Florida has an abundance of curious animals. I have written about underground-living Burrowing Owls and the prehistoric-looking Green Iguanas that have been in my neighborhood in Cape Coral, the Florida city where I live. Along with common rabbits and grey squirrels, a new critter has shown up at my house… a gopher tortoise.
My backyard isn’t really a place for a gopher tortoise to live. My speculation is that he has a burrow nearby and as he was taking a stroll to find food to eat, found his way to my house and couldn’t figure out how to get out of my fenced yard. Like a wrangler, I opened the gate, managed to get him pointed in the right direction, and got him moving.
Having seen a few of these tortoises in Florida, I decided to read more about them. Like the Burrowing Owls, they dig a burrow and stay there except when eating. Their burrow isn’t just any old hole in the ground. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the average burrow is 15 feet long and 6 feet deep! I haven’t seen a gopher tortoise burrow yet.
The gopher tortoise is a herbivore and eats a wide variety of plants and grasses. They don’t usually drink water but depend on getting water from the plants they consume. It is illegal in Florida to capture and keep them as pets or to eat them. Yes, they are supposedly good to eat. During the Great Depression, the gopher tortoise was known as the “Hoover Chicken,” named for U.S. President Herbert Hoover, because they were eaten by poor people out of work.
Today this tortoise is listed as “Threatened’ by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Humans are a primary threat to them due to land development, relocation of them, and capturing as pets or food. Only 6% of them live to maturity. Raccoons, armadillos, foxes, and snakes are natural predators.
So, I continue to see interesting critters as I look out on my backyard in the Sunshine State. Who knows what might arrive next!