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Gopher Tortoise

  • Scientific Name:

    Gopherus polyphemus
  • Terrestrial

  • Native

  • Turtles, Tortoises, and Terrapins


Large dark brown to grayish black tortoise with elephantine hind feet and club-like forefeet. Shell is dome-shaped. Hatchlings' plastron (lower shell) is bright yellow-orange; adults' plastron is yellowish and unhinged. Adult males have a prominent projection on the anterior portion of the plastron. Adults range from 8 to 10 inches in length.

Possession or harvest of this species from the wild is illegal in the state of Louisiana. Species is listed threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Range and Habitat

Found in the coastal plains from South Carolina through Florida to southeastern Louisiana. Found in Washington, Tangipahoa, and St. Tammany parishes in Louisiana. Require open, upland habitat with abundant low-growing vegetation, sunny areas for basking and nesting, and sandy soils for digging burrows. Burrows below the ground for protection from winter cold and summer heat. Burrows can be more than 40 feet long and 10 feet deep. The entrance to the burrow is a distinctive half-moon shape.


Most active during spring and summer and retreat to burrows during the winter. Primarily feed on grass and legumes and occasionally blackberries and other seasonal fruits. Reproduce once they mature at 10 to 20 years of age. Breed from April to June. Lay 3 to 15 eggs (6 on average) which they bury in a shallow nest, often near the entrance to the female's burrow. Lay one clutch of eggs per year. Eggs incubate for about 80 to 90 days. Red imported fire ants, raccoons, armadillows, and other predators prey on eggs and hatchlings. Young use the adult female burrow or dig their own soon after hatching. Slow-growing. Can live 40 to 60 years in the wild.

Population Status

The gopher tortoise population in Louisiana is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Also ranked as S1 (critically imperiled) in Louisiana. Threats include conversion of natural longleaf pine forests to loblolly plantations, agriculture, and urban areas, absence of fire, which creates a thick under and midstory, blocking sunlight from reaching the ground layer and preventing the growth of grasses for gopher tortoises to eat, illegal take for food or pets, harrassment by dogs, and mortality of eggs and hatchlings from imported fire ants.

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