Fun Gopher Tortoise Facts For Kids | Kidadl


Fun Gopher Tortoise Facts For Kids

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The Gopher tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus, is a species of turtle found mostly in the Southeastern United States. The Gopher tortoise burrows deep into the earth that provides shelter to hundreds of different animal species, like frogs and indigo snakes. The gopher tortoises are known as keystone species because of their contribution to the ecosystem they inhabit. This species is the only land tortoise native to the SE United States. Part of the genus Gopherus, the genus contains tortoises only found in North America. The gopher tortoise is named the state tortoise by the state of Florida and the state reptile by Georgia. The specific name, Polyphemus, is derived from Greek mythology, referring to a cave-dwelling giant named Polyphemus. This land-dwelling reptile is an ectotherm, which means it is dependent on the earth for obtaining warmth for its daily activities. They are usually buried in their burrows in their natural habitat and only come out during the mating season. The gopher tortoise burrows with the help of its shovel-like front legs in sandy soil as a home for itself and refuge for 350 other species of animals. Some burrows have even been found to be 20 ft deep and 50 ft long.

The Gopher tortoise helps maintain diverse communities in nature. For humans and other flora-fauna alike, these species are the bridge between all living things. Although the threatened species were used as food by humans earlier, they are protected by the government now and it is a criminal offense to hurt or capture a Gopher tortoise. It is important to know about such species, so keep reading. Some other interesting reptiles that you can check out too are the gray rat snake and the vine snake.

Fun Gopher Tortoise Facts For Kids

What do they prey on?

Broad-leaved grass, regular grass, wiregrass, terrestrial legumes, and plants

What do they eat?


Average litter size?


How much do they weigh?

8.8-13.2 lb (4-6 kg)

How long are they?

9-11 in (23-28 cm)

How tall are they?

3.9-5 in (10-13 cm)

What do they look like?

Brown, tan, or gray

Skin Type

Dry scaly skin

What were their main threats?

Habitat Loss And Degradation, Human Practices

What is their conservation status?

Listed as Threatened and Vulnerable

Where you'll find them?

And Coastal Dunes, Longleaf Pine Forests, Humid Areas


North America, Southeastern United States









Gopher Tortoises Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a Gopher tortoise?

The gopher tortoise is a species of land-dwelling tortoise.

What class of animal does a Gopher tortoise belong to?

The gopher tortoise falls under the class of Reptilia and is a part of the genus Gopherus, found only in North America. The Gopher tortoise is part of five tortoise species from North America and is the only species of tortoise naturally found east of the Mississippi River.

How many Gopher tortoises are there in the world?

It has been estimated by scientists that there are over 700,000 gopher tortoises left in the wild. The population of the species has been declining steadily over a couple of years due to various reasons.

Where does a Gopher tortoise live?

These species of animals are part of a wildlife group of land tortoises that originated 60 million years ago in western North America. Found now in all 67 states of Florida, gopher tortoises thrive in the wild and should be kept in their gopher tortoise habitat. These species of animals are terrestrial tortoises and are found mostly in humid areas, longleaf pine forests, and coastal dunes.

What is a Gopher tortoise's habitat?

The gopher tortoise is found in habitats having dry, sandy soils, a thin tree canopy, and a lot of low-growing groups of trees. They are mostly found in scrub, coastal dunes, sandhills, pine, scrubby flatwoods, prairie, and hardwoods in the wild. They are usually found burrowing holes in the ground averaging 4 m in length and 6-7 ft deep. These burrows are meant to maintain a steady temperature and humidity throughout the year. The burrows are also meant to protect the gopher tortoises from fires, extreme weather, and predators.

In a captive habitat, the tortoise habitat cannot be a cage. They can be kept in enclosures big enough to make them comfortable like their actual home in the wild. Periodic burning should be done to stop the growth of tall, dense vegetation. This growth of the vegetation prevents the growth of low-growing plants that gopher tortoises eat.

Who do Gopher tortoises live with?

The gopher tortoises are usually found alone in their burrows and live a solitary life. Only in the breeding season are they seen in the open and socializing with other groups. They are seemingly friendly with one another and maintain a good relationship with each other.

How long does a Gopher tortoise live?

Th their native wildlife, these tortoises, gopher tortoises can live up to 50-70 years. Accurately calculating their age is difficult as their carapaces become smoother and growth rings become invisible. In captivity, with proper care, these tortoises can live up to the age of 86 years.

How do they reproduce?

Reproduction of the gopher tortoise usually involves courtship rituals. The mating season is usually between April and November when the female tortoises lay five to eight eggs near the entrance of the burrow. After females lay the eggs, the parents do not care for the eggs and as they are not protected, many threats in the form of animals and birds eat the eggs on passing by the burrows. The tortoise eggs take 80-110 days to hatch and the hatchlings remain independent throughout their birth and adulthood. They receive no parental care of any degree in their native habitat. It can take 21-23 years for a hatchling to reach sexual maturity in wildlife.  

What is their conservation status?

The conservation status of the gopher tortoise has been kept as Vulnerable by the IUCN red list.  Many factors have led to this conclusion. The loss of habitat in wildlife due to natural and man-made practices is the most common one. They are also listed as threatened by the US Federal list. Florida has established different laws to protect these animals from poaching and pet trade and it is illegal to hunt these tortoises in those parts of the country.

Gopher Tortoises Fun Facts

What do Gopher tortoises look like?

The gopher tortoise is tan, dark brown to gray-black, and has a yellow plastron. They are moderately sized and have stumpy, elephantine hind feet along with flattened, shovel-like forelimbs. They are covered in thick scales. The hatchlings are usually yellow-orange and brown. They have yellow-orange spots on the brown body, but this coloration fades with age.

Normally adult females are bigger than males. The yellow plastron, or concavity on the lower shell, is present in adult males but is absent in females. Females have a flat lower shell. The gular projection of a male plastron is longer than that of a female.

When the shells of the juveniles or the hatchlings are 9 in (22.8 cm) long, they are said to have reached sexual maturity. It happens at around 15-18 years of age.

Close-up of the face of a Gopher tortoise.

How cute are they?

Tortoises in general are very cute. Remember the story of the hare and the tortoise? Most people enjoy seeing tortoises and they are a hit in tourist attractions. People are fond of the natural beauty of the armor in the tortoises.

How do they communicate?

As solitary tortoises, the gopher tortoises are known to communicate very little with others in their group. The exception is only during the breeding season when the tortoises are seen to communicate visually and through touch. The gopher tortoise is usually docile, but in April when the breeding starts, the tortoises become aggressive and fight over the females. They are known to bite each other as a mode of communication and also secrete odors to present to each other.

How big is a Gopher tortoise?

On average, the gopher tortoises grow up to a length of 9-11 in (23-28 cm). The height of the tortoise is known to be almost half of the length, so the height should be ranging around 3.9-5 in (10-13 cm).

How fast can a Gopher tortoise move?

The tortoises in the genus Gopherus are found to be much faster than regular tortoises and have been clocked at a speed of 0.13-0.3 mph (0.21-0.48 kph).

How much does a Gopher tortoise weigh?

The weight of a gopher tortoise ranges from 8.8-13.2 lb (4-6 kg).

What are the male and female names of the species?

Different names for the male and female sexes of the gopher tortoise have not been given yet. They are known by their common name and their scientific name.

What would you call a baby Gopher tortoise?

A baby gopher tortoise is called a hatchling.

What do they eat?

These protected species are hardcore herbivores but are opportunistic feeders and so feed on anything they can find like dead insects, small fish, and wildlife. Usually, the Gopher tortoise's diet is leafy, low-growing plants and vegetables, broad-leaved grass, regular grass, wiregrass, terrestrial legumes, and plants.

Are they poisonous?

These species are not at all poisonous and often do not harm any person.

Would they make a good pet?

Gopher tortoises should not be kept as pets as they won't get the same habitat as wildlife. They thrive in their natural habitat and should be left to grow there.

Did you know...

It is illegal to pick up a gopher tortoise in Florida as it is protected by the federal government and also has been put as threatened in the US Federal list.

They have dry scales and are not slimy at all.

Do Gopher tortoises drink water?

Gopher tortoises usually do not drink from standing water. Most of the water in their body comes from the food they eat.

Why are Gopher tortoises endangered?

The primary reason for the endangerment of the gopher tortoises is habitat loss and degradation. Earlier they were killed for food, but it is illegal now to hunt these tortoises. Incompatible forest management and industrialization are also reasons for the population decline of the gopher tortoises.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other reptiles including the box turtle and giant tortoise.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one on our gopher tortoise coloring pages.

Written By
Ritwik Bhuyan

Ritwik has a bachelor's degree in English from Delhi University. His degree developed his passion for writing, which he has continued to explore in his previous role as a content writer for PenVelope and his current role as a content writer at Kidadl. In addition to this, he has also completed CPL training and is a licensed commercial pilot!

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