Florida is home to a fantastic species of tortoise called the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus peolyphmus). This native species of tortoise can be found all over Florida making their homes in burrows in dry sandy areas. These tortoises are strictly terrestrial and are unable to swim. They rarely drink and get most of their water from their diet. Gopher Tortoises are called Keystone Species because their burrows house over 300 species of other animals as well. A tortoise will dig a burrow and live in it. The tortoise eats many broad leaf plants and grasses, and will deposit their manure in and around their burrows, which fertilizes the ground and grows new plants and grasses. When the tortoise moves on from the burrow, it has left behind a lush living space for other animals to enjoy and inhabit. This makes them a crucial member of Florida’s complex and delicate ecosystem.

Because of their importance and the mass urbanization of the state, Florida has listed Gopher Tortoises as a ‘threatened’ species. This means that they, and their burrows, are federally protected. It is unlawful to possess, harass, handle, or harm these tortoises and their homes. If you see one on your property, you may enjoy your friendly little visitor or resident from a distance. If you see one in the road, you are permitted to help it cross only in the direction it was headed and no further. If you see an injured tortoise, contact a wildlife center for instructions.

It is important that we be mindful of these tortoises when we have our pets outside. Please keep dogs and cats at a safe distance so that they are not able to come in contact with the tortoise. We share our land with this fascinating and unique creature. It is our job to protect them and be sure that we can coexist with the Gopher Tortoises so that they can continue to help support Florida’s beautiful ecosystem and thrive for a long time.