6/30/11

our new neighbor

We thought we were alone out here.  Well, except for my cousin who lives down the road.  But we have a new neighbor.  And apparently he loves peas!  He's helping himself to our garden and could possibly be entertaining some very evil friends in his den!

Here he is showing his 'behind' after we caught him in our garden


Here's the entrance to his crib
It's under a pile of debris to be burned


Look how much dirt he dug out!
Pretty deep den!

The gopher tortoises can be found throughout the state of Florida and southern areas of Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and the tip of Eastern Louisiana. They dig their burrows in dry habitats. The gopher tortoise grows on average to be about slightly less than one foot long and weighs about 29 pounds, though they have been found to be as big as 16 inches.

The gopher tortoise is unique in that it is one of the few tortoises to actually make large burrows.  Many tortoises hide under vegetations or use very shallow burrows.

The gopher tortoise is a rather plain looking turtle as far as colors go. They are either a dark tan, or gray. Their front legs are broad and flat, almost like a shovel. Their back legs look just like an elephant's legs. The top part of their shell is fairly flat, The adult gopher tortoise is a rather drab looking animal, which is in stark contrast for the brightly colored hatchlings.

The gopher tortoise digs and lives in burrows, The burrows are their homes.  The burrow provides protection from predators and the elements, and also during extreme conditions on the surface such as drought, freezing weather, and fires.  The burrows can vary in length and depth.  These variables are usually determined by the level of the water table.  Burrows can be as short as about 6 - 10 feet long, but they average around 30 feet with a record of approximately 50 ft.  (Ashton 2001).  Depths vary from around 3 - 20 feet deep.  The burrows vary in shape, with most being straight or with only slight curves.

Gopher tortoises are primarily herbivores and feed on many species of low-growing plants (and on my peas!).  The largest part of their diet consists of grasses and legumes.  They also eat gopher apple, pawpaw, blackberries, saw palmetto berries, and other fruits. Gopher tortoises will also scavenge and are opportunistic feeders, occasionally feeding on dead animals or excrement.

In Florida gopher tortoises are on the Endangered Species List, categorized as a Threatened Species. This means that their current numbers are dropping but we are not sure exactly how much, several studies presently being conducted on the tortoises are trying to more accurately answer this question. Their primary reason for being endangered is a loss of habitat. In the past many tortoises were killed either for food, or by people who were trying to kill the rattlesnakes that often share their burrows.

We can all help gopher tortoises in the wild by preserving their upland habitats. Or, if you happen to see a tortoise, or turtle for that matter, trying to cross a road, please help them safely across the street without changing the direction in which they were traveling.

a closer look at him after he left his den

Not a very pretty thing, is he?

We're not trying to be bad neighbors or anything, and we'd never do anything to hurt this creature, but we did feel it was in our best interest to relocate him a little further from our yard.  I have little Lucy to worry about getting snake bit, and of course us too!  And I certainly don't want our garden destroyed. 

So we went down the drive and carefully put him back in the woods away from the house.

See....he's fine!
Heading to his new habitat
See ya later, dude! 



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