Gopher Tortoise: A Keystone Species at Hundred Acre Hollows
Hundred Acre Hollows is home to over 249 gopher tortoise burrows. Helping maintain the habitat for these tortoises is a big part of our organization’s mission. The gopher tortoise is a burrowing animal. It is the state tortoise of Florida and is a threatened species. It is also a “keystone” species because over 350 different creatures depend on it for survival. Other animals use the burrows, which average 15 feet long, for shelter from the heat, cold, or fire. These species include the Florida mouse, gopher frog, gopher cricket, burrowing owl, snakes, birds, insects, skunks, rabbits, raccoons, and armadillos. “The animals obtaining food, refuge and other benefits from its burrows are known as gopher tortoise commensal species. A healthy, widespread gopher tortoise population is necessary for commensal species populations to thrive.” (FWC)
The gopher tortoise lives in the southeast United States in scrub oak forests and pine flatwoods. The tortoise is a solitary animal. It lives alone or with the other species; two tortoises don’t live in the same burrow. Tortoises come out to eat, and the grass around an active burrow looks like it was mowed. They eat a wide variety of grass, leaves, fruits, saw palmetto berries, and legumes. Their favorite food is gopher apples which are not in HAH, so we plan to plant some.
The Space Coast Eco Geeks, four science teachers from Brevard County, identified 249 burrows using GPS. Tortoises may have dug two burrows, so we don’t know exactly how many tortoises live in Hundred Acre Hollows. Tortoises live and have been seen on all sides of HAH. The Eco Geeks had 5 camera traps there in the 2015-2016 school year.
According to the photos, the tortoises are healthy, and there are photos of tortoises mating. Two baby tortoises were seen in HAH in the spring of 2017. The female tortoise lays her eggs, which are about the size of a ping pong ball, on the sandy apron of her burrow. Unfortunately, most of the gopher tortoise eggs are eaten by predators such as raccoons and bobcats. About one in 100 eggs actually hatch.
We are concerned about what would happen to all the commensal species that rely on the gopher tortoise burrow for survival if the gopher tortoise disappears. Please help us save Hundred Acre Hollows for all the animals that live here by becoming a volunteer or making a donation.
Go to www.spacecoastecogeeks.blogspot.com to see camera trap photos.
Learn More About Hundred Acre Hollows
Learn About The Animals At Hundred Acre Hollows – http://www.hundredacrehollows.org/category/animals/
Learn About The Plants At Hundred Acre Hollows
Learn Other Interesting Facts About Hundred Acre Hollows