Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Gopher Tortoise

During a trip to Sanibel Island , Florida in July I saw this gopher tortoise grazing along the grassy strip between the paved bike path and the road. Several people had stopped to observe him (her) and one person was attempting to use his bike as a barricade to keep it from wandering out into the road. I doubt it would have done that anyway, because it was clearly there to eat and there was no grass in the road. The interesting thing about this creature to me was it was biting off grass with a vengeance and the ripping grass blades made the same sound they do when a cow is grazing. It was completely unperturbed by the crowd that gathered around it. I suppose it was used to being on display.
Gopher tortoises eat grass, legumes, fruits and other assorted plant materials. The younger ones eat more legumes, probably to increase the protein needed for growth. A typical gopher tortoise needs about 4 acres of territory and may dig several burrows. The burrow may be as long as 48 feet and 3 feet deep. The burrow protects the tortoise from fire, heat , and cold, and predators. They share their burrows with up to 360 different animals (not all at once!). They spend most of their time in the burrow and are solitary except during mating season. They reach sexual maturity at 12-15 years and some reports claim they can live 100 years. (Others say 40 years.)

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