IUCN threat status:

Vulnerable (VU)

Trophic Strategy

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Gopher tortoises are primarily herbivorous, with the bulk of the diet consisting of low-growing herbs and grasses. Foods most common in the diet are grasses and legume fruits. They are also known to consume pine needles and seeds, oak mast, prickly pear cactus, asters, palm tree fruits, raspberries, black cherry, and gopher apples (Landers et al. 1980; Auffenberg and Franz 1982; Diemer 1986). Gopher tortoises have also been observed to eat mollusk shells and the bones of dead animals, possibly to supplement their diets with additional calcium.Competitors: Predators of gopher tortoises include various snakes, fire ants (Solenopsis saevissima), accipiter hawks, buteo hawks, raccoons, opossums, armadillos, skunks, dogs, foxes, feral cats and man all prey on gopher tortoises. Generally, eggs and hatchling tortoises are significantly more at risk for predation than older animals.Habitats: Gopher tortoises use a variety of habitats, including beach dunes, scrub, and pine flatwoods. In all habitat types, soils are generally dry, sandy and well-drained. While generally avoiding swampy areas, gopher tortoises in Brevard County, Florida have been observed to inhabit poorly-drained scrub and slash pine flatwoods (Breininger et al., 1991). In this county, higher densities of gopher tortoises were found in poorly-drained sites than in well-drained sites.Individuals occupy distinct home ranges, with male home ranges typically being larger than those of females. In east-central Florida, home ranges of male tortoises averaged 1.9 ha (4.7 ac), while those of females averaged only 0.65 ha (1.6 ac). A tortoise excavates several burrows for its use within the home range. Burrows typically are dug at a 30? angle from the surface. In Florida studies, male tortoises dug between 8 - 35 burrows. Females tended not to use as many burrows as males, averaging between 3 - 17 burrows (Breininger et al., 1988).Tortoise densities tend to be higher in fire-adapted communities (Auffenberg and Franz 1982; Diemer 1986). In the absence of fire, canopy trees grow large and shade out the herbaceous vegetation that gopher tortoises rely on as their primary food source.

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© Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce

Source: Indian River Lagoon Species Inventory

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