Florida Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
The gopher tortoise excavates deep burrows (average 6' deep and 15' long) that many other animals depend upon for shelter from summer heat and winter cold. Some of these burrow-guests (called commensals), including gopher frogs, Florida mice and several species of insects, are virtually dependent upon gopher tortoise burrows. Others, like indigo snakes, diamondback rattlesnakes and bobwhite quail use tortoise burrows occasionally. Gophers tortoises are vegetarians, dining on grasses, legumes and fruits. They live over 50 years and don't reach sexual maturity until 10-20 years of age. Females lay 3-12 eggs annually, but few of the little hatchlings survive the intense predation from dogs, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, snakes and hawks. Habitat loss and years of over-harvesting for human consumption have reduced gopher populations to a fraction of former levels. Possession of Florida gopher tortoises is now strictly prohibited.