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40 Great Gopher Tortoise Facts – Fun Funny True Tortoise Information

Gopher Tortoise Florida USA

You may find them meandering in all 67 counties of Florida, along the roadside, in people’s yards, parks, or even along the beach. The gopher tortoise is Florida’s official state tortoise and there is a day dedicated to this beloved gentle reptile. The Governor of Florida signed a proclamation for Florida Gopher Tortoise Day to help raise awareness of this ecologically important and protected species.

When I noticed signs along the road alerting drivers to be aware of tortoise crossing I watched for the creatures but did not see any.

Until I visited Crescent Beach in St Augustine and discovered many gopher tortoise in the area. Exploring St Augustine for a month I spent a few afternoons watching the amazing tortoises in their natural habitat.

READ: St Augustine FL beaches within 20 miles


What do gopher tortoises eat?

Watch this gopher tortoise video for a hint and see the tortoise facts below for the answer.


Great Gopher Tortoise Facts

In honor of the adorable, industrious, and official tortoise of the State of Florida I have compiled a list of gopher tortoise facts. Check out this list of tortoise factoids. And next time you visit Florida be aware of these gentle ones and keep an eye out for them along the roads.

  1. Gopher tortoises are land based creatures and cannot swim or swim very poorly.

  2. Gopher tortoises dig burrows in the ground, typically from 15 to 30 feet in length and around 6 to 20 feet deep.

  3. The gopher tortoises spend about 80 percent of their time underground.

  4. Burrows protect the tortoise from predators and extreme temperatures.


    Gopher tortoise fact: they spend up to 80 percent of their time in their burrows

    Gopher tortoise fact: they spend up to 80 percent of their time in their burrows


  5. Gopher tortoise dig and use several burrows and are known to occupy the same burrow for months or years in a row.

  6. The majority of the remaining gopher tortoises in the USA live in Florida.

  7. Gopher tortoise are native to southeastern USA.

  8. Gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species because the borrows they dig provide shelter to at least 360 other species of animals such as mice, frogs, and snakes.

  9. Both the tortoises and their burrows are protected by Florida State law.


    Gopher tortoises are a protected species

    Gopher tortoises are a protected species


  10. Property owners must obtain permits before relocating any gopher tortoises. Before any land is cleared or developed the gopher tortoises must be relocated.

  11. The Florida gopher tortoise is listed as threatened. Under the Endangered Species Act “threatened” is defined as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range”.

  12. Front legs of gopher tortoises are flattish and make great shovels for digging burrows and hind legs are more like mini-elephant legs, round and sturdy.


    Gopher tortoises front legs has scales and is flattish, good for digging like a shovel

    Gopher tortoises front legs has scales and is flattish, good for digging like a shovel


  13. Gopher tortoises live anywhere from 40 to 60 years in the wild but may live decades beyond 60 years and researchers are unsure of their true longevity.

  14. The oldest known gopher tortoise is Gus, age 96 (as of Nov 2018) and he lives in Halifax Nova Scotia at the Museum of Natural History.


    READ MORE: Best Things to Do in Orlando (besides theme parks)


  15. Ancestors of the gopher tortoise lived 60 million years ago.

  16. Gopher tortoise are slow to reach sexual maturity, females mature between 9 – 21 years of age and males mature around age 9 – 18.

  17. Gopher tortoises are herbivores, feeding on low-growing plants, mostly grasses and legumes.


    Gopher tortoise diet consists mostly of grass and legumes

    The diet of the gopher tortoise consists mostly of grass and legumes but they eat lots of other stuff too


  18. Mating season is from April to November.

  19. Gopher tortoise eggs develop in the uterus for approximately 60 days.

  20. Eggs are laid out in the open, usually close to the burrow, but not always.

  21. Hatching time is approximately 80 to 100 days.

  22. Only one clutch of eggs is produced each year, consisting of 5 – 9 eggs.

  23. Larger female gopher tortoises produce larger clutches.

  24. Although they usually produce one clutch per year, females may not produce a clutch every year.

  25. Once they hatch, baby gopher tortoises must survive on their own, parents offer no support to their offspring.

  26. Only 3 – 5 percent of young tortoises survive, the rest are gobbled up by predators.

  27. Main predator to adult gopher tortoises is humans, with most killed by vehicles, sold as pets, or killed for food.


    Gopher tortoises do not swim well - do not put them in the water

    Gopher tortoises are not swimmers!


  28. In the animal world their main predators are opossum, raccoon, skunk, fox, coyote, domestic dogs and cats, snakes, and birds.

  29. Habitat destruction is a primary threat to gopher tortoises.

  30. Of the five North American tortoise species of genus Gopherus, the gopher tortoise is the only one found east of the Mississippi River.

  31. Gopher tortoise shell is oblong shaped and generally brown, grey, or tan in color.

  32. It is illegal to hunt gopher tortoises or possess their meat or shells.

  33. The scientific name for gopher tortoises is Gopherus polyphemus.

  34. The gopher tortoise stays in its burrow when temperatures are below 50 Fahrenheit (10 Celsius).

  35. When temperatures are above 90 Fahrenheit (32 Celsius) the gopher tortoise will be less active.

  36. Gopher tortoises are diurnal, they come out of their burrow during the day to eat and bask in the sun.

  37. Gopher tortoises are typically solitary animals.

  38. Although solitary animals (yeah solo travelers!) gopher tortoises live in groups called colonies, with sub-groups called pods.

  39. From the 1800s to late 1900s the gopher tortoise population was depleted by 80 percent, mostly due to humans.

  40. In Florida more than 80 percent of gopher tortoise habitat is owned by corporations and private individuals.


Gopher tortoises are typically solitary animals. But they live in groups, called colonies

Gopher tortoises are typically solitary animals. But they live in groups, called colonies


When you visit Florida enjoy observing the gopher tortoise and remember to give them space so you don’t interfere with their regular behavior.


Gopher tortoise facts


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Mary Ruffcorn

Saturday 17th of April 2021

Can they adapt to a foreign location after being relocated due to traffic? I found a small (6- 8 in. female?) in a busy road leading up to a canal bridge. I am feeling bad about moving her. I moved her to a protected area on our Condo Association, not far from where I found her.

Susan Moore

Saturday 17th of April 2021

Hi Mary, It is possible the tortoise will adapt and survive but it's illegal to handle and move gopher tortoises unless you are simply moving it out of harm's way, for instance moving it off a roadway. You can move a tortoise out of danger, carefully pick it up and move it in the direction it was heading but don't move it away from the location.

Michael Pless

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

We came to Crescent Beach and have seen at least five and one baby. One caught in off guard because we thought there was only one living outside our cottage.

Susan Moore

Tuesday 18th of August 2020

Michael, How wonderful! Gopher turtoise are amazing creatures. Thanks for commenting and enjoy your time at Crescent Beach, one of my favorite places. Cheers, Susan

Ryan K Biddulph

Thursday 15th of November 2018

Susan how fascinating. Neat too how these guys spend 80% of their time underground. Quite amazing. Let's hope we keep them around for good. Excellent post.

Susan Moore

Friday 16th of November 2018

Thanks for you comment Ryan. Yes, we're lucky when gopher tortoises make an appearance out of their burrows, so cool to see them in the dunes around the beaches here in St Augustine. Looks like conservation efforts are starting to help, we need to keep people aware and informed about the gopher tortoise, they contribute much to the environment, as well as enjoyment for nature loving folks.

Elaine Masters

Saturday 10th of November 2018

I've seen many turtles but none with a shell this shape! Thank you for helping to preserve land turtles.

Susan Moore

Saturday 10th of November 2018

Thanks for commenting Elaine. I had never seen this type of shell either. I am intrigued by turtles and these gopher tortoises are so interesting to watch, I've seen several more during this trip. Hopefully their habitat will not be further depleted.

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