 aug) we noticed a tortoise living in a burrow under their house. i visited your web site to get info on the tortoise. i found out that it is (i believe) a gopher tortoise. I believe that it is a male approx one foot in length. My wife said that she remembers him coming around for about ten years. The reason for my e-mail is that I was wondering if there was anything that we could do to preserve his existence ie: food, water??? Please let me know.
    That definitely is a gopher tortoise, and what a great picture! Gopher tortoises are protected as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That means it is illegal to hold them against their will, feed, harass, etc. Tortoises often dig burrows in the soft dirt around houses, fences, and other structures, and as long as it is free to come and go, there is certainly nothing wrong with it hanging out at your in-laws. If it has been around for 10+ years, it must be surviving on its own just fine. Tortoises can live in the wild for 60 or 70 years. My suggestion is to watch it, enjoy it, and let it go about its tortoise business (which hopefully includes making more tortoises!).
    From: Carol111787
    Date: Sat, 1 Sep 2001
    Subject: Care for our tortoise
    We think we have a tortoise turtle. It's dark green with a kinda yellowish color, checker design on his back. We've been giving him fresh fruit and veggies to eat. We have him on our back porch and sometimes in our plastic pool with water. Would you mind sending me some tips on how to care for my turtle. thanx for your time.
          The first thing you need to do is find out exactly what kind of turtle you have. From your description, it does not sound like a gopher tortoise to me. Go to the library or bookstore and look in an Amphibian and Reptile field guide to identify the turtle. Different kinds of turtles/tortoises have very different needs, including food, access to water, shelter, hibernation, and more.
          Note: If you do have a gopher tortoise, it is illegal to keep, feed, or do anything besides release him where you found him. Gopher tortoises are protected as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
          Here are my two cents. Keeping many amphibians and reptiles is much more complicated and difficult than most people realize. Also, when you remove an animal from the wild, you not only take it, but all of its reproductive potential as well. We need all of the baby turtles out there we can get. I suggest that you release the turtle near where you found it, but in a safe place. Go to a local pet store and get a small, captive-bred turtle. Make sure the people at the store explain to you how to keep it healthy.
    Date: Fri, 31 Aug 2001
    Subject: Gopher Habitat
    Dear Gopher Friends,
          I have been a turtle/tortoise friend for many years. We have at long last built a home on a dune overlooking the ocean. We have several tortoises. Of course I want to protect them. Also would like to be considered as a refuge, if that's done.
          I have contacted Karen Moody of FL Fish and Game to that purpose. Tell me what I need to do to encourage this mission: people to contact, plants to nourish existing population, or other considerations.
          So glad to have found your website.
    Kathy, St. Augustine, FL
    Dear Kathy,
    Please contact Ray Ashton ( and ask him for information on the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative. He has established this not-for-profit organization to help landowners (private and public) protect and enjoy the gopher tortoises occupying their property. Thanks for your interest and feel free to email me if you have questions or need further information.
    From: kent54
    Subject: hey - [pets?]
    Date: Wed, 29 Aug 2001
    I found a a gopher tortoise and i was wondering if the are agaisnt the law to keep them as pets??????he is a bout !foot long and is a male..please right back to me answering my questions bye
    The gopher tortoise is legally protected by the state of Florida as a species of special concern, so it is illegal to harm, harass, feed, or keep them as pets. Please take the tortoise back to where you found it and let it go. If you found it in the road, or other unsafe place, take it to the closest woods or natural habitat and release it. Taking an animal of any type from the wild is not good because it not only removes that animal from the population, but also its reproductive potential. We need all of the baby tortoises out there we can get. So, please, do the right thing, and let the tortoise go now.
    From: SamandBlue
    Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001
    Subject: conference
    Do you know about an upcoming conference at UF in Oct? How could we register?
    The 2001 Annual Meeting of the Gopher Tortoise Council will be held on October 26-28 in Gainesville, Florida. The theme of this year's meeting is The Impacts of Roads on Upland Species in the Southeast. The meeting will focus on issues related to the effects of roads on fauna in the southeastern U.S. and will include a series of presentations about recent projects to mitigate these impacts.

    Topics will range from the effects of roads on red-cockaded woodpeckers and scrub jays, to an overview of Florida Department of Transportation mitigation projects for Florida black bear and the herpetofauna of Paynes Prairie. There will also be a series of talks regarding the status of gopher tortoises and associate species. For registration information, visit our web site at For more information contact Lora Smith at

    From: gehlhausen
    Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2001


    I personally know very little about hingebacks, but found two web sites that listed hingeback tortoises that you might check: and The carecentre one is good, but takes some surfing to get where you want to be. Look at the "Mom" link and go to the pulldown menu to find tortoise care. On the other site, push the "Enter the Site" bar. Then push the Chelonia bar on the side. If you bought the tortoise at a pet store or show, you should have received some care information with it. The library, local herpetological societies, and a university's herpetologist are also good sources of information.

    Here are my two cents: Keeping tortoises and turtles is much more difficult than it may appear on the surface. Maybe I should say that doing a good job keeping them is difficult. Many, and especially exotic species, have strict temperature, humidity, and dietary requirements. For example, hingebacks will not hibernate, but will require a warm, moist place to live all winter. They are good climbers and diggers and the pen will need to be secure. Some tortoise species have complicated behavioral and social structures. Please do your homework and make sure that you (it will likely be more responsibility than a 10-year-old can handle alone) are ready, willing, and able to do the best you can do for the tortoise.

    I hope that you understand my concerns. Hundreds, or maybe even thousands of amphibians and reptiles die each year because their new owners could not properly care for them, and were not given enough good information before the sale was made. Even worse, many animals are taken from the wild into captivity. Not only are they lost to the population, but so is all of their reproductive potential. I just urge you to either make the commitment and do the job right, or take the tortoise back where it came from, or to someone who is already set up to care for it properly.

    Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2001
    From: Myriam
    Subject: my tortoise doesn't open hers eyes
          I bought my tortoise 2 days ago and I am surprised that she kept her eyes closed and even doesn't eat anything. I called the pet store and they told me that they just gave a bath to the tortoises and suggest me to put some warm water on my tortoise's head to open her eyes, but this didn't help.
         Thank you very much for helping me.
    Dear Myriam,
          You have hit on one of my pet peeves (no pun intended). I suggest that you take the tortoise back to the pet store, unless its eyes have opened and it has started eating. Many pet stores are very irresponsible in the way they deal with some of the more exotic animals they sell.
          Taking good care of a tortoise is not easy. Some of the questions you should ask (you really shouldn't have to ask, they should have already told you) are: What temperatures and humidity levels are needed? What does it need to eat to be really healthy? What is the best kind of pen, cage, or shelter for it? Does it need a "hiding place" in its pen to be comfortable? How large will it eventually get? Is it a wild-caught animal or captive bred?
          You should also find out exactly what species of tortoise you have and learn all you can about it so you can do the best job possible. If you decide that it is too difficult to keep and do a good job, please take it back. Be tough with the people at the pet store and make them give you your money back if it is sick or if they did not give you sufficient information when you bought it. Contact the Better Business Bureau if necessary.
    From: "Bill
    Subject: Gopher Turtle hole danger to farm animals?
    Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001
    Old wives tale?? I read your response to someone concerned about farm animals hurting themselves by stepping into the turtle holes. I have some property in the Ocala area with several gopher turtle holes and am quite concerned about my horses breaking a leg in one of them while running around and playing. This seems like more of a possiblilty than an old wives tale. I hope you are right and I am wrong, but this gentleman's question seems to be a legitimate concern. I thought of putting temporary fencing around the holes, but as you indicate several holes are apparently dug by just one turtle. Any more info or suggestions on this problem would be appreciated?
    The gentleman that asked the original question about tortoise holes in his fields was concerned about his cattle. It is extremely rare for a cow to hurt itself by stepping into a burrow, mostly because they are slower and the burrows are dug at an angle, not straight down. Horses may be of more concern because of their "horsing around", but there is a solution suggested by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Take three sticks and put them up, tripod fashion, around each burrow. That way, the horses can see and avoid the burrows, and the tortoises are not fenced in or out. It is a cheap and easy way to keep everybody safe.
    Subject: injured turtle/help
    Date: Thu, 9 Aug 2001
    I found a turtle on the side of the road. He has yellow stripes on his legs and face. Is he a gopher?

    He was hit by a car - big gash on top of shell - fleshy. I live in DeLand. Is there help nearby?     Alice

    Dear Alice,
    It sounds like the turtle is probably a peninsula cooter. Are (were) there round black marks on the outer edges of the bottom shell? Were the feet webbed? My suggestion is that you find a wildlife rehabilitator to let care for the animal. They usually take animals for free, although it is good to give them a donation to help cover expenses. They can judge if the turtle can be nursed back to heath, or will need a vet. Most rehabbers have a vet that they can use for reduced rates. I am not familiar with any rehab facilities in the Deland area, but look in the phone book, or call Animal Control or the SPCA for contacts.
    Subject: Gopher Shell
    Date: Thu, 9 Aug 2001
    I have found a very large shell that I believe is a Gopher, and am wondering about the law on gopher shells.
    Thanks     Jim
    Dear Jim,
    Because gopher tortoises are legally protected by the state in Florida and Georgia, and federally protected elsewhere, it is illegal to possess a shell or any other body parts. It may seem silly when you find a shell and can not keep it, but tightly regulating shell possession helps reduce illegal take of tortoises for food and as pets. You can apply for a permit for the shell, as some educators do, but it would probably only be approved if you were using it for educational purposes.
    Subject: question on hibernation habits
    Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001
          I have always thought that the gophers hibernate in the winter, but I wonder if they ever hibernate or become dormant in the hot days of summer also?       There is one that I have seen from time to time, and he started coming thru the back yard, eating strawberries from my plants, berries from the palms and Indian Hawthorne, and following the same route thru the natural areas I have left. He dug an entrance under my deck, and may have a burrow under the deck, which is quite large. Now I don't see him at all, I wonder if he could be taking it easy during the 90 degree weather?       Joe
    Dear Joe,
    It depends on where you are whether or not the tortoises will hibernate. In north Florida and north beyond that, they definitely become torpid during the winter, but our tortoises in central Florida and further south are active all year long. It is quite possible that they will "slow down" when there is excessive heat, but it is more common for them to come out of their burrows in the early morning, eat for awhile, go back in during the heat of the day, and maybe come out once more in the evening. If your tortoise has disappeared, it may be because he is using other burrows within his home range. They dig several burrows and travel around between them. You may see him again later in the year.
    Subject: Injured gopher
    Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2001
    From: Gwen
          I found a gopher on a dirt road in Inglis, FL, he has a hole in his shell about 1/4 to 1/2" in diameter. It is no longer bleeding, but you can see where it has bled in the past. He is able to move by using his front legs but his back legs appear to be parralyzed. I have friends who rescue animals I called them but they werent home.
          I left the gopher where he was since he can get around, but was wondering, can he survive with a hole in his shell?
          We have had loggers in our area and that maybe what caused the hole. I would like to think it happened accidentally, but am afraid it didnt. Cant imagine why someone would hurt something as docile as a gopher. I am a FL native and have been facinated with gophers all my life. I saw on in the woods near my home a few weeks ago that was the largest I have ever seen, he was probably 1 foot in diameter or more. One more question, how large can they get?
          Concerned in Inglis.
    Thank you very much for your concern. If it was a small hole and did not puncture any vital organs, the bone will probably grow back and be o.k. It is not good, however, that its back legs were paralyzed. Keep your eyes open and if you see it again, try to get it to a rehabilitator.

    The maximum length of a tortoise's top shell is around 15 inches. There are some whoppers out there!

    Subject: elongated tortoise wheezing
    Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2001
    From: steve
          I have two elongated tortoises that are now wheezing all the time. There are no other signs that might indicate a respiratory infection. I had them on antiobiotics about 6 months ago. They have never had any discharge from their nose. Do you think I should take the precaution of giving them antibiotics again? This was a very considerable cost last time. I'm a student and only work part-time. However, I would not hestitate to take them to the vet if that is the best option. I want them to be happy and healthy.
          They were eating a lot up until last week. They are still eating a little but know they seem to sleep or just sit in one spot really often. I have the temperature in my tank at about 90-95 degrees during the day and 75-80 at night. They always seem to avoid the warmer end of the tank and the basking light. They are also avoiding water. I have never actually seen them drink any water in the 3 years I've had them. This seems really odd to me as their native climate is very humid. I'm really worried about tthem and haven't been able to concentrate on studying for my final tommorow. I would appreciate any advice you could give. Thanks
    I encourage you to take the tortoises to a vet as quickly as possible, and try to find one that specializes in, or at least has experience with, reptiles. The dynamics of disease in cold-blooded animals is very different than the warm-blooded varieties that most vets are used to treating. It can take several months, or even years, for reptiles to show the symptoms of a disease, so your tortoises may have been sick for a long time. Your first bout of antibiotics may have just knocked back the problem without really curing it.

    You might also look around your area for a herpetologist, a person that studies amphibians and reptiles as a profession. If you are attending a university, there may be one there.

    If your turtles recover, please look at the library, internet, and other resources to find out the best condition for keeping the turtles. Exotic reptiles are often much more difficult to keep correctly than people realize, or are told by the pet stores or vendors where they purchase them. I would encourage you to give them to someone better equipped to care for them if you decide that the costs are too great for you at this time.

    Subject: frustrated
    Date: Wed, 11 Jul 2001
    I am so frustrated about the plight of gopher tortoises as well as other "protected" turtles in the southeast. My frustration comes to a head because of a young teenager who is futilely searching for help concerning box turtles who's habitat is being razed for development. He is finding burnt, crushed, and injured boxies in his yard and many that are being hit by cars in the road as they try to escape the land clearing and relocate. But since they are "protected" this young man is not supposed to do anything? It seems like the law protects the turtles and tortoises from caring people like him.... but for a little pocket money can put bulldozers in the category of "natural preditation".

    It seems like the real crime is in the laws themselves. Money always talks doesn't it? A few caring citizens can never compete with the "bulldozer pacification dollars" that developers are willing and able to pay. Is this money even being used to test and hopefully one day find a cure for URTD?...the other death that awaits the relocated gophers? Seems like in the life time of the before mentioned teenager, gophers and box turtles will be very close if not extinct. It's amazing that this day and age IN the United States, there will be a tortoise species that this can happen to.... it sounds like something that you would hear about in a third world county!

    A person I know was asked how to help tortoises. His answer reflects the desperate frustration that people feel about the gopher tortoise situation..... ...."When somebody asks me the best thing to do with a gopher tortoise when they see it crossing the road I tell them to walk away shaking their head, all along thinking that the best thing to do would be to pick it up and place it in the middle of the road so its death would be swift and it wouldn't have to suffer starving being compacted under tons of dirt."......

    Dear Pamela,

    Believe me, I know what a frustrating business this tortoise work can be.

    If you really want to tell the "powers that be," send a letter with your concerns to:

    Dr. Allen Egbert, Director
    Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
    620 S. Meridian St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

    If everyone that says they care did that, we might actually get somewhere with tortoise conservation

    Subject: (found a baby)
    Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2001
    found a baby turtle on my driveway. I don't know what kind it is and not sure what to do with it. It has yellow stripes on legs and tail. Green and Yellow (maze like) stripes on its back. Somewhat pointed shell. The stripes are also on its head and has cute claws.....for now.....
    Thanks, Terry
    Dear Terry,
    Sounds like a juvenile cooter, but I can not say for sure without knowing where you are from. Look in a field guide for a picture that looks like the turtle, and also look at the maps to make sure that the turtle you think it is occurs in your area. Field guides can be found in the library or at any decent bookstore.
    Subject: Hi we have 2 gopher turtles in our back yard
    Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2001 13:34:58 EDT
    From: Wingsoflove44
    They are large turles and have been here before the house was bought. We don't have much of a yard and live near main street with a lot of traffic.

    We need to find them a safe home. Please let us know if you can help us

    Dear Friends,
    I can appreciate your desire to keep the tortoises safe, but it is illegal to move them without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. There must be enough food for them in your yard right now, and when it gets low, they will move on. The biggest threat is the road. You might try calling your local office of the Commission to see if they have a place nearby that they could put them.

    Best of luck. This tortoise business is tough.

    Subject: Gopher tortoise in our yard
    Date: Mon, 09 Jul 2001
    From: timmy
    Good day...
    We have had a gopher tortoise living in our yard for the past 9 months. He burrowed in under our fence and spends his time all over our fenced-in yard. He's very territorial and isn't very happy when any of us goes into the backyard. I use the term "him" but we're not really sure of the sex. He has plenty to eat, loves the fallen hibiscus blossoms that are all over the yard, ruined several petunia plants and seems to be "grazing" a lot. We weren't sure whether or not there was a "back door" to his burrow, one that would allow him to roam outside of our yard. Also, currently there doesn't seem to be any way for him/her to meet another gopher if mating is in the picture.

    We have enjoyed having the tortoise as our neighbor. Local and visiting children love to watch him from our porch. However, I'm concerned that the relatively small area he has to roam might not be the best situation for him/her. Can you give me some information and suggestions?
    Timmy-Ann, New Smyrna Beach, FL

    Dear Timmy-Ann
    That is a very neat thing you have going on in your backyard. As long as the tortoise came in on its own and is not being kept there, my suggestion is to enjoy it! If he got in, he can get out whenever he is ready to go. Apparently, your yard offers what the tortoise needs and I hope you don't mind donating petunias occasionally. Tortoise burrows usually have only the main entrance, so there wouldn't be a "back door". As for mating, when the urge for that happens, he will go find what he needs elsewhere. There may be several reasons why he chose your place: plenty of food, no harassment from dogs or cats?, the habitat surrounding you is not good for tortoises, etc. Thanks for letting the kids share him with you - we need all of the public education we can get!
    Subject: Holes in the yard
    Date: Tue, 3 Jul 2001
    From: C. Miller
    What can we do about the number of large holes dug by the turtles?.

    How do we determine how many tunnels there are?. There are many areas in our yard where It feels as if the ground is going to cave in when we walk on it. And there are a number of turtles around here.

    We checked the government sites to see what they recommend for homeowners to do, however, we could not find any information.

    We are feeling very unsafe about the way the ground feels around our property, especially when we think about how many sinkholes open up during the rainy season here.

    Thanks for your help/suggestions.
    Rose & Charles Miller

    Dear Rose and Charles
    The gopher tortoise is legally protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a species of special concern. Tortoises are very special, unique animals, and you are lucky if you have them residing on your property. When gopher tortoises dig their burrows, they dig at a 45 degree angle, so they get deep (> 3 ft.) very quickly. Tortoise burrows, unless they are very old and unused, will not make the ground sink or cave in. If that is happening, you may have moles, or some other critter that digs tunnels close to the surface.

    My suggestion is that you contact the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative (GTCI) for information. They are a non-profit group that can answer your questions, help you determine if you have tortoises, and help you coexist with them within the confines of the law. The GTCI can be reached by email:

    Subject: (no subject) New Mexico Turtle
    Date: Fri, 29 Jun 2001
    From: Candy
    i have a turtle i found and i need to know what kind it is . it has a round shell and yellow markings yellow spots on legs . its shell folds up under its head and under its tail area . bottom of shell is round with yellow strips. found turtle in nm desert would lke to know what kind it is please reply soon
    It sounds like you have a subspecies of the western box turtle, either the ornate box turtle or the desert box turtle. Which subspecies it is can be determined by looking at a field guide to reptiles.

    I would encourage you to return the turtle to the place where you got it, if at all possible, and let it go. Taking animals from the wild decreases their populations and is a serious problem for many species. Even if you take excellent care of the turtle, you have taken away its ability to reproduce, which has implications reaching beyond that single individual. If you would like to have a turtle for a pet, there are many species that are being captive bred and can be purchased from a pet store.

    If you decide to keep the turtle you found, please research (books, web sites, and turtle experts) the best ways to care for it, and if you have taken it outside of its natural range, please do not ever release it into the wild. If you have other questions or comments, please feel free to email me.

    Subject: gopher tortoise [relocation]
    Date: Fri, 22 Jun 2001
    From: Sassi49575
    Hello. I was wondering if your santuary is fenced. that is are the reptiles within it's bounds protected from the roads? I am a rehabilitator. I have a gopher tort that is ready to be released. I was hoping you could accomidate him. thanks in advance
    Dear Amanda,
    The Enchanted Forest is fenced, but gopher tortoises are not usually foiled by a measly chain-link structure. If they want out (or in), they will get there. Besides, it would be illegal to relocate that tortoise to the Forest without a relocation permit from the State.

    My suggestion would be to do one of the following: 1) take him back where he came from and let him go as close to there as safely possible; 2) find an educational facility or zoo that already has a tortoise permit and would be willing to keep him; or 3) find a individual that has or is willing to get a permit to keep him.

    Please do not take the tortoise somewhere and just let him go. Gopher tortoises can be infected with Upper Respiratory Tract Disease that is very contagious and often deadly. A healthy-looking tortoise can be a carrier. You may spread the disease into an otherwise healthy population by introducing an infected tortoise. The disease issue is only one of the problems with moving tortoises from place to place. We know very little about genetic issues, or the importance of "pecking order" within a colony. The number of tortoises in a habitat usually matches the amount of resources available. As you can see, this is not a simple problem with simple solutions.

    I applaud your efforts, and please continue your good work. Information on gopher tortoise regulations is available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600.

    Subject: (no subject) [establish new populations in other states]
    Date: Tue, 19 Jun 2001 15:01:20 -0400
    From: Samreny"
    I understand that land developers must account for all the gopher tortoises within a site that is to be developed. Do you know anything about such regulations? Is this only in Florida, where the gopher tortoise is a species of special concern? I would assume that it includes other southeastern states as well, where it is listed as endangered or threatened. Where could I get some information on the exact guidelines of developing on gopher tortoise habitat?

    Someone asked me once why we don't try to establish small populations of the gopher tortoise in other states where urbanization isn't so great? I think that it would be impossible for them to survive because they are adapted to southeastern climates and habitats such as sandhill and scrub? Is this correct?

    Thank you for all your help. Sincerely, Angelina

    In Florida, the gopher tortoise is protected by state regulations as a species of special concern, but not federally by the Endangered Species Act. They are federally protected in the other southeastern states where they occur, except Georgia. Under Florida law, it is illegal to harm, harass, kill, or mess with (including keeping as pets or feeding) tortoises without a permit. You can get information regarding gopher tortoise regulations from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600. If there is suitable habitat and good conditions for gopher tortoises, they will usually be there. This is true except in cases where they have disappeared for reasons that no longer exist, such as being hunted for food. Another example is places where habitat restoration efforts have turned overgrown, unmanaged tortoise habitat back into suitable habitat. There may be a time when we will be able to reintroduce tortoises back into those places where they formerly occurred. Right now, our major gopher tortoise conservation efforts need to focus on protecting and managing the habitat and populations that remain.
    Subject: tortiose diet
    Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001
    From: Naturallife24
    I have an adult female gopher tortiose and I need to plant some trees and shrubs for her enclosure. (I am permitted to have her in case you are wondering, she was a rescue) I was wondering if you can give me any info on what exactly I should plant for her. I am having a hard time getting her to eat anything other then weeds and some grass. she won't eat any lettuce or veggies that I have offered her and I want to make sure she gets what she needs. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
    Hi Kaire,
    I am glad you told me you have a permit for your tortoise, because that saves me from having to explain legalities, etc. I have a rescue (3-legged) tortoise, too, and will pass to you the excellent information I have received on his care. The most important thing to do for a gopher tortoise is provide it with a burrow. If she is outside, the burrow should be deep enough and long enough that the bottom temperature never gets below 50 degrees F. Otherwise, you will need to bring her in during really cold periods. We dug our guy a ten foot long tunnel that we reinforced the top and sides with plywood and left the bottom as dirt. The chamber at the end is large enough for him to easily turn around. My tortoise care experts told me that if you want to have a healthy, happy gopher tortoise, a good burrow is absolutely essential.

    Diet - Variety is the key. The more different kinds of weeds, herbs, etc., that she can access, the better. Tortoises not only change their diets seasonally, but even during times of the day (this makes sense for a cold-blooded reptile). My tortoise loves romaine lettuce, some fruits and veggies, not tomatoes or cabbage(at least so far). I give him everything that is leftover from our table that is in the vegetable/fruit group and let him choose what he wants.

    Subject: I found several tortoise eggs under the dog house
    Date: Fri, 15 Jun 2001
    From: "Adriana
    I have had turtles (by the wa y, I live in Laredo, Texas where it's HOT-HOT-HOT) all my life and my question is, I have never found eggs. WHat do I do? Will the mother abandon her eggs if humans touch them. I had found one egg, and I left it out, she appareetn;y burried it again.Last night there was a severe rain storm and I dug out the eggs, there are threebut one seems smaller than the other. I also noticed another egg half open, half developed but dead. How do I care for these eggs (there are 4 male and 2 female texas tortoises in my yard--I brought them from the ranch. Please let me know what to do. I would like for them to survive.
    Thank you for your help, -- anxiously awaiting the hatchlings
    Dear Adriana,
    Your question was forwarded to me via the Enchanted Forest web site. Tortoises do not take care of their eggs; the egg that you thought might have been reburied probably got eaten by a predator during the night. Tortoises have temperature-dependent sex determination. That means that when their eggs are laid, the babies inside are not males or females. It is the temperature of the dirt or sand that determines what sex they will be as they develop. The best thing you can do is let the tortoise put her eggs where she wants them and leave them alone. Tortoises are not the smartest animals on earth, but their instincts are incredible and the mother tortoise will do the best for the ultimate survival of the clutch.
    Subject: food [pets]
    Date: Sun, 10 Jun 2001
    From: Brandon
    What do gopher turtles eat and can they be trained to be pets?
    Gopher tortoises are herbivorous. They eat low-growing plants and herbs.

    As for if they can be trained as pets, the answer is no for two reasons. First, they are reptiles with small brains. They behave and act based on instinct, not intelligence. A gopher tortoise might eventually learn to associate a person with food if that person brings food to them over and over, but a tortoise would not come to a person to be pet or to have company. The second problem with a tortoise being a pet is that it is illegal. Gopher tortoises in Florida and Georgia are protected by state laws, and gopher tortoises elsewhere are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. Tortoises may not be kept, harmed, harassed, sold, etc., without special permits.

    Subject: turtle diseases
    Date: Thu, 7 Jun 2001
    From: "CII"
    Do Gopher turtles suffer from diseases similar to aids in humans or any other diseases that are fatal and/or contagious to other gopher turtles?
    Tortoises may suffer from a variety of disease in the wild (some known and some unknown). By far, the most common one that is of great concern is Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD). It is highly contagious between tortoises and very often fatal. URTD is caused by a mycoplasma bacteria and the symptoms include puffy eyelids, a thick nasal discharge, and wheezing. In the later stages of the disease, the tortoise will become emaciated and dessicated. It is a very slow way to die. The vet school at the University of Florida has been the leader on research for this disease. It can be detected by either a blood test that measures antibodies to the bacteria, or by testing nasal secretions. If you have other questions, please feel free to email me. If you would like a copy of a publication on URTD studies on Kennedy Space Center, send me your mailing address by eMail and I will get one to you.
    Subject: response to controlled burns
    Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2001
    12:49:08 EDT
    From: HANDYLAR
    I am studying the effect of one, two, five and seven year controlled burns on the gopher tortoise. I am wondering if tortoises of all ages are evenly represented within burn plots? Are some plots dominated by one age group more so than by another? I would guess that the future population size of the gopher tortoise is dependent upon the ages of the tortoises that reside in each of the controlled burn plots.
    I don't think anyone knows if different age classes of tortoises prefer certain regrowth levels. We do know that tortoises in general prefer newly burned areas, probably because the new vegetation is tender and tasty, as well as close to the ground where they can reach it.

    The age of tortoises that move into a burned area probably depends on the population in the surrounding areas. If the "outside" populations are not reproducing, and are all old tortoises, that is what you would expect to find in the burned areas after the fires. If there are healthy, reproductively active surrounding populations, it would be interesting to see who moves into the burned areas post-fire. Sounds like a good project to me.

    We may have a gopher tortoise living in the lot next to us. My husband and daughter spotted it today, Sunday, May 27th. It came into our yard and was seen eating the blooms of one of our bushes that had landed on the ground. Thought you might be interested.

    Date: Mon, 28 May 2001
    We live in Sebastian, Fl. it is part of a development. The lot could be developed because this is a residential neighborhood. The lot has a lot of overgrown bushes, several pine trees, grass, and of course sandy soil. There are several squirrels that live in the lot. A raccoon and an armadillo may also live in the lot. They like to visit the dog's food bowl at night.
    Hi Cynthia,
    What part of the country do you live in? Is it in a development? Is the lot likely to be developed? Do you know what kind of an ecosystem that you live in is (or was)? Becky might have some advice when she has this information.
    Dave Rich, Friends of the Enchanted Forest, president

    Dear Cynthia,
    If you see survey stakes or any other hints that the lot is being developed, you can call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The developer will need a permit. Hopefully, if they know there are tortoise burrows there, they can avoid destroying them.
    Subject: [Pets]
    Date: Sat, 26 May 2001
    From: carluc387
    Hello im 14 yrs old and I would like to know if the pet shops is allowed to sell gopher tortoises is it illegal for the pet shop to sell one ? Im very fascinated with turtles and tortoieses . I have a russian tortoises and a water turtle. i foud the water turtle crossing the road. the road was across the pond. What should i do if i see one crossing the road? Did i do the rigth thing to take the water turtle home ? I live in New York
    It is not legal to sell gopher tortoises in pet shops. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act in some states, and by state regulations in other states, like Florida and Georgia.

    It really is not good to remove a turtle from the wild. Even though you will probably take excellent care of it, wild animals need to be free. It is very important that they can find mates and reproduce so that we will have turtles for the future. Please consider taking it back where you found it and letting it go. It is o.k. to move turtles out of harm's way (like the road), but you should let them go nearby.

    Subject: [Laying Eggs]
    Date: Thu, 10 May 2001
    From: Jan
    Please tell me how long after mating, will it be before the female lays her eggs, & how far from her tunnel will she travel before picking a spot for her eggs?

    Thank you for your prompt reply I'm still a little confused about the incubation period, Does the 80 to 100 days start from the time she mated/Or does it start from the time she lays her eggs? She was mating with a male about 10 days ago but hasn't buried any eggs yet. I'm wondering when this will occur.
    Dear Jan,
    The incubation period for tortoises is between 80 and 110 days, depending on latitude (further north = cooler temperatures = longer time). Most females dig a hole in the apron (sandy mound) outside of a burrow and lay their eggs in there. I have heard of them digging a hole not associated with a burrow, like on a road shoulder in the grass, but I think that is fairly unusual.

    Hi Jan, The period of time I was referring to is the time in the nest. They mate in March - May and lay eggs from April until the end of June.
    stacy wrote:
    how can you tell the sex of a tortiose
    we found one in our back field. we live in missouri, where it is humid. i would like to know also, what do you feed it, and if there anything special we need to do for it. thank you
    Dear Stacy,
    In gopher tortoises, and many other types of turtles, you can tell the sex by looking at the plastron (bottom shell). If it is absolutely flat, it is a female. If there is a concavity down near the tail, then it is a male. In some turtles (e.g., marine turtles), males will have a longer tail than females.

    Gopher tortoises (or any other tortoises) do not range into Missouri. You can positively identify the turtle by looking in a field guide (at the library or bookstore). Pay attention to the range maps that tell what kinds of turtles you can expect to find. Of course, it is possible that it is a tortoise and a person moved it there, but it is doubtful that it could survive the winter. Once you figure out what kind of turtle you have, you can determine what it needs. If it is a native turtle that belongs there, the best thing to do is leave it alone and let it go about its turtle business.

    Subject: found gopher tortoise hatchling
    Date: 5/14/2001
    baby must have been dropped by bird, here in BUSY Winter Park, cannot be its home range. Too small to release in a strange area; in good health, alert, has been hydrated with water and pediolyte, but hides too timid to come out and eat. I've provided him a basking lamp in his temporary quarters. I Know the protected status and am not trying to make him a pet, but he needs proper husbandry until he is large enough to release, safe from predators. I'm afraid Fish & Wildlife will tell me to release him where I found him, which would be absurd: He would die immediately.
    Please advise. Thank you so much. Rebecca
    Hi Rebecca,
    I agree 100% with Dave's response. If you have any more questions or need more information, please email me. Thanks. Becky

    From: David N. Rich
    Sent: Monday, May 14, 2001
    To: Rebecca
    Cc: Smith Rebecca
    Subject: Re: found gopher tortoise hatchling

    Hi Rebecca,
    You have a challenge on your hands. No easy solution. I called Becky, because I knew she was going to be away from eMail for a while. She suggested that you:
    1) check with Wekiwa Springs State Park. They may have a naturalist on hand who can help.
    2) Check with Back to Nature in Bithlow (407-568-5138) to see what they might be able to do.
    3) call the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. They have the final word. They understand and they do try to be helpful.

    Another option is to simply release it in a good sizes scrub area nearest to where you found it, using an educated guess as to where it might have come from. Hide it under a bush, in the leaves, to start, then trust it's natural instincts to take over. Nature "designed" them to be on their own from hatching.

    It can be tough to put such a cute little thing out in nature on its own. But, they have survived for thousands of years just that way. You are welcome to contact Becky directly if you wish.

    Best wishes,   Dave Rich, webmaster. Friends of the Enchanted Forest, president

    Subject: care requirements for gopherus polyphemus
    Date: Wed, 2 May 2001
    From: "Sheila"
    My story starts around September of 2000. I work with a wildlife rehabilitator who also receives any exotics that arrive at our local SPCA. She received a call from them to prepare herself for a tortoise that was being kept at a suspected drug house. The police informant could only tell them it was stolen. When they arrived with the tortoise we took guesses at what it might be, we looked through all sorts of books and finally settled on it being a sulcata hatchling. It didn't exactly look like a sulcata, but the guy who had it did not feed it properly, keep it clean, or give it any kind of lighting (UVB or heat), so it could easily have been an undernourished MBD sufferer.

    Fast forward to about March of 2001, a gentleman claiming to be a tortoise expert identifies the young tortoise as a gopher tortoise. None of our books had any pictures of young gophers only adult, so I hop on the internet and find some pictures. Sure enough we find we posses a young gopher tortoise. Now the question becomes how to properly care for this little fellow until we figure out what to do with him. can you guys help? Erika

    Dear Erika,
    Your first move would be to make sure your rehabber has or acquires the proper permits to possess the tortoise. Gopher tortoises are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a species of special concern. The Commission will give you care guidelines once the permit is issued. You can also check for more information about tortoises, as well as other web sites.

    The very best scenario would be to find out where the people who had the tortoise got it, take it back there, and release it. That may not be possible, but please give it a try. Feel free to email me if you have other questions or comments.

    Thank you for your work in the animal world!

    Subject: Question
    Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2001
    From: "Steve"
    I have looked at some vacant property for sale in Levy county. This property has tunnels from the Turtles on it. I only wish to put a mobile home on it away from the tunnels & as an environmentalist, I would protect the turtle from harm, etc. Is this permissable?
    Dear Steve,
    It sounds like you are just the kind of person that we like cohabitating with the tortoises.

    However, you need to address your question to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Call the local office in your area, or visit their web site for more information.

    Subject: gopher tortoise
    Date: Sun, 22 Apr 2001
    From: "Debra"
    During a cold snap several months ago, a gopher tortoise dug her way under our fence and took refuge in our yard. She emerged from her hole a month later and enlarged her burrow. Our yard is not overly large and has none of the native foods she must have been eating. I offer her a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables which she eagerly accepts but I was wondering if there is anything else necessary to her diet. She is, of course, free to leave whenever she desires but the surrounding fields are being developed and she seems settled and content here. Are there any potential problems in store for her?
    Dear Debra,
    You pose one of those dilemmas that is so difficult for me to answer. If the tortoise moved into your yard on its own, and you are not keeping it from leaving, then you should assume that whatever it needs is there, at least for now.

    There are some problems with you feeding it. First, it is illegal, because tortoises are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. However, I doubt that anyone is going to come get you! Other complications are that we really do not understand the dietary requirements of gopher tortoises. Research has shown that not only do they change foods seasonally, but they also eat different foods during different times of the day. This is probably related to them being cold-blooded and the air temperature required for them to digest various foods. Your tortoise may be eating what you bring it, but that may not be what it really needs to be healthy.

    Also, if it decides to stay in your yard because things are so good, its chances of reproducing are probably greatly reduced. We need all of the baby tortoises out there that we can get. I know it is difficult to watch the habitat disappear and to think that it may not have many choices of places to go, but enticing it to stay may be doing more long-term harm than good. Let it be, and when it goes (if it goes), send it with your blessings. Besides, it may be back again. It is quite normal for tortoises to have different burrows within their home range that they use during different times of the year.

    Subject: what should I do?
    Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2001
    From: "Louis"
    On my trip to titusville today taking the back roads through christmas, I found a small gopher tortoise in the road. Not wanting her to be struck by a car I stopped and picked her up. I was going to release her somewhere away from the roads. I first brought her home to show my 6 year old son. In his excitement and begging I agreed to keep her for 1 night. We researched on the internet to find what they eat and I found out that relocating is potentially a bad thing. I also found out that possesion is illegal. Who can I call and what should I do? Louis
    Dear Louis,
    Dave is right on with his answer regarding the tortoise. I sincerely hope you took his advice. Please feel free to email me if you have other questions or comments.
    Thanks. Becky

    Hi Louis,

    The immediate answer is to take the tortoise back to where you found it and put it back in the woods. You might want to bring it in to the woods a little ways in the direction in which it was heading.

    There are many small tortoises that are in that situation every year. They will survive as nature intended as long as we don't destroy their habitat.

    I am copying this to our Gopher Tortoise expert for her reply, knowing that she is very busy right now, I took the liberty of making this preliminary response.

    It's great to know that you found our website in researching your dilemma.

    Best wishes, Dave Rich, webmaster
            Friends of the Enchanted Forest, president

    Subject: Gopher Tortoise holes
    Date: Sun, 15 Apr 2001
    We have property in northwest Florida. There are several holes through out the field and also in the woods. We assumed that these holes were made by armadillos, recently my wife had seen a large turtle, or what we think may have been a Gopher Tortoise approximately 20 inches in length walking through the field.

    My concern is that we intend to have some farm animals and these holes can be very hazardous to them if they step into one by accident. If the Gopher Tortoises are causing the holes, can something be done to help eliminate this?

    Dear Sir,
    If you really have gopher tortoises on your property, consider yourself blessed. The gopher tortoise is a species of special concern protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They are incredibly interesting creatures and their burrows are a very important component of the upland habitats of Florida. It is illegal to harm, harass, destroy, etc., etc., tortoises or their burrows without a permit from the Commission.

    In the old days, some farmers/ranchers would eliminate the tortoises from their properties because they were afraid their livestock would hurt themselves by falling into the burrows. However, that has long been recognized as an "old wives' tale". Please consider the tortoises as a natural, wonderful element of your land. If you would like to learn more, go to , and feel free to email me if you have other questions or comments. Good luck, and enjoy!!

    Subject: [none] Brought tortoise home
    Date:Tue, 10 Apr 2001
    From: "Marina"
    I was walking home from school today and I found a gopher tortoise in the road. I didn't want it to get hit by a car so I picked him up and brought him home. I live in Miami and I was wondering if he'd be happy living in my backyard. Of course he'd be free to go whenever he wanted, but I was thinking that maybe I could do something to make it so that he'd want to stay. Do you think that the kinds of things growing in my backyard would provivde a suitable diet for him?
    Thanks, Marina:-)
    Dear Marina,
    I understand why you picked up the tortoise and brought him home, and am glad he did not become road kill. However, you need to take the tortoise back to where you found him and let him go. There are many reasons for this. First, it is illegal to move or keep a gopher tortoise because they are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. If the tortoise stays in your backyard, it will never be able to reproduce, and we need all of the new baby tortoises we can get in the world. Your backyard may not have enough suitable food to keep the tortoise healthy. It really should go home. Try to put it near where you got it, but not near the road. Get an adult to go with you and help find a good spot.

    Are you sure that it is a gopher tortoise? There are so many exotic species of turtles (and all sorts of other things) running around loose in Miami that I would make positively sure that your turtle is a gopher tortoise. If it is an exotic species, you would be doing the world a favor by keeping it. Look on the web or at books in the library to identify it, or call the Miami Herpetological Society, the Miami Zoo, or the wildlife department at a university. Good luck!

    Subject: Help Becky!
    Date: Mon, 09 Apr 200
    Have some questions about the Gopher Turtles. We moved out here to Leesburg were we had a house built with 3.49 acres and found out we have Gopher Turtles and found about six tunnels, well my question is about 4 days ago I walk out my back door to discover there was a gopher turtle right by my back door half in a hole and half out but it has look like he thru dirt on his back to cover himself up, but he stayed there for a day and a half I called the fish and wild life in gainesville and they told me they do that sometimes and if I was concern to bring him to a vet. My concern is I throught he was sick.

    I have seem another gopher turtle go about his business walkin along from one hole in the back to another hole way in the front of the property , so then I started to think I know it is mateing time maybe she is dropping egg. The next day after I called the gopher turtle moved out of that half hole and started to eat a little and walk a little when I got back from being out all day I didn't see the turtle anymore so I just figured it left to go back into one of the other tunnels well my husband seen him under one of the trees and I let him be until he was still just there not in a hole just there not moving for another day , we were concern so I put him up were there are other tunnels and he went into the hole. I went to check on him last night and he was in the huge hole but you could see him, now the other gopher turtle is really active at times you will see him come out walk around and go from one hole to the other and back in his hole.

    My question is , is that normal about the other turtle???? And for us to have so many holes well tunnels does that mean we have more that those two??? We did see a baby turtle but from your pictures he doesn't have that yellow look he is all black only seen him once. We would appreciate any information you could give us... I'm sorry so long.. ...Thank You Linda

    Dear Linda,
    The behavior you describe for the possibly ill tortoise is unusual. They spend most of their time inside the burrow unless they are eating, nesting, or interacting with other tortoises. Staying under a tree for an entire day is very strange. It is not unusual for you to have several holes and not many tortoises. Each tortoise will dig many holes within its home range.

    From radiotracking studies we did here on KSC in the late 1980s, we found that males use an average of 15 burrows, and females use an average of nine. The fewest used was three by one large, old female, and two young males used 35 different burrows apiece. Conditions made be different where you are, but it is safe to say that you do not have as many tortoises as you have burrows.

    My suggestion for the sick tortoise is to watch for it and see how it does.

    Since you saw it eating, it may be just fine.

    Subject: gopher rescue
    Date: Wed, 4 Apr 2001
    From: "moragana"
    I live in Jacksonville Fl. I was wondering if there are any gopher rescue groups in North Fl. I rescue exotic pets such as snakes and other animals that people don't want. (no dogs, cats, birds or natives.) We have a lot of construction going on and I have been receiving a lot of calls to save gophers tortoises from construction equipment, since I am not allowed to save them due to the laws I usually refer them to Fl Fish & Wildlife. I recently found out that if a builder pays a fine (permit) he can destroy habitats and turtles at will. No one tries to relocate (yes, I know about upper respiratory desease). Fish and wildlife will not come get them. Help, these babies need to be saved
    Dear Moragana,
    I know how you feel when you see the development going on, and nothing being done about the tortoises. However, you are doing the right thing by referring people to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. When they call the Commission, they need to say that there are tortoises and/or burrows on the development site, and ask if the development has all of its permits in place. If the development has been given a "take" permit (allows them to destroy the burrows and tortoises), they will have been required to pay for mitigation. That means that their money will be used to buy or manage protected tortoise habitat elsewhere. This in no way helps the individual tortoises located at the development site, but helps preserve the gopher tortoise population.

    Relocation is still being conducted, even with the very serious threat of spreading Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, but relocation permits now require disease testing before tortoises can be moved. Relocation of tortoises is not the "good" answer that many people think it is for many other reasons besides disease issues.

    There are no easy, good answers when it comes to tortoises and development. Habitat conservation and management are our only hope at this time. Feel free to email me if you have other questions or comments. Also check out the Gopher Tortoise Council web site at . There is lots of good information on there. Pass it on, and keep up the good work with your rescue efforts.

    Subject: tortoise age
    Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2001
    How to you tell the age or relative age of gopher tortoises or tortoises and turtles in general
    Thanks, Zach

          eMail #2
    If a young gopher tortoise was taken from the wild and lived in captivity for around 6-7 years would it be okay to release it back into the wild or will it not remember what to do like dig a burrow and how to get food and what food to eat.

    Dear Zach,
    Regarding releasing captive tortoises: Tortoises (and reptiles in general) live by their instincts and not by learning, so I would not worry that they could not fend for themselves if released. If a tortoise could be released at or very near the place it was captured, then I would release it. However, releasing a tortoise somewhere other than its original home would not be a good idea for several reasons (e.g., disease, genetics, social structure).

    The age of many tortoises and turtles can be estimated by counting the number of rings on the scutes of their bottom shell (plastron). This works well for young tortoises and in areas where there is only one growing season per year. In older animals, the rings tend to get rubbed smooth, so it is very difficult to count them. In places such as here in central Florida, turtles and tortoises can grow year-round, and may lay down more than one growth ring per year. Counting rings is o.k. for a rough estimate.

    Subject: question about a gopher
    Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2001
    From: Amanda
    Hi, I live in Tallahassee, FL, and yesterday evening I found a small turtle crawling up my driveway (actually, I almost ran over it!). It has a hinged shell like a box turtle, but a different upper shell than most box turtles I've seen. It had some wet mud on its shell, so at first I thought it might be a water turtle of some sort--we have a stormwater pond in our neighborhood. But it seems to want to burrow like a gopher. I am curious because I'd like to know in what habitat to release it. The idea of someone keeping him if I let him go back in the neighborhood makes me uncomfortable.
    I am enclosing some photos of it, and maybe you can tell me exactly what it is and where I should release him--ie, sandy wooded area, or near water...
    thanks so much!   Amanda
    Dear Amanda,
    The pictures made this very easy! Thanks. It is a mud turtle or a stinkpot and should be released near or in the water. It is hard for me to tell exactly what species without having it in my hand, but if you look in a field guide (e.g., Audubon or Petersons) you will be able to figure it out.
    Subject: Question [Poplation]
    Date: Sun, 1 Apr 2001
    From: Michael
    I am doing a project on the Gopher Tortoise. Would you be able to tell me the gopher tortoise population in Florida for the following years....
    1980, 1885, 1990, 1995, 2000
    Appreciate your attention to this.
    Dear Michael,
    No one does total population surveys for gopher tortoises, so we don't have overall population estimates. It would be nice, but very difficult and expensive to accomplish. Feel free to write back if you have more questions or comments.
    Subject: tortoise
    Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2001

    Are gopher tortoises smart

    Is the gopher tortoise population still less tan what it was . Because I m trying to buy one but the pet shop never have had them avaliable probably thats the reason im i rigth. and will they make good pets?

    Hi there!
    Gopher tortoises are not particularly smart, at least in the way that humans define smart. Reptiles typically have small brains, and rely on instinct to survive. Instinct is the "knowing" that animals are born with, like where to find food and shelter. They do not have to learn these things.

    Gopher tortoise populations are not getting larger, and are probably getting smaller because their habitats are being developed all of the time. They are protected as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, so it is illegal to have them as pets. If you ever see one in a pet store, or if anyone offers to give or sell one to you, that person or store should be reported to the Wildlife Conservation Commission. We all have to work very hard together to protect the remaining tortoises so that they will be around for a long time.

    Thank you for your good questions.

    Subject: Is this a gopher turtle??
    Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001
    Today i was at a friend's house...we live in Apopka,Florida...Her back yard slopes off pretty steeply and then a little furthur down is a small lake...I noticed and asked her about a mound of white sand down the bank and she said she hadn't really payed much attention to it,but I was curious and went down to take a peek...My freind had no idea it was so deep!!! It went WAAAAY deep for maybe 5-6yards or slanting down down down...It was like a tunnle at first and then the actual hole was in the shape if a turtle(or tortoise) half moon?? Can you give us more information??
    Thank you very much...Hope
    Dear Hope,
    From your description of the burrow, it may be a gopher tortoise, but I can not say "yes" or "no" for sure without seeing it. You might be able to tell more by looking at the tracks on the apron (flat sandy spot outside the mouth of the burrow). Tortoise tracks are small and round. Also, when you walk up to the burrow, be sneaky and you might see the tortoise sitting in the mouth or the tunnel. The best times to see a tortoise out of the burrow are in the mid-morning or just before dusk. They are reptiles (i.e., cold-blooded) and will not be out when it is too cold or too hot.
    Good luck!
    Subject: gopher tortoise research
    Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001
    Do you know of anyone in the Orlando area (especially in wekiva) who is doing any gopher tortoise studies? I would really like to volunteer to help with such a study. I am currently attending Rollins College, majoring in environmental studies as well as a wildlife rehabilitator and am fascinated by gophers and would really like to help.
    Thanks for your help.   Shelly
    Contact Wekiwa State Park and ask about volunteer opportunities. They have tortoises and have had projects going in the past. Talk to a biologist there and see if they are able to use your help.
    Good luck!
    Subject: help!
    Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2001
    hi. I'm doing a project on Gopher tortoises and i was wondering when they became endangered. and what(if) there are any projects in in progress to save the gopher tortoises. thanx for the help
    Dear Ash,
    Gopher tortoises in Florida are not protected by the Endangered Species Act. They were listed as a by the State of Florida in 1975, so it is illegal to keep, harm, or harass them, or mess with their burrows. Gophers are protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act west of the Tombigbee/Mobile drainage (i.e., parts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi). There are many research projects looking at many aspects of gopher tortoises. If you search on the web, there are several sites that have good information.
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise Diet
    Date: Wed, 7 Feb 2001
    From: "Jeanne DeV
    I live on five hilly acres in Lake County and we have gopher tortoise holes. I would like to add gopher apples to the natural vegetation we have on the property but I don't know where to buy them. Any suggestions? Is there anything else I can plant that they will benefit from. The property was orange groves and now is typical scrub with lots of sour oranges, Lantana and Passion Vines. We've seen three different tortoises in the past year, but lately I haven't seen any evidence of activity near the holes. I'd like to keep them around, bribing them with their favorite treats if necessary. Thanks for any advice you can give us.
    Dear Jeanne,
    Native plant nurseries have become quite popular in the last few years. We have a couple of good ones near here (Christmas and Mims). Check your phone book, or call your local native plant society. Gopher apples are a good choice, and so is Opuntia cactuses
    Date: Fri, 05 Jan 2001
    Tortoises can swim, but not for long periods of time, or very far very fast.
    Subject: FL-gopher tortoise (very long letter)
    Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001
    From: Donna
    Wonderful site so glad I found it and visited. Well done. Thankyou.
    Back in 1979&1980 we lived out in the country,with lots of woods and orange grooves. Our middle child since the age of 6mos. old a true explorer and all boy. Worried me to death. All of our children learned to handle snakes,yet we the parents still will not hold one. We learned a lot from all our children,but David taught us many things. Once he found anything he would than read about it. Problem was he brought many things home to keep until I could finally get him to understand that they can be watched and he should not be removing them from thier homes. He brought us a sick vulture back from the woods one day*I just could not believe it. He carried it by holding its beak shut. He carried it for about a half mile. I told him that was a kind thing to do but very dangerous,plus some birds can give us infections. Another time he brought a 5gal.bucket with a young live coral snake he had found. Needless to say each time he went for a day in the woods----I stayed on needles and pins.
    Thanks to him I learned a lot,he taught the kids at school a lot and other people got to where they called on him to tell them what kind of snake they found or killed. He had an old dog kennel where we lived and he brought home lots of turtles and some Gopher tortoises too,they adapted well,infact some of them mated. He read as much about them and talked to older FL people about them-----to bad all this good PC information was not there at that time. We used Plant City,Fl library a lot,plus his school library. He fed them lettuce,apples,oranges,fixed them a pond. Finally we told him it was time to return them to where he found them. One of them got a eye infection,which I doctored by washing the eye several times a day with warm water I added herbs,parsley and chamomile. I did not know what else to use that would be safe. After a week it seem to clear,my doctoring or just nature. Once again we learned something about FL. wildlife from David. David moved to Huntington Beach,CA and is still making us a nervous wreck. His job is diving to clean the bottoms of boats in the marinas. On his off time he takes dangerous chances goes out into the channels to dive for large lobsters.
    He is still teaching and showing people things about nature. To bad he never finished school. Sorry I got carried away here:::Okay the reason I looked up the Gopher,is for 1 full year now under our house something has dug a hole. I have called the FL fish&game and other wildlife No. What has me baffled is I see no signs of dropping,I see no tracks,I have checked on regular baises,{as I am not working}yet have seen nothing day or night. I sometimes throw paper towels with coffee grounds on them in the hole,they will stay undisturbed for a long spell,sometimes not dug out until 3wks. or so. This last week I took a rake and raked the dirt outside the hole back into the hole. I do not want to crawl under the house to poke my face in the hole for fear of what might be in it. Now yesterday whatever it is dug a deeper hole and the opening is a little larger. The opening is about the size of a basket ball,hole is about 2' deep. I poked a broom handle carefully down it.
    We live on the edge of town and the woods is about 4 blocks from us. We in the past have had armadillo's and possums,but usually we see them out at night. No one in the neighborhood has seen any. What futhur puzzles me is that what ever it is digs like a dog throwing the dirt a good bit. I did not remember the Gopher throwing dirt so much. Although that could be roaming dogs digging to get after what is in the hole. But than our small inside dog usually goes crazy if stray dogs or cats get under the house as he can smell them I think. So I was looking to see more of what the gopher holes and digging habits looked like. Our youngest son Jon lives near us and knows repitiles too. He just does not like spiders. I called him today,he works a swing shift,so he said when he gets a day off he will check it out for me.
    The only other thing I can think of,is a skunk maybe. I haven't looked that up yet. Wildlife said it sounds like a possible Gopher,but not to move it because of the resp.disease problems. Any ideas----let me know.


    Do Keep up this wonderful site! I found your site by using HotSheet Super Search:I typed in FL gopher tortoise
    Dear Donna, It was a pleasure reading your letter, and your son, David, sounds like a great guy. Being a parent of a couple of fearless girls (at least when it comes to critters!), I can appreciate your chewed fingernails and grey hairs! It is wonderful that you can appreciate the good things your son has done to educate others, because education is the best contribution any of us can make. Also, some of the best naturalists I know of never made it out of high school, much less college. Some people just have the knack and the love, and they are special.

    It sounds to me that your mystery hole is probably caused by an armadillo. They dig shallow holes to feed or to spend the night, but may not use them on a regular basis. They also can throw some dirt and are not particularly neat about it. A tortoise digs a burrow to live in, is fairly neat, and piles the dirt in front of the opening to make an "apron". The shape of the opening will be flat on the bottom and oval on top, like the tortoise's shell. If a tortoise is living in a burrow, it will come out often, once or twice a day in warm weather, to feed. It may stay down for several weeks during the winter, but will come out as soon as things heat up to more than 70 degrees F.

    Subject: Gophers
    Date: Sun, 28 Jan 2001
    From: Norma K

    Just want to thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions people send in to you.
    We just bought the two empty lots next to us and during the process of clearing all the vines that were choking other vegetation, we are finding many native Holly trees.and Oak trees.We are chopping out Pepper trees and planting more oaks and native plants and trees.
    We are also excited to find Gopher Tortoise. We would find them n our yard on occasion, but never knew where they came from, t hey were hidden under all the vines. We have found four openings so far, I keep looking for more. They have also formed a path to our squirrel feeders and bird feeders. we often see them eating the new shoots from the seeds that have been dropped. They sit and watches us work .We are avid wildlife people, trying to preserve nature in our own small way. We love photographing them. birds and squirrels. The whole area will be for wildlife, It has always been a dream, now my husband is helping make it a reality for me. After reading a lot of the letters you have answered I'm going to plant a small cactus garden for the
    Gophers.and a grass patch. Any ideas for a fast growing ground cover that will be edible for them and cover the big mound in the process?
    Thank you for your time. N.K.

    Dear Norma, Thanks for your kind comments about the question/answer part of the web site. It is always fun to hear what people are doing and thinking about gopher tortoises.
    Gopher apple is a native ground cover that tortoises will eat, leaves and fruits. You can look in a "local" plant book to see what it looks like if you are not familiar with it. You could try transplanting some from a vacant lot somewhere, although I don't know if that is usually successful or not. I have been told that tortoises will also eat many different varieties of seeded grass, even though they are not native. That is why you can see them feeding on roadsides so often. You might also try calling or visiting a native plant nursery to see what they suggest. I don't know if there is one near you, but there is one in Mims and one in Christmas. The Brevard Native Plant Society might also be a good resource.
    Good luck. Becky
    Subject: question?
    Date: Sat, 27 Jan 2001
    Dear experts,
    My name is bradley and i am in 5th grade. i am doing a project report on "gopher tortoises".
    What special provisions or solutions to problems faced by the gopher tortoise has the government implemented to assure the continued existence of the gopher tortoise.
    Sincerely,   Bradley
    Dear Bradley,
    The gopher tortoise in Florida is legally protected as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is illegal to harm, harass, hold in captivity, or destroy its burrows without a permit. In other parts of the tortoise's range, west of the Mississippi River, it is federally protected by the Endangered Species Act. Of course, all of the legal protection in the world will not matter if the rapid rate of habitat destruction is not stopped, or at least slowed down. Gopher tortoises can not live in concrete.

    P.S. I have a daughter in 5th grade, and she likes tortoises, too, and snakes, and lizards, and birds, etc., etc.!!

    Subject: gopher tortoise
    Date: Tue, 23 Jan 2001
    Can u tell me what date they was endangered and the reason why endangered? Thank You,   Manny
    Dear Manny,
    The gopher tortoise in Florida is listed as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is not federally protected (i.e., by the Endangered Species Act). In other parts of its range (west of the Mississippi River, it is federally protected.

    There are many threats to tortoise populations. Until the past few years, it was legal to kill and eat them. Now the biggest threats are road mortality, disease, and habitat destruction.

    Subject: Tortoise
    Date: Sat, 20 Jan 2001
    From: Dudly B.
    Dear Ms Smith
    My name is Jennifer B. and I am a South African. My friends and I have been having this argument for almost 3 months now and we are struggling to come to a conclusion. The group is split in two. The first group believes wholeheartedly that a tortoise can swim, others, like myself say that it does not swim, but that it would be able to rescue itself from shallow water. I am not sure if a different variety is able to swim and others aren't. If you know anything about the typical, everyday tortoise of South Africa, I would really appreciate it if you could e-mail me the answer to our question.
    Thank you
    Dear Jennifer,
    I am not a tortoise expert, and I am really not a South African tortoise expert. I have worked with gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) for many years. I believe that they can swim for short distances, across ditches and small ponds, based on radiotracking information we gathered several years ago. I would suggest that you contact Dr. Peter Pritchard at the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Florida. He will definitely know the answer to your question because he is THE EXPERT.
    Good luck. Becky
    Subject: Population
    Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2000
    From: Lauren
    Hi!!! my name is Lauren.
    I need some population information on the Gopher Tortoise. Based on the information on your web page this is a difficult question.
    Would you have an estimate of what percent (%) of gopher tortoises are in the wild vs captivity. My guess is that the majority are in the wild because it is illegal to keep these as pets based on your comments on the web site.
    Population information is an important part of my project so any additional comments or information is helpful.
    Also, if you have any recommended web sites I should visit I would appreciate that information as well.
    Thank you, Lauren G.
    Dear Lauren,
    You are right that it is impossible to know what percent of the tortoise population is in captivity. We do not really know how many tortoises are in the wild, and the estimates vary greatly depending on who you ask. Besides that complication, there are probably a fair number of tortoises being held illegally in captivity without permits, so there is no way of counting them.
    You might be able to get a number of tortoises being held with permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Call their permitting office infomation number in Tallahassee at 850-488-1960.
      Subject: tortoises
    Date: Wed, 3 Jan 2001
    Dear Andrew,
    You can probably get posters or pamphlets from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They have a web site (search on their name) or you can call the wildlife research lab in Gainesville at 352-955-2230. Be sure and tell them you are a student working on a school project. Also look on the Enchanted Forest web site (I think you must have been there already).



    Subject: (no subject)
    Date: Thu, 28 Dec 2000
    From: 13 Yrs old
    Im 13 Yrs old And Im very intersted inh tortoises But I Know Almost aLot about tortoises . Can You tell Me What will Happen If I Catch A wild Caugth Gopher tortoise and put It in Captivity? The reason Why I Ask This Question Is Because ICauGth So Many reptile s and They Died. The reason Why They Died Is Because theY Are not in thier Natrual Habitat Which is the Wild.
    Dear 13-year-old Herp Person,
    You are absolutely right that many reptiles are tough to keep, mostly because it is very hard to duplicate their wild conditions. Because they are cold-blooded, they are sensitive to temperature changes. Their dietary requirements are often much more complicated than people imagine.
    The best way to successfully keep a reptile as a pet is to find a species that does well in captivity (there are several), get an animal that is captive-born (not taken from the wild), and talk to people that already have that species to see what they do to keep it healthy and happy. If there is a herpetological society in your area, they would probably be an excellent source of information for you. If you look on this web site, there is a directory for herp societies in Florida:
    By the way, gopher tortoises are protected as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, so it is illegal to take one from the wild and keep it without a permit.
    Subject: gopher tortoise
    Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000
    From: "bman30"
    Hi Becky,
    Are the gopher tortoise's still protected or of special concern in Florida?Just wanted to know.Thankyou for your time.
    Dear Brian,
    In Florida, gopher tortoises are listed as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They are not federally protected here (i.e., by the Endangered Species Act) as they are west of the Mississippi River.
    Date: Sun, 17 Dec 2000
    From: Blair L
    CAN A tortoise eat its baby? What deos it eat? What do you think does it have a limet of babies at one time? Would a gopher tortoise eat fish or not? DEOS it live in a forest ? WHAT is it habitat made out of?
    Dear Janine,
    You ask some very good questions. Gopher tortoises are vegetarians and rarely eat anything other than low-growing plants and herbs. They will occasionally eat bones of a small dead animal (i.e., road kill), probably to get calcium for their egg shells. Gopher tortoises are not predators and I can not imagine that they would eat their young.
    Once a tortoise lays her eggs, she does not stay around to take care of the eggs or young, so she may not ever even see them again (this is common in reptiles).
    The best tortoise habitat is dry, open, and sandy. The upper vegetation (trees and shrubs) can not be very thick or it will shade out their low-growing plants. The soil needs to be sandy or soft enough for them to dig burrows, but not too soft or the burrows will collapse. They often feed around the edges of wetlands where the plants are small and green. Tortoises also like disturbed places where there is mowed grass, but those places are often dangerous for them because of mowers, cars, dogs, and other hazards associated with people.
    subject: (no subject)
    date: thu, 14 dec 2000
    from: sean
    good afternoon,
    i am very concerned about the future of the gopher tortoise in my area. recent heavy development in boca raton has sentenced these beautiful animals to be paved over or die in the streets. i have spent many afternoons relocating displaced tortoises and even nursing a few back to health after unfortunate run-ins with vehicles. i frequently walk in areas that are slated for development. i am familiar with over a hundred tortoise "rich" habitats in my area and i visit the tortoises frequently. i have watched few of these perviously protected areas be bulldozed without regard for any wildlife, burrowing owls and foxes included. i would like to encourage the city of boca raton to adopt a policy that makes it mandatory that these areas be walked by people who can identify and relocate any animal but especially the helpless tortoises.
    any suggestions or advice would be appreciated.
    thank you, sean kaltenbach
    Dear Sean,
    I certainly appreciate your concern for the tortoises, and know exactly how you feel about their future. However, I must tell you that it is illegal for you to capture or relocate gopher tortoises without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
    The best suggestion I can give you is to write the Commission and express your concerns (send a copy of the letter to the City of Boca Raton; that might get their attention). The address is: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 620 South Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600. They also have a web site and you may be able to reach them through it. Another thing you can do is contact the City whenever you see signs of development at a site where there are tortoises. Ask them to see their protected species permits.
    If there are none, contact the Commission. After you do that a couple of times, they should start to get the message. You can also get the local newspaper involved, but be sure you are straight with your facts before doing that. Otherwise, that tactic can backfire badly.
    Good luck and feel free to email me if you have any other questions. Becky
    Subject: Turtle Trouble
    Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2000
    From: Debby M.
    We are in the process of moving to an overgrown lot with acerage. I recently planted some young citrus trees and a few pineapples transplanted from our former property.
    You can imagine my shock the next day to see my new plantings eaten down to the ground. I had no idea what could have done such damage to so many plants overnight.
    At the same time I was talking to a gentleman who was doing some work on our property about the large holes I kept finding. He said the holes were made by Gopher Turtles and that was also most likely what had eaten my plants.
    I have yet to see one of these turtles but obviously they are there. What if anything can be done to protect young trees from getting eaten until they have a chance to get established? Are citrus and pineapple plants on the feeding list for these turtles?
    I would like to find a natural way of repelling the turtles from things I don't want eaten. I don't mind having them on our property as we are an animal rescue organization and believe in protecting all wildlife. I do however need to plant a privacy hedge and am concerned about that investment getting eaten as well.
    Any advice you can provide to help us would be greatly appreciated.
    Debby M.
    Dear Debby,
    Gopher tortoises will eat most things that are low and green. My best suggestion for protecting any of your plants is to buy them tall enough that the tortoises can not reach the leaves. They will not chew on tree or shrub bark. You could also put an exclusion fence around plants such as your citrus trees.
    Don't be too sure that the culprits are tortoises, because there could be a number of suspects, depending on where you are located.
    Feel free to email me if you have other questions. Becky
    Subject: Blind tortoise
    Date: Sat, 11 Nov 2000
    From: "squirrelgirl"
    I am working with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and we just got in a very small tortoise. He appears to have a scaly growth over his eyes. I know snakes molt and sometimes fail to shed these scales, which must then be removed by a vet. Do tortoises have the same problem?
    Thanks! SG
    Dear SG,
    When snakes shed their skin, they also shed a clear scale that covers their eyes. Turtles do not shed their skin. My suggestion is to take the animal to a vet to get an opinion as to the cause of its problem.
    Hopefully, they can help. Please let me know what you find out.
    Subject: Information for a little kid
    Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2000
    From: Allison L.
    I am a 3rd grader at HECorley Elementary School in Irmo, SC. My class is doing reports on endangered animals. I chose the gopher tortoise and would like to know how I can find out what South Carolina is doing to protect these tortoises. I would also like know what a gopher tortoise would do if he got flipped over on his back. My report is due on Nov. 28th. Could you please write back soon?
    Thank you, Jack L.
    Dear Jack,
    If a gopher tortoise gets flipped on its back, there is really nothing it can do. They will flap their legs very hard and try to right themselves, but unless they are on a slight slope, they probably will not be able to turn back over. When tortoises fight (over home range, mates, etc.), if they are serious, they will use the front of their shells to try and flip their opponent. If a tortoise is left on its back, it can die from heat or cold (because they are cold-blooded and severely influenced by prevailing weather conditions), or it is easy for a predator to get them in that position.
    I am not familiar with the laws protecting tortoises in South Carolina. You should contact your state's fish and game commission. Their phone number is in your phone book, or they probably have a web site. Thanks for your good questions and interest. Good luck on your report. Please feel free to email me if you need more information. (I have a daughter in 3rd grade. Her name is Melissa.)
    Subject: Gopher Tortoise
    Date: Sat, 7 Oct 2000
    I would like to know the climate and temperature range for the Gopher Tortoise.
    Dear Christy,
    Gopher tortoises historically occurred throughout Florida and up into eastern Louisiana, southern Mississippi, southern Georgia, and southwest South Carolina (Their range has been greatly reduced from that now, and the strongholds are southern Georgia, and north and central Florida.). Gophers can tolerate temperatures and climates that are experienced in those areas, ranging from subfreezing in the winter to extremely warm in the summer. Of course, they can not do this without having burrows to protect them from the extremes. Tortoises in the northern part of the range typically spend several months underground during winter, but from central Florida south, they are active all year. I hope this is the answer you needed. Rebecca B. Smith
    Subject: have a question
    Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2000
    From: Surfergurl0140

    Hi, my name is Megan, and I'm doing a project on the gopher tortoise for my biology 1 honors class. I have looked in many places and haven't found the answers that i want. I don't know if I have over looked them or what, but if you could please answer them i would be most delighted!
    1) What is the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, and Genus species of the gopher tortoise?
    2) What biom is it found in?
    3) Do you have any good pictures of the tortoise? Or do you now where i could look for some?
    Thank you for answering my questions and helping me with my project!
    Truly yours,   Megan

    Dear Megan,
    All animals belong to Kingdom Anamalia. Animals with notochords, pharyngeal gills or pouches, and a nerve chord are in phylum Chordata. Vertebrate animals are in the subphylum Vertebrata, and they have a vertebral column. Tortoises are in class Reptilia, which is composed of cold-blooded animals without hair or feathers. They belong to the order Chelonia (all turtles). Tortoises (and some other land turtles) are in family Testudinidae. The genus and species of the gopher tortoise is Gopherus polyphemus.
    We, and the gopher tortoise, live in the temperate forest biome.
    I do not have any digital tortoise pictures, but I am sure if you search the web on tortoises, you will find some you can download.
    Rebecca B. Smith
    Subject: [Wayward] Gopher Tortoise
    Date: Tue, 12 Sep 2000
    My name is Barbara. I am an animal control officer for Snohomish County in the state of Washington. We have found what appears to be a female gopher tortoise. She was trying to burrow under a citizens garage. I am assuming it is female by the shortness of the tale. She is 14 inches and ways approximately ten pounds. I am not familiar with this species and have been trying to investigate it. She appears to be healthy and is eating regularly. I am aware that this species does not live in our part of the country. We want to do our best by her and could use any advise. I do not feel it is fair to her to keep her in any small enclosure. My husband and I are willing to take monetary steps to make sure she ends up in the right place. If you have any suggestions they would be much appreciated. Thank you.
    Dear Barbara,
    Thank you for trying to do the right thing for this animal. The first step will be to have it positively identified. Contact a herpetologist at a university or a local herp society and find out for sure what species you have. That will point to your options as to what to do with it. Please keep me posted. If it is a gopher tortoise, it would be interesting to know how it got to Washington! Thanks for your efforts.
    Subject: new backyard visitor
    Date: Tue, 5 Sep 2000
    From: Fred and Dana

    Dear Becky,
    I came across this guy in my yard this morning after being out of town all weekend and thought you could advise me. As you can see from his tail, he is spurred, and his thighs are too, which you mention on your site is not a characteristic of a gopher tortoise. Whatever this guy is, he may very well have been plopped down in my yard by someone, as I have a reputation for animal rescue. He may also have wandered in from a wooded area on my lot.
    I am concerned because my lot is only 3/4 acre, and fenced in. Should I set him on the other side? I have dogs and cats, who are inside now but do go out. If this species is endangered, I would of course go to any lengths to get it to a good home or contact whomever might want to relocate him. I could also just leave him alone. Do you have any suggestions?
    By the way, I am in Kennesaw, Georgia, NE of Atlanta. Any help you can offer would be very much appreciated. I have been searching the web for an hour and I can't find this tortoise.
    Thank you for all the work you do to educate us. Dana

    Dear Dana,

    Thanks for the pictures and the nice note. I think that is a snapping turtle. Depending on the habitat around your place, you could probably just put him over the fence. They are mostly a freshwater species, like mud and lots of vegetation. Snapping turtles are common throughout the eastern half of the U.S. Look in a field guide (Peterson's or Audubon are good ones) to make sure on the i.d. Make sure he doesn't get hold of your fingers or toes!!

    Good luck and let me know what happens. Becky

    What is this tourtoise?     The tourtoise's spurred tail

    Subject: What do baby gopher turtles eat?
    Date: Mon, 28 Aug 2000
    From: Kim

    We live on 2.5 acres and have about 8-10 gopher turtle holes. We just found a very small baby and have no idea how to care for it? I'm afraid that if it stays outside, something will kill it. Out son has taken a liking to it and has made it a small cage inside with dirt, small plants and water. What can we do for it, or can we call someone who can take it somewhere safe?

    Thank you,
    Kim in Brooksville, Florida

    Dear Kim,
    The first thing I must tell you is that the gopher tortoise is a protected species under the jurisdiction of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. It is illegal to keep the tortoise as a pet.

    That being said, it would also be very difficult to keep the animal alive and healthy. Gopher tortoise dietary requirements not only change with age, but with season, and even time of day. That baby needs to be turned loose where you found it, out of harms way, so that it can find its own food and shelter, and eventually grow up to reproduce. Granted, it might not live to be an adult, but the fact that you found a baby says that the population there is reproducing and the habitat is good. Chances are that it will be fine, and we need its reproductive potential for the future.

    If your son is interested in keeping a turtle for a pet, go to a pet store or reputable reptile and amphibian dealer and get a captive-born animal. That way, he can have the fun and education of raising the turtle or tortoise (non-protected species), and not being harming the ecology or reducing populations of our precious native species.

    Sent: Thursday, August 24,
    Subject: tortoise question (Spurs)

    Dear Becky,
    Another tortoise, younger, with spurs just starting to grow out, was found somewhere in this area. I do not know any other details of it. Would you know if there are any spur thighed tortoises native to North America, and could they be in this area? Thanks so very much.

    There are no spur-thighed tortoises native to North America. However, they have been popular in the pet trade, but are now banned from importation because of a tick infestation. It would be interesting to know if a pet store or reptile dealer around there decided to dump their spur thighs. I suggest you contact your local office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and tell them what you have seen and heard. Thanks for your help.
    Becky Smith
    Subject: Order & Family
    Date:Wed, 23 Aug 2000
    From: Brittany
    I would like to know the order and the family of a gopher tortoise..ty..
    Dear Brittany,
    The order of the gopher tortoise is Chelonia, and the family is Testudinidae.
    Subject: Gopher turtle
    Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000
    From: Bob

    I live in Eastern Hillsborough County in a developing area with a number of Gopher Turtles. As the area has developed, (I moved to this location 1978) I have seen many Gophers become road kill or be trapped in their burrows collapsed by heavy machinery. I was raised in Florida and have admired these wonderful creatures all my life. I still occasionally see gopher turtles wandering down paved roads in the subdivision. Would it be advisable to relocate it to my fenced in property of one acre with plenty of sandy soil and natural low growing plant food. It seem such a shame to let them be crushed do to lack of habitat.

    Dear Bob,
    The plight of the gopher tortoise has been, and continues to be, painful to watch. I agree that it is very difficult to watch as animals get killed, especially when you have a place that you could put them. However, it is illegal for you to "capture and hold" tortoises within a fence on your property.

    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over gopher tortoises in the state of Florida. Contact your local office (phone book) and tell them your situation. They may be willing to let you get a permit to relocate a few animals to your property, depending on the habitat and size. You might even get paid to do that, if suitable relocation sites are in short supply. No promises from me, but at least check into the possibilities.
    Becky Smith

    Subject: Legal papers
    Date: Tue, 22 Aug 2000
    From: Jack

    What kind of papers does somebody need if they found a Gopher tortoise, and want to keep it?
    Thanks, Jack

    Dear Jack,
    The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has jurisdiction over tortoises in the state of Florida. There is an office for your area that you can find through your local phone book. You will have to apply for a permit to keep the tortoise.

    I would like to make an alternate suggestion. If the tortoise is healthy, take it back to where you found it and let it go out of harm's way. Tortoises have many specialized requirements. For example, they eat different foods during different times of the year, and even during different times of the day. They are cold blooded and very susceptible to getting too hot and too cold. You might be able to keep the tortoise alive, but may not be able to keep it healthy.

    Besides, removing the animal from the wild takes away all of its reproductive potential, and we need all of the baby tortoises we can get. If you care about the tortoise, and having gopher tortoises for the future, please let it go.

    You might contact the local Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission office and ask them if you could get on a list to adopt a tortoise that can not be released in the wild. If the tortoise you found is injured, ask the Conservation Commission to suggest a vet or reputable wildlife rehabilitator where you can take it for treatment.
    Thanks. Becky Smith

    Subject: tortiose
    Date: Mon, 21 Aug
    From: JKRMWW

    what would i feed it.
    we have found a large gopher tortoise.

    Dear Friend,

    The gopher tortoise is a state-protected species of special concern. It is illegal to keep one. I suggest that you take the tortoise back to where it was found and let it go out of harm's way. Besides, their dietary requirements are complicated. They eat different things during different times of the year and even different times of the day. It would be hard to have one in captivity and keep it healthy.

    Also, by removing it from the wild, you take away its potential to ever reproduce. We need all of the baby tortoises in the world that we can get. So, please, if you really care about the tortoise, and having gopher tortoises to enjoy in the future, take him back home and let him go.
    Thanks. Becky Smith

    Subject: Gopher Tortoise / Turtle
    Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000
    From: Cindy

    You have probably answered this before, but here goes - what (if any) is the difference between a tortoise and a turtle and can you call interchange the two names?

    Dear Cindy,
    All tortoises are turtles, but not all turtles are tortoises. These terms are non scientific labels that people use to describe certain animals, which is fine, but sometimes confusing. The term "tortoise" is used for turtles that generally live only on land, not in the water. However, box turtles live their whole lives on the land and are never called tortoises. Go figure. That is why scientists always use the Latin names (genus and species) to refer to specific animals.
    Becky Smith
    Subject: Good food for my tortoise
    Date: Wed, 09 Aug 2000
    From: Maya

    My name is Maya. I live in Bulgaria.
    A friend of mine gave me a female tortoise. He found it near an artificial lake where he went fishing. That happened the last fall. She slept during the winter and woke up in the spring. I didn't know what exactly to feed her so I gave her some lettuce. She loved it. The problem is that at this time of the year there is no lettuce here in Bulgaria and she refuses to eat any other vegetables.

    Can you give me an advice how to cope with this? What do these creatures usually eat? I really have to know because my tortoise is starving and I don't know how to help her.
    Thank you very much!

    Dear Maya,
    The answer to your tortoise's diet is somewhat dependent on what kind of tortoise it is. You should probably give it a wide variety of fresh (and frozen when fresh is not available) fruits and vegetables. Tortoises will readily eat lettuce, but it is not good for them because it fills them up and does not have much nutrition. Variety is the key so that it gets all of the different vitamins that it needs. You might also add some native grasses that it might find out feeding on its own.

    I would like to ask you to consider taking your tortoise back and letting it go where it was found. If it is a native tortoise and its home is still available and safe, it will be better off taking care of itself, and it might be able to reproduce. It will not be able to do that at your home, and we need all of the baby tortoises we can get. If it is not a native tortoise (i.e., one that belongs in that area of your country), the impact of you keeping it is much less, and it should not be released to the wild.
    Thanks. Becky

    Subject: gopher turtles
    Date: Sun, 6 Aug 2000
    From: Douglas

    how can you tell if a turtle is really a gopher turtle?I mean what do they eat, how big are they, and where they found plus if they are not gopher turtles then where can you find more info on turtles.
    thanks racerdello

    Dear Douglas,
    Thanks for all of your good questions about gopher tortoises. If you look on the Enchanted Forest web site at the gopher tortoise page, I think you will find your answers. If you have more questions after that, email me back. Information about all kinds of turtles and tortoises is available on the web (search on turtles), at the library, and through herpetological societies that are located in many cities.
    Good luck! Becky
    Subject: spurs on thigh area
    Date: Wed, 02 Aug 2000
    From: Sherrie J. E.

    We are having difficulty determining if we found a gopher tortoise or other. Do gophers have definate spurs on the underside of their thighs? No one seems to be sure of this as a gopher characteristic. This tortoise was rescued on the busy highway. It was moved from the highway to back into the other side of the road. Please can you help? The tortoise looked like a gopher. It was 12 to 14 inches long.

    It was found by a friend of mine on US 441 about a mile (+) north of Micanopy, Florida which is just south of Gainesville. The tortoise looked quite similar to me to the pictures on your website, but so many tortoises look similar in pictures. The definate spurs on the thighs are the one characteristic that we cannot find mentioned or shown anywhere on the gophers. So we are very curiously stumped. We have researched, but can find no reference to gophers with spurs on their thighs. Like the Mediterranian and African Spur-thighed tortoises have. We can find no pictures of under the tortoise on the thigh area of the gopher.

    Thanks, Sherrie

    Dear Sherrie,

    Your question was forwarded to me via the Enchanted Forest web site. It sounds like your suicidal tortoise (trying to cross 441!) was some type of spur-thighed tortoise and not a gopher tortoise. Spur-thighed tortoises are variable in their shape. Typically the top shells (carapace) are dome-shaped, but they can also be quite flat and look very much like a gopher tortoise. Gopher tortoises do not have spurs on the thighs. Your tortoise may have been young, because they can get very large, much bigger than 12 - 14 inches. It is likely that the tortoise you saw was an escapee from a pet owner.

    Thanks. Becky Smith



    Subject: what kind of permit do I need
    Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2000
    From: Doug

    I am looking into geting a galapagos tortoise but I know that I need a permit but I don't know where to get one if you could please help me that would begreat

    We live in far Northern California, near Eureka, on the coast. We plan to use the Galapagos tortoises for educational programs in partnership with our local schools, raising awareness of environmental, extinction, and conservation issues.
    Thanks so much for your help!

    Dear Doug,
    I am not sure what the requirements are for obtaining and keeping a Galapagos tortoise. Please contact your state wildlife agency (should be listed in your local phone book and have a web site). You might also talk to people at the various zoos in your state that have tortoises to see what they had to do to get their permits.
    Of course, most any species of tortoise would be fine for teaching the public about wildlife, and a smaller version would certainly be easier to care for and transport. The state wildlife agency may even have a tortoise that needs adopting because it has been confiscated for legal reasons, or has been misplaced by habitat development. Taking a tortoise in that situation would be helping that animal as well as furthering your education efforts. Thanks for your good work.

    Sincerely,   Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: help
    Date: Sat, 22 Jul 2000
    From: "Ascot Windows"

    our herman tortoise has laid 8 eggs. we have bought them indoors as it is cold at night (and Day)
    we live in brighton UK. what should we do next............could it be a phantom as we thought they where both girls
    Plaese advice us
    Sylvia & Bruce

    Dear Sylvia and Bruce,
    I do most of my tortoise work with the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), will tell you what I know, and what I think about your situation. My first suggestion is that you contact an expert, either locally or via the internet, to get specific answers for your herman tortoises.
    I do not know if tortoises will lay unfertilized eggs (i.e., if both of yours are females), but I have never seen that or heard of it myself. Another possibility is that the female that laid the eggs was fertilized before you got her and stored the sperm. It should be fairly easy for you to tell the sexes of your tortoises, once you know how (via books or internet).
    As for what to do next, many species of tortoises (as well as other reptiles) have temperature dependent sex determination, which means that the eggs are neither male nor female when they are laid. It is the temperature of the sand in which they are incubated that determines the sex of the hatchling. I would incubate the eggs at a temperature in the upper 80's F, but am not sure what sex ratio that will give you, or if that is even important at this point.
    A more pressing question is: If you are successful and hatch some tortoises, what are you going to do with them?

    Hopefully, this has been some help, but I still suggest you get more information. Good luck.
    Sincerely,   Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: 26 1/2 inch long tortoise
    Date: Fri, 21 Jul 2000
    From: Scalessi

    Hi...we are in Wisconsin...can a gopher tortoise come this far and survive......We have a 26 1/2 inch long tortoise that very much resembles the gopher tort...The platt under the neck in front has a V split and in the rear bottom also has a V split.....Do gopher torts have this ....Also this is about 38 lbs and has the very scaly digging legs and its girth is 43 inches......definitely a tortoise

    I doubt that the animal you have is a gopher tortoise; the description (especially the 38 lbs. part) is much larger than gophers get. Whatever it is, it does not come from Wisconsin, and it did not get there on its own. It must be someone's escaped or released pet, and likely will not survive the winter if left unprotected.
    If you would please send me a picture, I will try to identify it, and/or you can search the net for clues. There are many web sites that have pictures of various animals, including tortoises, with life history information and care instructions. Your tortoise could potentially be from anywhere in the world! Keep me posted.

    Thanks.   Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: what species?
    Date: Tue, 20 Jun 2000
    From: SBelbuck

    I had a turtle or tortoise show up on my front door step today and I am trying to determine weather or not it is a gopher tortoise. I believe these critters are primarily brown (shell), but I was wondering if they can have different shades of green and brown when they are young.

    Adult gopher tortoises are a very plain dull brown on the top shell (carapace) and light brown to beige/yellow on the bottom shell (plastron). When they are hatched and for the first two or three years, they are a bright orange with dark orange/brown markings. I have never seen a gopher tortoise that had green markings.

    The best way to identify your mystery turtle is to borrow a field guide to reptiles or turtles from the library. Try to find a picture that resembles the turtle you saw, remembering that there could be a fair amount of color and pattern variation. If you see something that could be the one, check the range map to see if it occurs in your geographic area.

    Becky Smith

    Subject: The average size of a tortoise
    Date: Sat, 10 Jun 2000
    From: MELISSA

    I live in Tennessee my son and I were going down an off-dirt road. We spotted this turtle in the road. At first he thought it was a mud turtle, but when he got out of the truck he said it was a hard shell turtle. So we showed it to my husband and our neighbor who says they haven't ever seen one that big before. So I was just wondering how bid do they get and how can we tell how old it might be. The turtle is solid black on the top of his shell but is yellow and black square on the bottom. Can you help me to determine the age and maybe what species it is.

    Dear Melissa,
    Sorry, but I can not identify your turtle without knowing how large it was, and what part of Tennessee you are from. Many species of turtles occur in west Tennessee, but not in the eastern part, and vice versa. My suggestion is that you go to the library and look in a field guide that has pictures and descriptions to try and figure out the species. Make sure you look at the range maps to see if it is supposed to be in your area.

    As for the age, you can occasionally tell how old a turtle is by counting the rings on the scutes of the bottom shell, just like botanists age trees by the growth rings. However, you have to assume that the turtle put down one ring each year. You might be able to assume that in Tennessee because the turtles will not grow much in the cold winters, but here in Florida, our turtles can grow all year. Also, once a turtle becomes several years old, it starts to wear off the rings on the bottom shell. Look in the field guide and see what is the average size for an adult. If it is much smaller than that, it may be a juvenile or subadult, but that is as probably as specific as you will be able to get. Have fun on your search.
    Becky Smith
    P.S. I am from Gatlinburg, TN, just east of Knoxville, but I move to Florida before I became seriously interested in studying critters!

    Subject: Turtle Habitat
    Date: Fri, 2 Jun
    From: Robert

    What is the process once turtles have been moved to a new site? What would be necessary to care for them?

    Dear Robert,
    What happens is dependent on the requirements for the relocation as set forth by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The requirements will vary according to the situation. If the relocation site is near a busy road or other development, they may be a fencing requirement. There should not be any need to provide supplemental food because the relocation site is supposed to be appropriate habitat with enough resources to support the tortoises being moved there.

    Very often in the past, there has been no follow up required once the tortoises are taken to a new site, so we have very little good data to tell us what actually happens to these animals (i.e., does relocation really work?). What information that does exist is not very encouraging, as many of these animals wander away from the site and end up as road mortalities. Habitat protection is a much better answer gopher tortoise conservation.
    Becky Smith

    Subject: Tortoise has burrowed under neighbors' trailer...uh oh!
    Date: Wed, 31 May 2000
    From: Julie

    Please help. I live in Englewood, Fl. - southwest coastal area. I have been around these creatures for many years now and they have never been a problem (except to the zealous developers). I live in a rather remote little trailer park which is surrounded by lots of scrub and abundant with indigenous wildlife. There is a large tortoise burrow about 50 yards up and aross the street, on the edge of the woods. But 2 days ago one of the big tortoises I'm used to seeing decided it needed another hole - right under my neighbors trailer. I know when he sees this (he lives in town and rents the trailer out seasonally) he's gonna have a fit!

    I want to tell him that there's no harm done, but actually I know that the burow can also become a refuge for some rather undesirable creatures - i.e. mice and rats. Would it be advisable for me to make sure the tortoise is out of the hole, and then shovel the dirt back in (maybe even put some bricks or concrete blocks in front of it)? I'm just afraid the owner will do something like that without making sure the creature is out.
    Please reply. Thanks. Julie Cotton

    Dear Julie,
    Gopher tortoises and their burrows are legally protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly Game and Fish), so it is really illegal for the trailer owner to do anything to the burrow or the tortoise.

    Of course, that is easy for me to say, and may not be easy for you to convey to him. My suggestion is that you try to convince him to leave it alone. If he blocks it with the tortoise or other animals inside, the odor would not be pleasant after a few days or weeks. He shouldn't worry about the burrow attracting rats and/or mice. If they are in the area and can get into the trailer, they will probably do that anyway, and the burrow being there is not going to make any difference. Unless you have some sort of burrow camera, it would be very difficult for you to be sure that there is not a tortoise or other animal in the burrow. Just try to work with him (i.e. educate him), and avoid doing anything illegal yourself.
    Good luck, Becky Smith

    Subject: Gopher tortoise
    Date: Tue, 30 May
    From: Jessica

    I was reading through your page and found the exact question I've had forever and you unfortunately gave the same answer I've heard a million times. Please don't get me wrong, your site is very helpful and informative and I applaud your efforts. My question is almost exactly what Sandi D. - Wed, 30 Sep 1998 asked about the owner of a lot having someone clear the land with a bush hog and several of the gophers holes being destroyed.

    Your advice was to inform the owner about gohper tortoises, etc. Also to call the authorities. I have had this happed by the same nasty woman on several occasions and I have had the police come out and I've called the fish and game people. The police were helpful, but the f&g people wouldn't come out because the burrows were located on private property and were never officially documented. It seems like she has this done at the end of July every year and I never see until the people are gone and the holes are destroyed. I know they are strong diggers, but some of the holes aren't just covered, the are collapsed for 4-5 back and I never see them open again.

    What can I do? How can I get around all of the red tape? Now on this lot is a very sick turtle, it looks like it has that UR disease. Should I call someone about it? I live in Southwest Fl if this is any help. Please give me some advice that can save these animals! Thank you very much.

    Dear Jessica,
    Believe me, I know your frustration. My main advice is to be persistent when dealing with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly Game and Fish Commission). Document your phone calls so you can say without a doubt when and how many times you have called. Get the address of the property in question and ask the Commission office in your area if a take permit was gotten for the tortoises and burrows on the property. It is not true that they can not deal with private landowners. Anyone that destroys or alters land that supports tortoises is supposed to obtain a permit. If you do not get answers when you call, ask for the person's supervisor, and keep going up the chain. Tell them that there may be URTD present. If you find out that a permit has not been obtained, and you do not get satisfaction from the Commission, call a local newspaper. That should be your last resort, but it often works.

    In defense of the Commission, tortoise issues are very difficult. There are no good answers to a myriad of different problems. They are overworked and understaffed; often the tortoise permit/enforcement duties for several counies aare given to one person.

    Last year a group of stakeholders made up of scientific researches, developers, industry representatives (such as phosphate mining and farmers) got together twice to develop recommendations for the Commission to improve their gopher tortoise policy. Hopefully, some of these recommendations will be implemented soon.

    Thanks for your interest. It is through efforts of people like you that positive changes can be made.
    Becky Smith

    Subject: thanx
    Date: Thu, 18 May 2000 20:56:31 EDT From: Limpbizkim9

    what is the natural habitat of the gopher tortoise?

    Gopher tortoises typically live in uplands habitats such as scrub, flatwoods, and sandhills. They are also fond of disturbed areas where the substrate is soft and easy to dig. However, tortoises often use wetland habitats such as shallow freshwater marshes for feeding. The importance of these wetlands to tortoises is overlooked because people always think of tortoises as only living in the high, dry places. Landscapes that support the largest, healthiest tortoise populations will have a variety of habitat types that will suit their burrowing and feeding needs.
    Becky Smith, Wildlife Ecologist
    Date: May 18, 2000
    Subject: Desert Tortoise

    Tim wrote:
    I've heard the Gopher Tortoise is the same as the Desert Tortoise. Have I been misinformed?

    Hi Tim,
    The desert tortoise and gopher tortoise belong to the same genus (Gopherus), but they are different species (desert = agassizii, gopher = polyphemus). They are completely geographically isolated and would not interbreed.
    Becky Smith, Wildlife Ecologist
    Subject: gopher tortoise orgs.
    Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000
    From: Shelly

    Is there a local organization that is actively trying to protect gopher tortoises? I would like to become active.


    Dear Shelly,
    I am not familiar with any vets in Orlando that specialize in herps. Try contacting the Gopher Tortoise Council for suggestions. They have a website, but I have heard that it is down right now. You could email Lora Smith, the membership person, and ask her for an Orlando contact that might be familiar with a good herp vet.

    Gopher tortoises are legally protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly Game and Fish Commission). It is illegal to harm, harass, etc., etc., any tortoise, or to destroy burrows. However, people can apply for permits in areas that are being developed that will allow them to do one of several options. They can choose to relocate the tortoises off-site. This is what I call the "feel good" option, because the developer does not kill the tortoises outright and can believe that they are happy in their new home. Unfortunately, the few studies that have been done show that most of the tortoises do not stay where they are put and end up being road kill. We also know that moving tortoises around has caused the spread of Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD) thoughout Florida. If you are not familiar with that disease, as a rehabber, you need to learn about it. Contact the Hybridoma Core Lab at the Univ. of Florida and ask them to send you information.

    Another option for developers is to relocate tortoises on-site. Most developments do not have enough acreage with the right habitats to make this a viable option. There is rarely a management plan for the tortoises or the habitat, and no one is responsible to make sure that the "preserve" actually works. Once again, the tortoises probably become road kill, or their reproductive output is so low (due to bad conditions and predators) that the old ones eventually die off and there are no more to replace them.

    The third option for developers is to apply for a take permit from the FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that allows them to bulldoze the burrows and sacrifice the tortoises on the site. In return, they have to "mitigate", or pay for the tortoises by buying habitat in a conservation park somewhere in the state. Although this is bad news for the tortoises on the site (and is not particularly good for public relations), it is probably the best of all evils for long-term protection of the species.

    As you can see, with tortoises in Florida, there are no good or easy solutions. One bright spot is that there is a group of stakeholders that have met and sent recommendations to the Conservation Commission for their consideration. The stakeholders group is comprised of scientists, developers, agency people, and private organization representatives. Hopefully, we will be able to bring about some changes that will ensure that there are still tortoises in Florida for a long time.
    Becky Smith

    Subject: (Should we try and help)
    Date: Sat, 15 Apr 2000
    I live off the Florida Greenway, there are about 33 lots with 2 - 5 acres each. I have seen at least 5 turtles that live and burrow on the sandy hills here. My question is: Should we try and help these turtles with their eggs.
    Thank you
    Dear Tammy,
    Please do not try to do anything with the tortoises or their eggs. Tortoises are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and you must have a permit to do any work with them. Your best course of action is to call your local office of the Conservation Commission, give them the locality of the land, and ask them if the developers or land owners have procured a permit to take tortoises or tortoise habitat. Be sure to tell them that there are at least five or more tortoises in the area, if you are reasonably sure that is true.

    If no permit application has been filed, the Commission should get in touch with the owners. If the owners have applied for or already received a permit, ask what mitigation (payment for taking of habitat) was required. Get the name of the person you talk to. If you have time and desire, be persistent until you get the answers. Thank you for your concern and efforts.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: Protecting ?
    Date: Fri, 14 Apr 2000 15:20:01 -0400
    From: "David"

    How are Gopher Tortoises being protecting.

    Dear David,
    Throughout most of their range, gopher tortoises are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act. However, in Florida, they are not listed federally, but are protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission). They are designated as a "species of special concern". It is illegal to harm or harass them, or destroy their habitat or burrows without a permit from the Conservation Commission.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: gopher's diet
    Date: Fri, 4 Feb 2000
    From: woodyinthehole

    What type of plants can I grow on my land to support the increase of gophers and assure their survival?

    Dear Bob,
    Is the population on your farm reproductive? Do you see tortoises and/or burrows of different sizes, or do they all appear to be large adults? We know that tortoises eat a wide variety of low-growing vegetation. Exactly what they eat will depend on where they are (your Georgia animals have access to different plants than our central Florida animals).

    Time of year is also important. For example, our tortoises will eat palmetto berries when they are ripe, Opuntia cactus flowers when they are blooming, grass on the shoulder of the highway when it is tender from being mowed frequently in the summer, etc. There is even evidence that tortoises will consistently shift their diet during the day to take advantage of solar radiation to help with digestion.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that gopher tortoise diet is a very complicated issue that is not fully understood. If you have a healthy population, my advice would be to maintain the area as it is now, and don't try to improve it. You may do more harm than good.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: tortoise's population
    Date: Sun, 9 Jan
    From: william

    What is the tortoise's population and what is its outlook for survival?

    Dear William,
    Thank you for your question regarding the size of the gopher tortoise population. It seems like a simple question, and that we would have a quick answer for something so basic. Unfortunately, that is not true. No complete (i.e., range-wide, or even state-wide) surveys have been done for many years, and it is not likely that the resources will soon become available to take on such a daunting task.

    Regarding the outlook for the survival of the gopher tortoise, that also is not an easy question to answer. On one hand, tortoise habitats are being rapidly developed, the upper respiratory tract disease has wiped out several local populations and has been found throughout the tortoise's range, and many regulations governing tortoise conservation and relocation are either ineffective or actually harmful.

    On the other hand, the gopher tortoise is being aggressively studied on several fronts from the natural habitat to the laboratory, there are many interested people and organizations that are dedicated to preserving this unique creature, legal policies are being reviewed, and progress is being made in many areas. Hopefully, all of these efforts combined will be enough to not only save the existing tortoise population, but allow it to be maintained for many years.
    Thanks again for your interest.

    Rebecca B. Smith
    Wildlife Ecologist

    Subject: Mounds [Gopher tortiose or pocket gopher?]
    Date: Tue, 28 Dec 1999
    From: Frank S.

    Are the many small sand mounds in open fields in Florida caused by the gopher tortiose or the pocket gopher?

    Frank S.

    Dear Frank,

    Several different critters could cause the mounds that are in many open fields in Florida. The trick is identifying which mound belongs to which one. Gopher tortoise burrows often have a large sandy pile in front of them (called the apron) that is sand they have thrown out of the hole while digging. A tortoise burrow will have a tortoise-shaped entrance, and the hole will go down at an angle. Pocket gophers will make mounds also, but the holes under the mounds are for depositing sand, not for use as entrances. Armadillos will use burrows of other animals, but they are also capable of digging their own, and leaving a mound of sand at the opening. Their hole will be shaped like their backs, coming more to a point than oval like the tortoise's. Of course, ants can make mounds, too.

    If you approach a mound or burrow, go carefully so as not to erase clues that might help determine the owner. Look for tracks, droppings, and other sign that would identify what has created or is using the mound or burrow.

    Becky Smith

    Subject: question about sleep
    Date: Thu, 9 Dec 1999
    From: "Shelley Minden"

    When a box tortoise sleeps, does it totally close up its hinged shell? Or does it only seal itself off that way if it is threatened by a predator?
    Thanks very much,

    Dear Shelley,
    Your question about sleeping box turtles stumped me as I never had one in captivity and have never caught them sleeping in the wild. I sent your question out to a group of my colleagues and several of them knew the answer. Box turtles typically sleep with their shell open, and often hang their head and limbs out (I occasionally see gopher tortoises do this also). However, they will sleep, and just sit, with their shell completely closed if they feel threatened, or if the weather is very dry and they are in danger of desiccating.
    Thanks. Becky Smith
    Subject: wopher torotise
    Date: 2 Dec 1999
    From: GMOO97

    i,m doing a report on this turtle are there any animals that eat me?

    Dear tortoise researcher,
    When tortoises hatch, they are quite small and their shells are not hard. They are a perfect size to be eaten by many predators, including snakes (indigo snakes, rat snakes, coach whips, etc.), mammals (rats, raccoons, dogs, cats, bobcats, etc.), or birds (seagulls, hawks, crows, jays, etc.). Once the young tortoises grow a little and their shells get hard, probably around one year of age, there are very few natural predators that can hurt them. Then their greatest problem is people and cars.
    Becky Smith
    Subject: Gopher tortoise hybernation??
    Date: 12 Nov 1999
    From: "Chuck and Jean

    Do gopher tortoises hybernate in the winter?

    Dear Chuck and Jean,
    The term "hibernation" is usually reserved for mammals that build fat reserves during warm weather, and then enter a deep sleep every winter. Because tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles, when the weather is cold, their bodies slow down and they can enter a state of torpor (sluggishness or inactivity). This is very common in the northern part of the gopher tortoise's range, but occurs less frequently in central and south Florida. The animal typically goes into a burrow and stays there, sometimes for several months.
    Becky Smith
    Subject: Question on the Gopher Tortoise

    Hi, I'm eight years old and my boyscout asked us to pick a Florida animal and name five things about it and I picked the Gopher Tortoise. Here is my question, please ...

    How do Gopher Tortoises eat bones?

    Thank you,

    Dear Gavin,
    You have asked an excellent question! Tortoises are always said to be strict herbivores, meaning that they only eat plants. However, there are several references in the scientific literature to them eating bones from roadkills. I have seen this occurring on a couple of occasions. It is thought that they eat bones to get calcium, and that primarily females do this in order to shell their eggs inside their bodies before laying them. Tortoises do not have teeth, but the plates in their mouths are very sharp, and they have no problem breaking up bone.

    Becky Smith

    Subject: inheritance
    Date: Thu, 16 Sep 1999
    From: "Craig"

    My wife and myself are fortunate enough to move into a house with a spacious yard in Beverly Hills, CA vacated by her grandmother. I come to find out that we are now proud owners of a Gopher Tortoise of at least 35 years (g-ma found it one day on her front lawn 35 years ago). We enjoy having "Fred" around but do not know how to care for it other then dropping some lettuce and daisies in front of him. Rumor has it that he 'hibernates' for about 5 months in the winter in a small dog house on our back porch. Any ideas, concerns or suggestions?
    Fred's adoptive parents

    Dear Craig,
    First of all, my apologies for not answering sooner. The only excuse I have is that I am not quite sure what to tell you.
    The tortoise in your yard is probably not a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), unless someone picked it up and carried it there. Gopher tortoises are native only to the southeastern U.S. You may have a desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), which belongs in the western U.S., and is protected by the Endangered Species Act.
    My suggestion is that you contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and ask that someone positively identify the species of the turtle. Depending on what it is, they should be able to direct you as to the best option for you and the animal. Good luck, and feel free to email me if you have further questions, or just to let me know the outcome of your dilemma!
    Becky Smith
    Subject: Our back yard tortoise
    Date: Sat, 11 Sep 1999

    We have a gopher tortoise in our back yard. A few days ago the entrance to his burrow caved in during a rain storm. We saw him leave our back yard so we know he is safe, do they usually try to repair their burrow or do they move on? We also found two eggs in the entrance to the burrow. We covered them back up, is there any chance they will hatch?
    Thank You,
    Kim and Marie

    Dear Kim and Marie,
    Gopher tortoises usually have several burrows interspersed throughout their home ranges. When we radiotracked tortoises several years ago here on Kennedy Space Center, males had between 8 and 35 different burrows (average of 17) and females had between 3 and 17 burrows (average of 9).
    The tortoise may return to your yard and reopen that burrow sometime. Tortoises probably decide which burrows to use based on current food availability, weather, water levels, disturbance, etc. It is very easy for a tortoise to reopen a collapsed burrow; they are like little backhoes when it comes to digging!
    If you found eggs out of the sand, it is doubtful that they would hatch. However, you did the right thing by burying them, just in case. Thanks for writing and write again if you have other questions.
    Rebecca B. Smith
    Wildlife Ecologist
    Subject: tortoise
    Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999
    From: Sandra

    I live in Melbourne Village & we have a large population of tortoises. We are looking at buying some property that has some burrows on it. What we would like to know is how do we determine how many tortoises live on this property. The village would like to make this land a park for people & the tortoises. At this time the property is undeveloped & we would like to keep it that way. Do you know of anyone who can help us?
    Thank you,

    Dear Sandra,

    You can estimate the number of tortoises on the site fairly well with a little bit of work. First, find and mark all of the burrows (active-looking and inactive-looking) with a small flag or pvc pipe (put it behind the entrance so the tortoise doesn't run over it going in and out). Write a number on each pipe or flag so that you can identify each burrow in your field notes. Next, in the evening just before dark when the tortoises should be in their burrows, go to each burrow. Smooth the sand on the apron so it will be easy to see tracks. Also, take two or three small sticks and place them right at the entrance of the hole so that anything that comes out will knock them over. Go back around noon the next day and see how many of the burrows have signs of activity (tracks and sticks knocked over). Repeat this process for four or five days, keep good field notes, and you should get a decent idea of the number of tortoises present.

    Please remember that without a permit, you should not mess with the tortoises themselves, but passive activity by you at the burrows will be fine. If you need any clarification or have more questions, please feel free to email me. Good luck!

    Becky Smith
    Wildlife Ecologist

    Subject: Finding my way home
    Date: Sun, 25 Jul 1999
    From: Gary B

    How do gopher tortoise's find there way back to there "home" burrow?

    Dear Gary,

    As far as I know, the methods by which tortoises find their way around have not been investigated. There are many possibilities. They have decent eyesight and may be able to identify landmarks within their home range. They may also use scent cues, either from other tortoises or vegetation. It also appears that they may be able to find their way over long distances, which would require some type of homing mechanism like that used by birds for migrations.

    If you contact the Gopher Tortoise Council (c/o Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117800, Gainesville, FL 32611-7800), they can put you in contact with anyone who has researched your question. Thank you for your interest.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: carrying capacity
    Date: Mon, 26 Jul 1999
    From: Lindsay S.

    "Lindsay S." wrote:

    I am currently working to relocate some tortoises which are in a future construction area at my job site. We are actively seeking the proper permits but were wondering about the site which these little guys will be located to. How will we know if the site is large enough or not? Is there a way to figure out gopher tortoise carrying capacity?


    Dear Lindsay,

    If you are getting the proper permits needed to legally relocate gopher tortoises, the permitting agency should give you guidance as to the number of tortoises you can move to any particular site. The carrying capacity of a site is dependent on many things, including food resources, suitable substrate for digging burrows, the social dynamics of the tortoise population already there, predators, the list could go on.

    My suggestion is to look to the permitting agency for help, and do not be afraid to ask questions. The agencies are often so swamped with work that it will be up to you to do the best job that you can.

    Good luck, and please write back if you have any more questions or information needs.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: respatory
    Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999

    gary j wrote:

    How can the Gopher Tortoises Respatory problelm be addressed more agresively here in collier county?

    Dear Gary,

    The Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (URTD) issue is important not only in Collier County, but throughout the entire range of the gopher tortoise, as well as the desert tortoise in the western United States. Because URTD is so contagious between tortoises and is very often deadly, several gopher tortoise populations in Florida have been extirpated or drastically reduced.

    What can we do? At this point, there is not a vaccine to protect the animals, and very little means to treat sick tortoises that are effective. It is important that humans do not facilitate the spread of URTD by relocating sick tortoises into healthy tortoise populations. A well-meaning person could potentially do a lot of damage by moving a tortoise that they do not realize is carrying the disease. An infected tortoise may appear to be healthy because URTD only becomes apparent in the more advanced stages.

    Another useful means to combat URTD is through education. Tell others what you know, especially children, and our future will surely be better.

    My last suggestion is to contact wildlife policy makers and let them know your concerns and opinions. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly Game and Fish) has jurisdiction and policy-making capabilities over gopher tortoises in Florida. Tell them how you feel. There are many scientists doing research on tortoises and many agency people trying to protect them, but it will be concerned citizens such as you that will really make a difference. Thank you.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: TURTLES (Eggs in bad place)
    Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999
    From: MY3ZGIRLS


    Dear Janie,

    You have presented me with a very difficult question. First of all, not knowing where you live, I am not sure what kind of turtle you have. Is it there living in your yard on its own, or is it a captive pet? There are certain types of tortoises (desert and gopher) that are legally protected, so it is illegal to keep them as pets. If you think that your turtle is one of these, you might want to contact the appropriate wildlife agency, explain the situation, and apply for a permit.

    Now, to get to your original question: I would hope that the turtle is smart enough to put her eggs in a proper place, although that may not always be true. You are right that changing the nest or habitat around the nest might interrupt the processes that determine the sex of the offspring. I would let Nature take its course in this case.

    Fifteen eggs from a desert or gopher tortoise is a bunch. I have never seen more than 14 in a gopher tortoise, and the average is around six. I hope this has been helpful. Please write if you need any more information.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: Gopher Tortoise demise
    Date: Fri, 02 Jul 1999
    From: Mac M
    Mac Myers wrote:
    Yesterday, I came across two young Gopher Tortoises within 100 yards of each other that had been hit by cars and unfortunately killed. The shells were approximately 5" in length. This occurred along Curlew Road in Palm Harbor Fl., where the state is widening the road and making it possible for us to see many types of animals that we ordinarily would not get the chance to see. Unfortunately, these too are all dead.

    Now.... as a "Florida Cracker" and long time (41 years) rescuer of road found Turtles and Tortoises my question is this. Is it worth a search of the area to see if I locate anymore young Torts...and remove them to a nearby area...or is the finding of the dead Torts fairly coincidental? I am aware of the respiratory illness problem ( I keep Old World Chameleons) and would either have them treated by my Reptile guy...or release them in the same vicinity. I am also aware of the laws that forbid me from attempting to save the torts...but allow me and every other blind idiot to run over them with impunity.

    He then wrote:

    Subject: Me again.
    Date: Fri, 02 Jul 1999
    I apologize for the tone of my previous Email..... I'm just frustrated that the first 2 Gopher Torts I've seen in years were both killed minutes before I happened by.

    Dear Mac,

    Believe me, I know the frustration that you feel when you see road killed critters of any type, and particularly tortoises. As we continue to develop Florida, we put obstacles in the way that are bound to take their toll on our wildlife populations.

    What can we do? Although going into a site and moving tortoises is very tempting, it is not a viable answer to our problem. Besides the disease issue, with which you are already familiar, moving tortoises presents other problems such as genetics questions, the ability of the habitat to support more tortoises, the fact that most tortoises will try to return to their old home range, etc., etc.

    A more long-term solution, although it may not be immediately satisfying, is to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (formerly Game and Fish) and let them know your concerns. They can check to see that any development has pulled the proper permits. You can also give them suggestions regarding legal protection of gopher tortoises.

    Be persistant and let your voice be heard. There are many scientists doing research on tortoises, and many agency people working to protect them, but it will be concerned citizens that can make a difference. Thank you. Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: Can I keep it?
    Date: Fri, 18 Jun 1999
    From: ADS090328

    A friend was concerned about this baby turtle they found and gave it to us to take care of - In searching more about this turtle, we find that it is a Gopher tortoise. I would like to keep this tortoise, but in reading your captions it's not a good idea, what are the dangers in keeping such animals?

    Who should we call - Brevard Zoo - may be - what is your suggestion ? and what should we feed it until then.

    Dear Tortoise Parent,
    Young gopher tortoises have got to be one of the cutest creatures on Earth. However, there are several reasons that you should be willing to part with it. First of all, because the gopher tortoise is protected as a Species of Special Concern by the State of Florida, it is illegal for you to keep the tortoise.

    Because it is so young and probably has not gotten used to being in captivity, it is likely that it could be released and be fine living on its own in the wild. My suggestion is to call your local office of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission and ask them for advice. You will be doing that individual tortoise and the entire gopher tortoise population in Florida a favor. Thank you for your concern and feel free to write again if you need further information.
    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: Gopher Tortoise eggs
    Date: Wed, 2 Jun 1999
    From: "m.osborn"

    What do you do if you find Gopher eggs just laying on top of the ground not covered sufficiently with sand? Please advise.
            Thank you...concerned nature person.

    Dear Concerned Nature Person,
    Eggs that are found on top of the ground are probably no longer viable (i.e. won't hatch). Tortoises, like most other turtles, dig a hole in the ground and deposit their eggs, cover them, and then leave. There is no parental care of the eggs or young. An egg just laying above the ground has been uncovered by something such as a predator or weather conditions.

    To complicate matters, gopher tortoises have temperature dependent sex determination. When the eggs are laid, they are neither male nor female. It is the temperature of the substrate where they are incubating that determines the sex of the tortoise that hatches. So, any egg that is not incubating under fairly strict temperature regimes is probably lost.

    Thanks for your interest, and feel free to write again if you have any other questions or comments.
    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: The speed of a tortoise
    Date: Wed, 05 May 1999
    From: "Joseph"

    Hello, I am working on a poster that will be shown to 6-8th graders in Columbia Middle School in Summit, NJ. I would like to know how fast the average gopher tortoise is. Thanks for taking time to answer this question.

    Dear Joe,
    Dave Rich forwarded your information request through the Enchanted Forest home page to me. I researched your question, because I didn't know the answer off the top of my head.

    After consulting several other researchers, consensus is that a tortoise can travel about 3-4 miles per hour. They rarely have any reason to move fast, except if they are darting down a burrow. When they feel threatened, they usually just pull into their shell until the danger is past.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: tortoise egg question
    From: Amy
    Date: Wed, 26 May 1999
    How long does it take a gopher tortoise egg to hatch?
    Dear Amy,
    The gestation period for gopher tortoises is between 80 and 110 days, depending on latitude. Clutches of eggs laid in the northern part of the tortoise's range will take longer than those laid in the southern part of the range. Thanks for your interest and write again if you have more questions or comments.

    Rebecca B. Smith, Wildlife Ecologist

    Subject: Baby gopher tortoise
    Date: Thu, 08 Apr 1999
    From: bridgetsown

    We rescued a baby gopher tortoise (about 3" long) from the jaws of my mother-in-law's dog. It seems unharmed and it is grazing in our back yard. We are worried about stepping on it or driving over it and would like to take it to a wildlife preserve where it would be away from roads, etc.

    Is there anywhere like that in our area (Tampa)? Also, what is the legal situation? Please help.

    Here is my advice. It is illegal in Florida to keep or move a tortoise without a permit from the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. This is because they may carry a disease, such as Upper Respiratory Tract Disease (does not affect humans!), that could infect a healthy population of tortoises. You can not always tell by looking if a tortoise has a disease. Also, very little is known about tortoise social interactions or genetics, so introducing a new tortoise into an area may have effects that we can not predict. There are several other sound biological reasons that relocating tortoises (or most animals) is not a good idea.

    Your best bet is to call your local office of the Game and Fish Commission and tell them your story. Hopefully, they will be able to tell you how to properly deal with your adoptee. Unfortunately, as we continue to crowd out the wild lands in Florida, situations such as yours become more common. If you can convince people to not let their pets run loose, that will help. Please let me know if you have any more questions or problems.

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: habitat destruction and rescue
    Date: Wed, 31 Mar 1999
    From: DeeWeeDee

    i have been snatching them out of traffic and know they're being bulldozed over and in. I need to know what i can do. who to write. why aren't developers and contractors mandated to relocate? i live north Brandon, FL,, th habitat dest. is causing me loss of sleep. when i do save one, where can i take it???it'll just be bulldozed in that locale!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pls respond.
    i will get actively involved along w/ neutering dogs/cats,saving th panther,wolf reintro and on... LET ME HELP where can i take one? th st.pete seabird sanc. no longer takes them(that was yrs ago.) pls contact me.

    i hope my mail got to yu. i'm new to th computer and am still green in 90% of it. LET ME HELP SAVE TH GOPHERS thankyou

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you for your letter through the Enchanted Forest web site. It is great that you are so enthusiastic about helping the gopher tortoises, as well as many other species. The government agency that regulates tortoises is the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. One helpful thing that you can do is to write them and let them know your thoughts on the importance of protecting the gopher tortoise and its habitats. Address your letter to:

    Dr. Allen Egbert, Executive Director
    Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission
    620 South Meridian St.
    Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

    Another thing you can do to help tortoises is to contact your local office of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission any time that you think tortoises or burrows are going to be destroyed by development. They will send someone to the site to check on things. It is illegal for you to relocate tortoises without a permit, and you are right that it is getting more difficult to find places to take them. Make your problems known to the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. When enough of us complain about what is happening to our tortoise population, they will either have to act, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be requested to list the tortoise under the Endangered Species Act.
    Thanks again for your letter. Keep up the good work!
    Becky Smith
    Wildlife Ecologist

    Subject: gopher turtles
    Date: Wed, 10 Feb 1999
    wuy are baby gopher turtles orange?
    8 years old
    Dear Seth,
          Thanks for sending in your tortoise question, "Why are baby gopher tortoises orange?". I am not sure that I can give you a definite answer, but here are some of my ideas.
          When tortoises hatch out of their eggs and leave the nest, we do not think that they travel very far. Baby tortoises have been found in small burrows that they dig themselves, in large burrows dug by adult tortoises, or hiding underneath vegetation lying on the ground. Although the baby tortoise's shell is bright orange, the brown, yellow, and black markings on it probably help the tortoise "disappear" into its surroundings.
          Baby tortoises are virtually defenseless, so they have to hide in order to keep from getting eaten. We must assume that their coloration makes it harder for predators to find them. Not all animals that would eat tortoises see colors the same way that we humans do. The orange of a tortoise's shell may not stand out to a raccoon, snake, or hawk the way that orange stands out to us. As the tortoise gets older, it shell will become hard and turn the classic brown adult shell color.
          Thanks again for writing and feel free to ask questions or make comments any time.
    Subject: tortoise homes
    From: Traci of Virginia - Sat, 6 Feb 1999
          I read on your site that the gopher tortoises are federally protected as a threatened species everywhere except Florida where they are listed as a species for federal concern. I run a reptile rescue/adoption program in Richmond, Virginia and received an email asking if I had room to take in two Florida gopher tortoises who had been kept as pets. The 'owner' was reluctant to release them because of that fact.
          What I'm wondering is if it is even legal for me to have them here in Virginia and/or give them to someone else? Are there special permits required for this one?
          Any help would be appreciated.
    Dear Traci,
          The gopher tortoise is not federally protected in Florida, but is listed as a species of special concern by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. I know that the Game and Fish is often looking for homes for displaced tortoises, but you might need to apply for a permit through them. They would at least be able to tell you the legal specifics. The address is 620 S. Meridian St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600. Phone is 850-921-5990. There are other people in Virginia that have taken Florida/Georgia tortoises, so it is possible. Please tell the people that called you about their "pets" not to let them go into the wild. Feel free to write again. Becky
    Subject: tortoise
    Date: 26 Nov 1998
    From: mohammad.6

    hi, i am a 13 yr old "tortoise fan". i really would like to get one of these animals. do you know where i can get the egyptian tortoise? if so, please tell me. bye!

    Dear Tortoise Fan,
    It is nice to hear from a young person who loves tortoises, too. Here are a few words of advice before you decide if you would like to own one. Several species of tortoises (such as the gopher tortoise and desert tortoise) are legally protected and you can not keep them. Other kinds of tortoises would be very difficult to keep. Many eat more food than you would think, or need lots of space, or have specific temperature requirements. If you are serious about getting one, do your homework. Figure out what tortoise would be the best for your particular situation. Contact a "herp" society in your area and get some advice from people who specialize in tortoises. There should be a herpetologist at the university that might help you. The worst thing you could do would be to spend your money on an animal that you can not keep in good condition. The people that sell these animals sometimes can not be trusted to give you reliable information if they are purely interested in making money.

    My name is Becky Smith, and I am a wildlife ecologist on Kennedy Space Center. I have worked with gopher tortoises for many years, but have never kept one in captivity for longer than a few weeks. However, I hope this advice has given you food for thought, and please feel free to email me if you have any other questions. Maybe someday (after college!) you could work with tortoises in the wild. Happy New Year!

    Rebecca B. Smith

    Subject: I am pleased to go to your site
    Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 16:23:07 EST

    I found some great info for my project on gopher tortoise population here. If you know any links that have anything to do with the florida scrubland or gopher tortoises please e-mail me back with the sites
    Thank you, hustleman4

    We have been doing tortoise research and scrub habitat research here for many years. There is a web page on scrub at that may be helpful. Also search on Gopher Tortoise Council for their web site. If you will send me a regular mailing address, I can send you some scientific paper reprints. Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like more information. Email is best for me!
    Becky Smith
    From: Sandi D. - Wed, 30 Sep 1998
          I live in Melbroune Village There is a vacate lot which was very overgrown and had several gopher tortoise living there. The owner had someone one clear the land with a bush hog and several of the gophers homes [ the openings] were destoryed. I tried to find the openings and clear them out. What can I do?
          This happened lasted Friday. I did see one small gopher today and it looked like he was making him a new burrow. I counted what looked to be maybe 9-10 mounds. If you have any information that i could use please contact me.
          What can we do if someone wants to build on this lot and can we hold the owners responsible for the tortoises now?
    Dear Sandi,
          Thank you very much for your concern about the tortoises. A healthy tortoise should have no problem digging out of a collapsed burrow, but there are many other species of vertebrate and invertebrate animals that could easily become trapped.
          Your neighbor may not realize that gopher tortoises are protected by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission as a Species of Special Concern. Please call them at 305-732-1225. They will check out the situation to see if a permit has been issued for the lot to be developed and the tortoises to be relocated. If there has not been a permit issued, she will call Game and Fish Law Enforcement.
          I hope this solves the problem. Thanks again for writing.
          Sincerely, Becky

    To a follow up question:
          Date: Tue, 6 Oct 1998
          Sandi, Glad you found the information useful. The best way to protect the tortoises is to call Game and Fish at the first sign of activity on the site. As soon as you see people walking around, surveying, making measurements, whatever, call Game and Fish and inquire about the status of the permit. Before anything can be done on the property, they have to have a relocation permit. Good luck! Becky

    From: Jill K. - Sat, 26 Sep 1998
          I just visited your Web Page. I am doing a report for our friends group regarding G Tortoises. I have numerous photos but none of a female nesting. I have seen numerous practice nest during the spring and summer.
          I have done our area survey of 31 acres at Barefoot Beach Preserve. We have an estimated about 5-6 adults / acre. We have about 13 Active burrows / acre. This is high number but we are on a barrier island with many tortoises.
          It was nice to see others interested in the tortoises.
    Hi Jill,
          Am glad you enjoyed the tortoise information. It took some of my and Dave's time to put that together, but when people are using it, it is well worth the investment. Although I have worked with tortoises off and on for over ten years, I have never seen a female nesting. A case of "wrong place, wrong time", I suppose.
          It is not surprising that your densities are so high on the beach; our coastal strand here on Kennedy Space Center is full of tortoises as compared to the rest of the property.
          Thanks again for your comments and interest. Take care.
    From: Al B. - Sat, 5 Sep 1998
          Hello, I have a ? about 2inch long gophers, will racoons eat them , if the are in the same wooded and fenced lot?
    Dear Al,
          I am a wildlife ecologist on the Kennedy Space Center and have worked with tortoises for over ten years. To answer your question, raccoons would certainly eat young tortoises, particularly if the tortoise's shell is not hard yet. In the wild, tortoises hide out for much of the first two or three years in adult burrows, burrows they dig themselves, or under thick vegetation. However, raccoons are very smart and probably take many young tortoises each year.
          I also need to tell you that gopher tortoises are protected by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission in Florida, and by the Endangered Species Act in the rest of the southeastern U.S. It is illegal to catch, confine, feed, or harass tortoises. If you are keeping young tortoises, please return them immediately to the place where you caught them (or a safe place near that) and let them go. If the animals came to and are living in your yard on their own accord, that is great! Enjoy!!
          Thanks for your interest.
    Becky Smith
    From: Annie L - Mon, 29 Jun 1998
    Subject: Florida fires
          I am writing in hopes of gaining any information I can relating to impact the current Florida fires are having on poplations of Terrapene (Box turtles) as well as Gopherus....
          From what I have seen on television, the devastation of wild areas inhabited by these animals is astronomical. (I am in California)
          I am the Direcor of Tortoise Trust USA, an international organization active in all areas of chelonian species conservation.
          I fear that many turtles and tortoises have been injured in these fires. While other animals (manmmals) seem to get the assistance they need after such devastation, animals such as tortoises and turtles are forgotten.
          If assistance is needed, we will do all we can to help in any way we are able.
    Dear Annie,
          Dave Rich from the Friends of the Enchanted Forest forwarded your message to me. I am a wildlife ecologist and have worked here on Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for 12 years. My company, Dynamac, has the Life Sciences contract for NASA and is responsible for documenting and reducing the effects of the space program on natural communities and wildlife. Hopefully, I can answer some of your questions, or at least direct you toward more information.
          KSC is 57,000 hectares of land and lagoon. Only a small portion of that area is actually used for space operations; most of the rest is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (a small portion is managed by the National Park Service as Canaveral National Seashore). KSC, as well as most of central Florida, is dominated by habitats that are adapted to frequent fire. Central Florida is the lightning capital of the world, and it is not unusual for there to be lightning-caused fires in this area every day during the summer thunderstorm season. Subsequently, our habitats have evolved with fire and the effects of fire are short-lived and beneficial. These types of habitats are called "fire-maintained". Fire serves to clear out underbrush and open the ground layer, providing spaces for herbs and other low-growing vegetation. Fire kills invading trees and shrubs in the marsh, letting the marsh grasses continue to thrive. Germination for several species of plants is dependent on fire (e.g., sand pine, Pinus clausa).
          Native wildlife species that have evolved in these habitats are also adapted to fire and have many ways to cope. Gopher tortoises are a good example. Their burrows provide the perfect shelter for them and hundreds of other vertebrates and invertebrates. Each tortoise will have several burrows spread throughout its home range, so it can travel around without being too far from safety. Box turtles are often found using tortoise burrows, as well as armadillo burrows, for shelter .
          We have more than ten years of data on Florida scrub-jays in areas that have been burned, and have never observed drastic shifts in behavior or desertion of territories as a result of fire.
          It is naive to think that some animals do not die in fires; undoubtedly there is some mortality of individuals. However, the long-term benefits to the habitats from a natural event far outweigh the short-term losses.
          Gopher tortoises need the open spaces provided by fire for burrows and they (and other herbivores) eat the low-growing plants that get shaded out under heavy tree or shrub canopy. Florida scrub-jays prefer scrub habitat that is two or three meters tall. When the scrub gets too high because it has not burned, the jays will not leave, but their reproductive success declines until they eventually disappear. Many wading birds and shore birds need areas of open marsh vegetation or mud flats so they can feed without shrubs and trees getting into the way. There are many more examples of the benefits of fire in areas where fire is a natural component of the community.
          In the old days, before roads, borrow pits, buildings, and fire departments, wildfires could burn thousands of acres in a single day. The burns would be patchy, with some places burning very hot and others being untouched. This provided a mosaic of habitats in different states of suitability for the wildlife. Now, large patchy burns are impossible for many reasons, and the fires needed to maintain the habitats in a healthy state are not occurring.
          For that reason, many land management agencies are conducting controlled burns to mimic what wildfires used to accomplish. Controlled burns can achieve the beneficial effects, as well as reduce fuel loads that could result in catastophic burns should a wildfire get started. The Fish and Wildlife Service conducts controlled burning here at KSC, and we are doing research on many aspects of the environment related to fire.
          Good grief, I have gone on and on, but this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I hope this has been beneficial for you, and apologize if it is too elementary. Many people just do not understand fire, and are much more sympathetic to controlled burning when they realize the long-term benefits. If you want more information, get on the web and search on Tall Timbers or wild land fire. There is lots of information out there.
          Thank you for your interest and please feel free to contact me again. Becky Smith