Gopher Tortoises

A view of a gopher tortoise.
Gopher Tortoise at Lake Manatee

In addition to the many species of endangered plants that inhabit Lake Manatee State Park, there are an equal number of imperiled animals. One of the most notable species is the gopher tortoise. These tortoises are mainly found in scrub and sandhill communities. They tend to be dark brown with the underside of their shell a yellow color.

The gopher tortoise is unique because they are the only species of tortoise that burrow underground. Their burrowing is integral to the community in which they live because the upturned soil allows for fresh growth of plants. The burrowed areas also provide shelter for other wildlife.

The burrowing behavior is actually how the gopher tortoise got its name, the burrowing act resembling that of a gopher. Their shovel-like front legs are perfect for digging underground homes and hard shells provide protection from predators.

They tend to stay near their burrow when looking for food. Their favorite foods include broadleaf grasses, pear cactus and wild fruits such as blackberries and blueberries.

While there is not currently a need to implement a population recovery plan, efforts are still made to help the natural community. Methods of resource management such as removing sand pine and proper prescribed burning help keep the environment thriving so that the gopher tortoises can do the same.