Gopher Tortoise

Gopher Tortoise         Gopherus polyphemus

Type of Animal:

Sandy upland areas: sandhills, scrub, pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, coastal dunes, coastal grasslands, dry prairie, mixed hardwood-pine communities, dry hammocks, longleaf pine forest, sand dunes, sandy ridges, upland forests, old fields, yards, power line rights of way, pastures, roadsides, coastal plains

Extreme SE Louisiana, Mississippi panhandle, S Alabama, Florida, S Georgia, & extreme SW S Carolina

Males have concave bottom shells (plastrons), females have flat plastrons, males have longer gular projections, both sexes have yellow plastron, light to dark brown elongate carapace (upper shell), grayish-black or dark brown skin, elephantine back legs, shovel-like front legs, large blunt head, hatchlings have yellow carapace becoming darker w/ age, males have longer tail.

Flowers, berries, fruit (gopher apple is a favorite), legumes, grasses, leaves, prickly pear cactus, pine needles, stinging nettle, weeds, yucca, sedges, mushrooms, herbs, beech, melons, roots, vegetables, greens, carrion, poop

Status in Wild:

Breeding from zoos, wildlife parks, & breeding centers. Conserving important gopher tortoise habitat.

Solitary or colonies of 2-50 tortoises. Individuals often share burrows & many individuals use multiple burrows. 

Additional Info:


Male-12 lbs
Female-14 lbs
Young-4 lbs

2-3 months 

Life Span:
40-60 years in wild, 80-100 years in captivity

0.5-1.3 ft

Body Length:
Male-10 in
Female-12 in
Young-3 in

Tail Length:
Male-3 in
Female-2.5 in

Main predators of adults are bobcats, foxes, coyotes, bears, dogs, cats, raccoons, alligators, eagles, large hawks, large owls, & feral pigs. Young preyed on by fire ants, skunks, snakes, armadillos, hawks, owls, falcons, crows, jays, opossums, & snapping turtles.

Sexually mature at 10-12 years.

Threatened due to habitat loss, development, hunting for meat, pet trade, mismanagement of wild lands, & gassing burrows to kill rattlesnakes.

They don’t drink much because they get moisture from food they eat.

They play important role as seed dispersers.

Fun Fact(s):
State reptile of Georgia.

Only tortoise found E of Mississippi River.

One of few tortoises to actually make large burrows (up to 10 ft deep & 40 ft long), which are important for use by other species. Nearly 400 other species use these burrows as well as other gopher tortoises. Largest burrow recorded 26 ft deep & 65 ft long in Panhandle.

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