2018-04-16 / Community

Koreshan CLOSE-UP: Why did the gopher tortoise cross the road?

Katie Moses
Assistant Park Manager
Koreshan State Park

Gopher tortoises are active this time of year and have large ranges. Gopher tortoises are active this time of year and have large ranges. Did you know that gopher tortoises are found in parts of all 67 Florida counties? They are frequently encountered in neighbor­hoods, along roadways, and in many of Florida’s public parks and forests. These gray or brown tortoises use shovel-like forearms to carve out burrows averaging several yards deep and 5 yards long.

The gopher tortoises is consid­ered a keystone species because it digs burrows that provide shelter for 360 other species of wildlife, called “commensals.” These commensal species include the gopher frog, Florida mouse, eastern indigo snake, and hundreds of inverte­brates like beetles and crickets. Without the gopher tortoise, many of these species would not exist.

There are plenty of ways you can start helping gopher tortoises today. They are becoming increasingly active this time of year as they search for spring greenery to eat and some are even hunting for mates. Gopher tortoises have large ranges. They travel and are often seen crossing roads. If you see a turtle crossing the road, please stop and allow the turtle time to cross safely. It is always best to let the turtle cross by itself. Be aware of your own safety on the road, too. Please do not put turtles in ponds, lakes or ditches, especially gopher tortoises as they are land based.

Another way to help gopher tortoises is to plant Florida native plants in your yards and gardens. These Florida friendly plants can be found on FWC and native plant society websites or stop by the Farmer’s Market & Native Plant Sale every Sunday at Koreshan State Park to talk with knowledgeable volunteers.

If you find an injured gopher tortoise (or any wildlife), contact C.R.O.W on Sanibel or The Conservancy of Southwest Florida in Naples. Both facilities have wildlife rehabilitation hospitals and do their best to care for injured wildlife in Southwest Florida. Both facilities receive little funding and continue their magnificent work with generous donations from community members like you.

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