Here are fun facts about what makes the gopher tortoise so important. You can use this information to help educate others in your community. To learn more about the gopher tortoise, please visit FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Species Profile webpage. For questions about FWC’s gopher tortoise conservation plan and permitting program, visit

What are the features of the gopher tortoise that makes it unique?

Gopher tortoises are unique because they are the only land tortoise found east of the Mississippi River. They can live to be more than 60 years old, and have been around for thousands of years. They can be distinguished by their coloring, their feet, and their non protruding beak. Most important, the gopher tortoise is a keystone species that over 350 other species may live with or depend on. The burrows they dig are home to other animals that would not survive without them, including the endangered Indigo Snake.

What kind of soil do tortoises usually dig their homes in?

Tortoises dig their burrows in well–drained, sandy soils.

Do gopher tortoises leave footprints in the sand?

Yes, but only in soft sands.

How much land does a gopher tortoise use?

A gopher tortoise may use a few acres of habitat for feeding, mating, and nesting. Tortoises may have more than one burrow, and may even return to burrows they had previously abandoned.

How do I know if I’m looking at a gopher tortoise burrow?

burrowGopher tortoise burrows have a distinctive half-moon shape, that closely resembles the profile of a gopher tortoise; the larger the burrow opening, the larger the tortoise that lives inside it.

How deep do gopher tortoise burrows go?

On average, a gopher tortoise burrow is 7 ½ feet deep and 15 feet long; some burrows have been recorded at more than 20 feet deep and 50 feet long!

What is a commensal?

Commensal species are those that benefit from the gopher tortoise, or its burrow, but neither harm nor benefit the gopher tortoise. Some commensal species are known as obligate commensals, meaning they would not exist without the gopher tortoise, and are only found in gopher tortoise burrows. Other “commensals” are actually mutualists, meaning that the gopher tortoise also benefits from their living in its burrow; these species usually eat potentially harmful parasites or insects that live in the burrow, or clean-up after the tortoise.

Do the other animals hurt the tortoises?

The majority of animals don’t bother the tortoises, and the tortoises don’t bother them; they all live together in a balanced ecosystem. When tortoises are young, and their shell is still soft, they can be eaten by raccoons, indigo snakes and other animals. Older tortoises can get mites and ticks but have very few predators.

Where can I see gopher tortoises in Florida?

Gopher tortoises are found in all 67 counties in Florida, but prefer high, dry, sandy places, such as longleaf pine and oak sandhills. Gopher tortoises are found in a variety of other habitats, including: pine flatwoods, scrub, scrubby flatwoods, xeric hammock, coastal uplands and dunes, dry prairies, pastures, and even some neighborhoods!

Is the gopher tortoise an endangered species?

Gopher tortoises are state listed as Threatened in Florida; this means that, without appropriate protections and conservation actions, the gopher tortoise could become Endangered. The gopher tortoise is federally listed as Threatened in the portions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama found west of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers. In Florida, both the gopher tortoise and its burrow are protected by state law.

Did gopher tortoises live with the dinosaurs?

No. Although gopher tortoises belong to a group of land tortoises that originated in western North America nearly 60 million years ago, the last dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago.

Can you have them as pets?

No, they are a threatened species and should be left alone in the wild. It is illegal to possess one without a permit from FWC.