Back in September, coming home from a walk around the neighborhood, my husband and I noticed something in the middle of the road. Golly, it was a baby gopher tortoise, and within 2 minutes, we spotted another!
For years, a female gopher tortoise has taken up residency in the retention pond on our street, and guess what, she laid eggs. I recall seeing one hatchling a year ago but seeing two of them is super exciting! We know she is a healthy gal and a survivor.
This female gopher tortoise has quite an impressive burrow. I love the floral arrangement surrounding her burrow, especially the skyblue lupine, which by the way, is growing quite beautifully. She is very popular on our street and much loved. She tends to herself, and at times, she visits the nearby neighbor’s yard to graze on her favorite weeds and grasses.
It is hard enough for these tortoises to survive in the wild at this stage of their lives; that’s if they make it beyond incubation. Egg incubation may last up to 100 days, and during that time, predation is high. Even if females can produce an average of 15 eggs, very few will make it.
Once they emerge from their egg, it’s go time. The hatchlings are on their own. They will travel some distance to seek their own space and begin excavating their own little home. Hey, I can imagine that to them trying to trek through weeds, sand, and hills (dirt bumps) would be like us hiking twenty miles through mountains and thick forest vegetation. Their short journey (the next lot over) is exhausting let alone trying to stay hidden from any predators.
For the next couple of years, these little creatures will be on high alert until their tiny shells begin to harden. When hatchlings break free from their egg, their shells are very soft, making them more vulnerable to predators like red-tailed hawks.
As the hatchlings crossed the road, we guided them to the lot. Both went their separate ways. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later we noticed one had started to dig its burrow. That was exciting, but we also wondered where the other hatchling was. We scanned the lot on various days, and we didn’t find any signs of a burrow until one faithful day.
Have you ever had that moment where you were at the right place at the right time? When my husband and I were searching the lot for any burrow activity, I stopped. I just stopped right there at that spot and before I took another step, I happen to have looked down, and thank goodness I did. There before our eyes was a baby gopher tortoise. Yay!
We were so excited to know that both were alive and beginning their life of independence, right here in our neighborhood! But they still have a long way to go.
The hatchlings are a little over a month old, and to grasp how small and hidden their burrows are, take a look at these photos.
You see, you would never know that in that small hole lived a baby gopher tortoise!
We did name them, ya I know, it may be frowned upon for naming wildlife, but these are our new neighbors. Meet Beans and Cornbread. It would be such a neat educational project to monitor these two.
We wanted to do what we can to protect their space by not walking on or mowing over them, so we placed flags near their burrows. We also want to do our best to help them live a long and healthy life, naturally. They are an important keystone species in nature. Their burrow, active or not, provides shelter for hundreds of wildlife species.
We placed flags a few feet away from the burrow’s entrance. I suggested not to place a flag over, in front of, or directly behind the burrow’s opening. Since their burrow is dredged out diagonally, setting the flag directly behind the opening, the flag’s stick may block the tortoise from entering or exiting. While these are newly excavated hatchling burrows, I positioned the flags diagonally a few feet away from the burrow’s entrance. Keeping the flags out of their viewing line may help the tortoise get accustomed to the flags as it exits and enters.
While we keep our distance with moderate observations, we will remove the flags as the tortoise’s burrow gets bigger.
So what if you have a gopher tortoise living on your property? Please learn more by visiting the Gopher Tortoise Program | FWC (myfwc.com)
Remember, both the tortoise and its burrow are protected under state law.
I also stumble upon this A Florida Guide to Gopher Tortoise Friendly Plants | FWC (myfwc.com), something to think about if you wanted to create a Florida friendly garden for gopher tortoises!
I think we will be spreading some more seeds and planting many other native plants and grasses in the garden! Spring 2021 is going to be delightful!
Have a safe and wonderful holiday!
-Links of interest
WEC396/UW441: Wildlife of Florida Factsheet: Gopher Tortoise (ufl.edu)
Gopher Tortoises – NWF | Ranger Rick
Report Sightings – Gopher Tortoise Sightings (myfwc.com)
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