Baby gopher tortoise in Florida yard. ©bcleveland

Living with Gopher Tortoises

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Baby gopher tortoise. Photo by Bill Cleveland ©2021

When you live in Florida, you share your home, garden and yard with an array of animals, reptiles, birds, butterflies and bees. If you garden or build flower beds, you’re inviting many flying, chirping and stinging creatures into your world. If that’s the goal, then good for you if they show up. If that’s not the goal, you might want to rethink your outdoor plants.

My yard has played host to a lot of creatures over the years. We’ve had visiting foxes, peacocks, bobcats, hawks, eagles, buzzards and even a panther. We don’t have that big of a yard! Apparently, it’s just the right size for these wandering animals to stop and have look around for something to eat.

While most of the animals, insects and birds are common, we have our share of protected species, too. The panther for example is a protected species, and when I call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, they told me that there were no panthers in my area. I begged to differ, and I had plenty of witnesses, but FWC would not be moved to believe. As for me, my family, the neighbors and the dog, we believed.

Another protected species can be found in a pile of sand. Probably right in the middle of your yard. This is a good sign that a gopher tortoise has found your yard to be the most suitable place in the world to live regardless of what you think. The problem with these guys digging is that their holes are massive, and they leave this huge pile of sand in their wake. They are aggressive diggers and can dig faster than a kid can plow through a birthday cake with the same degree of wreckage in its wake.

Our yard has been home to a few of these huge creatures over the years, but lately, we’ve only had one that has been using our yard as a freeway between burrows and whatever the great delicacy is in the yard a few feet over. He’s been crawling under our fence to get to wherever it is that he goes. Sometimes, his freeway becomes the neighbor’s chickens escape route.

Because they are endangered, there is no remedy to the landscaping they do. You can’t fill the holes in because apparently, those holes are home to a host of other animals and birds like burrowing owls and rattlesnakes. And 350 other species of animals. Owls, yes. Rattlesnakes, no.

According to the FWC, we can apply for Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard recognition and get a sign. I don’t think I want his friends to bring more friends to the yard.

Since our tortoise passes through the yard, we enjoy his visits. Sometimes, he comes up on the front porch and noses around, but mostly, he’s headed somewhere else, so he’s less destructive than most.

If you’d like to learn more about the gopher tortoise, here’s a great link to the FWC’s website section on these big tortoises.

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