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Gopher tortoise drinking from puddles in parking lot in the rain.
A tortoise in the rain drinking from puddles.

Gopher Tortoise -- "Ask an Expert" -- 2018

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From: Jim, Subject: Franklin, a Special Friend, Date: August 20, 2018
Over twenty years ago, my wife and I built a new house in the woods. We relocated some palm trees to build a pool. After building a pool, our friend, Franklin, moved in. For over twenty years, Franklin has lived at the corner of our pool deck. We don't feed him or bother him and try to keep the dogs away from him. Our children gave him the name Franklin. Children are now grown and moved away, but always ask about their special friend.
Franklin's reputation has grown and our neighbors and winter visitors like to see him. Franklin is a bit of a ham and always provides a show by walking around the yard and eating on our plants. We live in a small community and when Franklin goes "walk about" people report his where a bout's.
We don't have any questions; but thought you would like to hear our story about Franklin.
Have a good day and God Bless.     Susan and Jim

Dear Susan and Jim,
Thank you so much for writing.
Your story really made me smile.
I printed it out and pinned it on my cubicle wall.
Franklin is a lucky tortoise!

From: Veronica, Subject: Protection Laws and codes, Date: August 19, 2018
There's two GT burrows on the hill behind our house in Sorrento that have been here since 2017 or sooner. I've been carefully cutting grass around 10 from the opening so as not to disturb them in case they are nesting. Unfortunately a person on the HOA has taken it upon himself to use a ride on mower to cut the grass on the open areas that used to be a golf course, but hasn't been for a decade. For some reason beyond what I can understand he came up on to our hill and mowed right over the top of the burrows. I ran out of the house to tell him that the burrows are protected by the FL law. He argued that he went around them and didn't know they are protected.v I called the Department of Fish and Wildlife to find out what the law is regarding ride on mowers. They said it was a violation. I put up posted signs and yellow ribbon around the 10 from Mark to let others know to keep back.
A few weeks later he was back on the hill coming up to our property while I was out there with my weed whacker cutting the grass. He drove his large mower right at me with grass flying out but I stood my ground so he started waving his arms for me to move out of his way . I took out my cell phone and tried to video him while yelling that he is breaking the law. He turned off his motor and argued with me again then drove away. I was physically shaken and worried for my safety if he should return with some other HOA president or something worse. So I called DFW again and this time the local ranger call me to say they have every right to be running over the mounds with a ride on mower and there's nothing he can do about it until the tortoise is killed, " Even then" he told me " I can't do anything because the harm was not malicious intent". I launched a compliant that started an investigation.
When his supervisor came to our house she kept giving me misinformation, saying that they lay their eggs " Way back , like 20 feet under the ground, so there's no way the eggs can be hurt by a lawnmower" when I expressed my concerns that they had mated and possibly had laid eggs. Then said there are no laws protection for this property because of the homestead designation when it was developed back in 2002.
This situation has caused me much anguish and frustrating times. Can you please explain what the law is. I think they have some agreement with the HOA but is it lawful? Each time I spoke with a wildlife alert hotline person they told me I was doing the right thing to report this activity which endangered the Gopher Tortoise. I'M be went through the website and it seems like a violation of "Take" through Harassment to the point that it's disruption to the natural behavior and reproduction of the species.
Any information on this is much appreciated.

The laws in Florida are clear. Gopher tortoise burrows cannot be disturbed or destroyed without a permit from the FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. A minimum of a 25 foot buffer is required around a burrow. There are exceptions to the rule, but none of them apply in your case.
I suggest you call Samantha Dupree at (352)732-1225. She is the gopher tortoise biologist for your region. If this doesn't work, write me back. And PLEASE don't get run over by a lawn mower in the process!!!

From: Fiona, Subject: {shelter other animals?}, Date: August 17, 2018
Hi, I was wondering if gopher tortoises is providing shelter not only for themselves but for other animals what happens if the tortoises have to reduce? What happens to the other animals?

Over 300 species of invertebrates and vertebrates have been documented using gopher tortoise burrows. These animals are called commensals. The loss of gopher tortoises (and there burrows) is a serious concern for the biodiversity of an area and one of the reasons why gopher tortoises are protected by the states where they occur, and by the Endangered Species Act in the western portion of their range. Here are a couple of links to more information:
Feel free to write back if you have more questions.

From: john, Subject: Gopher turtle {not moving}, Date: August 16,
A gopher turtle crawled under my tree and has not moved for about a day. Is something wrong with him/her? Do I need to call and have someone come help him/her??

Please put the tortoise in an open box or bin and take it to a wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife hospital. If you don't know where to take it, write me back with your state and county location.
Thank you,     Becky

From: Kisha, Subject: Tortoise {what kind?}, Date: August 6, 2018
Help me identify this tortoise. Found a tortoise in my neighborhood. Not sure what kind it is would you be able to help me identify it. Thank you.

What state and county are you located in? Have you seen a burrow around the area?

From: Valerie, Subject: Feeding Gopher Tortoise, Date: July 16, 2018
This tortoise is in my landscaping We have a gopher tortoise that has burrowed in our landscaping in front of our home. Is it ok to give him the occasional raspberry/blueberry? We live in Port Charlotte, FL.
Also, do you know how long he will have his burrow? We don't mind but would like to repair the landscaping when he leaves. He's got a mound of sand taller than our bushes right outside his burrow.
How can you tell?
Thank you!   Valerie

Hi Valerie,
Even though the tortoise has made itself at home in your landscape plants, you are not supposed to feed it anything. I have attached a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote that has information that you may find useful. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please. Of course, if you don't feed the tortoise and don't make your yard attractive, it may decide to move on.
There is no way to predict how long it will stay. Sometimes tortoises use a burrow only during specific seasons. Sometimes they will dig a burrow, stay for a bit, and then leave forever. Sometimes they just stay, especially if there is nowhere nearby that is suitable for them.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.

From: Diane, Subject: Fighting gopher turtles, Date: July 24, 2018
Fighting gopher turtles Hi,
Today I watched 2 gopher turtles fight for over 30 minutes. The larger one "pushed" the other all the way across our back yard. At one point it flipped the other turtle and then flipped it back. It finally ended when the smaller one finally flipped the big guy. It couldn't flip itself back so I used a long tree branch to turn it back over. They finally went their separate ways after that. Was this just a territorial thing? Hope I did the right thing helping it to turn over. I love watching these creatures.
Thanks,     Diane

Hi Diane,
It was good that you turned the tortoise over; if it stayed upside down in the heat for very long, it might have died. Sounds like they were having quite a brawl! It was likely two males trying to "own" the best area.
Thank you!     Becky

From: melissa Subject: Tortoise {found on doorstep}, Date: July 22, 2018
Gopher tortoise found on top dorstep. Hello! I was wondering if you could tell me what kind or tortoise this is? I found him on my top doorstep this morning and I am not sure if he is someone's pet or just a wild one on an adventure.
Thank you, Melissa

Hi Melissa,
If you are located in the southeast U.S., it is a gopher tortoise. Please look around your house/neighborhood (within walking distance) and see if there is a burrow around there that you can release it into. If you can't find a burrow, but there is any undeveloped property around, let him go during the morning or early evening and he will hopefully find a burrow or dig a new one. If neither of those scenarios is possible, write me back.
Thanks, Becky

From: Craig Subject: Foraging, Date: July 14, 2018
Hi Becky,
I have acquired, via migration a tortoise, he/she has made a burrow next to my house and that is fine but I am curious when do they forage? Day or night? I have a lot of plants for butterflies and I want to protect them but I don't want to have to make walls. Are there particular plants I can grow for the tortoise and should I plant them near the burrow?? Thanks in advance, Craig, Port Saint Lucie, FL

Hi Craig,
I am happy you are happy about the tortoise. Attached is a chapter from a workbook written by a friend of mine that has lots of information you will likely find helpful. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please. After you look at it, feel free to write me back if you have any questions.

From: LynnSubject: Intruder tortoise to another tortoise area, Date: July 15, 2018
Can they harm one another or will the intruder give up and leave?

Tortoises typically live in close proximity to each other and often use the same burrows, taking turns or even sharing at the same time. If either of them feels threatened by the other, there may be some aggressive behavior such as head bobbing and chasing. The worst they may do is try to flip each other onto their backs which can result in them overheating and dying. This is rare. If you have a male and a female, there may be some chasing, but they will both likely stay in the area. Just let them be and enjoy the new neighbor!
Feel free to write back if you have more questions.

From: Jaymi, Subject: Large hole under foundation, Date: July 6, 2018
I have seen a large Gopher Tortoise who has tunneled and is now living under my foundation. I have researched that the bottom of the den can be up to 45 feet in diameter. With a large amount of rainfall and soft sand how can I be reassured there will be no damage to my foundation or home? This does not seem possible. Engineers working for the city have assured me of possible damage if the structure is not supported properly. Please advise and explain.
Poinciana, FL
Army Vet.

I don't know where you got your information, but a gopher tortoise burrow is only as wide as the tortoise that dug it (± 10 inches). The bottom of the burrow is just wide enough for the tortoise to turn around, and there is no exit tunnel (one way in and out). The length of the burrow depends on the soil and habitat, but 10 to 12 feet is typical. They go into the ground at about a 45 degree angle, so they get deep pretty quickly.
I have heard about and seen many instances where tortoises have dug burrows next to structures; they like to dig where the dirt has been disturbed and is already soft. Not once has there been any structural damage reported to me. I really don't think you need to be concerned.
M. Rebecca Bolt

Merrie's backyard tortoise From: MERRIE, Subject: Gopher Tortoise info, Date: June 27, 2018
I have a gopher tortoise (I think) living in my back yard (Pasco County Florida) and would love to have the information about how to make my yard an even more inviting place to live. He's been here going on 2 years and is currently residing in his second burrow.
Any way to tell how old they are?
Thanks so much, Merrie

Hi Merrie,
Attached is a chapter from a workbook that a friend of mine wrote that will give you information on improving your yard for the tortoise. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
It is hard to say anything about age other than it is an adult, probably at least 15 years old.
Thanks for being a good landlordJ, and enjoy. Feel free to write back if you have other questions or comments.

From: Mary, Subject: Gophers {Under Foundation}, Date: June 24, 2018
We have a gopher under our house and we are concerned it might damage our foundation what do we do

People often ask me about tortoises burrowing underneath structures, and I have never seen or heard about there being a problem. The burrow is only as wide as the tortoise that digs it (around 10 inches for an adult). Burrows typically go into the ground at around a 45 degree angle, so they get deep pretty quickly. If the tortoise runs into the foundation, it won't be able to dig through it. All that being said, I really don't think you need to be concerned. However, if you want to contact your specific regulatory agency and find out about relocation, send me your state and county information and I will tell you who to contact.

From: David, Subject: {Move} Gophers, Date: June 22, 2018
Is it bad to move a gopher tortoise if you think it is in danger of being killed

It is illegal to move a gopher tortoise, and it might actually be bad, depending on the situation. The best thing to do is contact whatever agency has jurisdiction in your area and report the animal to them. If you don't know who that is, send me your state and county, and I will send you contact information.

From: Niki, Subject: How deep do they bury their eggs?, Date: June 21, 2018
The gopher tortoise that lives at my farm dug her burrow smack on the fence line outside of my chicken pen. She sits in the opening of her burrow and has become used to me and the chickens. I just felt that it is a female, and I was right. Today I noticed that she had dug under some boards I placed inside the chicken fence because soil was falling into her burrow undermining the fence. In a roughly dug hole at the edge of the burrow, were three uncovered eggs and two more had rolled down the slope inside the burrow. Anything I can to do to help out here? Should I at least cover the eggs in the hole or just let nature takes its course? Thanks.

A typical nest is neatly dug, is 6 - 10 inches deep, and the eggs are well covered to protect them from predators. It sounds like your female just shed the eggs. She might be young and inexperienced, or the eggs might be infertile. It is very unlikely that they will hatch. All that being said, it won't hurt anything to cover them.

From: Ed, Subject: probably 50 active gopher tortoise {burrows}, Date: June 18, 2018
I recently moved to Mulberry Florida on a piece of property about 5 acres and there is probably 50 active gopher tortoise bowls how long do they stay in one hole or do they stay in the same hole all their life because some of these are pretty big but I absolutely love watching them

Congratulations! I am glad that you are happy about your tenants. The answers to your questions are not black-and-white; burrow creation and use depends on lots of factors such as habitat, weather, and the dynamics of the tortoises in the colony.
Check out these two websites to get more information: (FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and (Gopher Tortoise Council). I have also attached a publication that two of my coworkers and I published in 1997 based on radiotracking data we collected on Kennedy Space Center.
Please let me know if you have any more questions. Have fun!

From: Linda, Subject: Is the Burrow Abandoned?, Date: June 13, 2018
There was a gopher tortoise in the corner of our yard late yesterday afternoon making a burrow. The tortoise has left the's not covered up so there are no eggs.
Should we just let it be? Will the tortoise come back?
Thanks for any input!

Hi Linda,
I would leave it alone. It may come back, finish the burrow, and move in, or it may have decided it didn't like the soil or location for some reason and won't return. In that case, the start will eventually close up and you can clean up the spot.
Thanks for checking first! Write back if you have other questions.

From: Frank, Subject: {exposed eggs}, Date: June 10, 2018
Hello Becky,
Last night, we had the most severe rain and flooding on our property than we've ever had, hurricanes included!
We live in rural Osceola county and have dozens of gopher tortoises who live happily on our acreage in unmolested bliss.
Last night's rain exposed a few eggs in the sandy mouth of a gopher tortoises burrow. Half the egg is exposed to the sun on a very hot day. Should I cover the egg with sand? Is the egg in jeopardy of decline or not hatching? Should I just leave well enough alone?
Many thanks,   Frank

Hi Frank,
It is doubtful that the egg will hatch, but it won't hurt to cover it up.
Thank you!   Becky

From: Tom, Subject: {feeding}, Date: June 7, 2018
have a simple gopher question but could be deadly for them i guess.
is it ok to feed gopher tortoises pcs of watermelon and oranges?

Hi Sir,
It's not deadly, but it is illegal. J

From: Thomas, Subject: Large Gopher Colony in High Springs, Date: June 6, 2018
Hello, My name is Tad And I am contacting you do to a large tortoise colony that may be subject to new land uses. There is an abandoned rail yard almost down town High Springs and the tortoises have moved into a good deal of it. There is rumor of Rails-to-Trails coming in however the complete fate of property remains kinda in question. I don't think this colony has been documented yet which is why I'm reaching out to you.

Hi Tad,
Please contact your regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission ( and report the colony to them.
Thank you, Becky

From: Tom, Subject: Gopher Tortoise {near highway}, Date: June 3, 2018
Hi. I found a Burrow in my front yard, And there is a gopher tortoise in it. Can you tell me how long they occupy a burrow... It's very close to a very busy 5 lane highway and I'm concerned for its safety.. Should I just leave it be??

The legal thing to do is just leave it. However, if you believe that the tortoise is in danger, you could report it to the appropriate agency and let them make the decision as to what to do. If you want to report it, send me your state and county location and I will get contact information for you.
Thanks for caring!       Becky

From: Tammy, Subject: Gopher Tortoise Eggs, Date: May 25, 2018
Location of the Gopher tortoise nest Hello,
I witnessed Gertrude (the GT that lives in my backyard with Gary, her male friend) lay her eggs today! It was so exciting! Now I'm worried! We have raccoons and possums, and other critters in our yard and I'm afraid they will dig up the eggs. Any ideas on what I can put over the area to protect them?
Also, she laid them in an area where the rain water stands.. will this affect the eggs?
Thank you in advance.
Tammy, Tampa, FL

Hi Tammy,
The best thing to do is let them be. It is really important that they get the right amount of sunshine (heat) and can incubate properly. Not sure they could survive standing water for very long, but I still say the best thing is to leave them alone.
Thanks, Becky

From: Tammy, Subject: Ants and gopher turtles, Date: May 20, 2018
I have a 2-3yr old gopher turtle in my yard and the ants have made beds all around near his burrow i found him today trying to make another burrow under one of my grass plants in flower bed was wondering if the ants will run him out or hurt him or is he just trying to dig another burrow?

Gopher tortoises often have several burrows in their home range. The ants might have chased it out of its burrow, or it might just be digging a spare. If you watch, you may be able to tell if it quits using the one near the ants.

From: Eve — Subject: Baby tortoise — Date: May 10, 2018
We found a baby gopher tortoise being harassed by our dogs in the yard. What should we do with it? It is about 3" shell size.

Please look around your yard for a small burrow (or even a large burrow) to put the tortoise in. If you can't find one, put the baby under some vegetation where it can hide from predators. If there is any land adjacent to your yard, you might look there as well. If you can't find anything, write me back and we'll figure out Plan B.

From: Missy — Subject: Fence in yard — Date: April 13, 2018
We have a gofer tortoise in our back yard. We want to fence our entire yard for our dog. What is the best thing we can do for the tortoise? We want him/her to live peacefully and enjoy his/her life.
Thanks! Michelle

HI Michelle,
You could leave a couple of places under the fence for him/her to go in and out. Even if you don't leave places, he/she will likely dig under the fence anyway.

From: +13524265815 — Subject: Baby in distress — Date: March 6, 2018
My son found a baby gopher tortoise in distress and we have been caring for him/her in till ready to set free. How long should the tortoise stay under a lamp for heat?

If you still have the tortoise, please take it to a wildlife rehabilitator. It is illegal for you to be keeping it (even temporarily) and it may need medical care that is not obvious. If you need help finding a wildlife rehabber in your area, please write me back.
Thank you, M. Rebecca Bolt

From: Sue — Subject: Gopher tortoise eggs — Date: February 5, 2018
I observed what I believe was a gopher tortoise laying her eggs yesterday. I would like to protect them from lawn mowers, etc., what can I do to protect them? Thank you, Sue, Rotonda West, FL

Hi Sue,
Take some pin flags (3 or 4) and place them around the spot so that is easily seen. Don't stick any directly into the nest.
If you know the property owner, contact them and tell them about the nest. Pictures would likely be helpful. People typically tend to be more cooperative when there's proof.
Write back if you need any more information. Becky

From: Craig — Subject: Wounded — Date: February 4, 2018
My dog brought home a baby Gopher but unfortunately he punctured the shell and a gelatinous liquid formed at the wound. I wiped it off and applied some Neosporin and have the animal set for release but I don't want it to become prey. The discharge had some traces of blood but was mostly a yellow tinted fluid. Does this poor lil' guy have a chance at life?

Please take the tortoise to a wildlife rehabilitator for treatment. Because tortoises are cold-blooded, it will take a long time for an infection to manifest, and it will also take a long time to heal without treatment (if it can heal). If you don't know where to take it, write me back with your state and county location and I will try to help you find somewhere.
Thanks, Becky

From: Tom — Subject: Tortises — Date: January 31, 2018
hello i'm not sure if you are the person i spoke to awhile back or not. i was going to send u some video of a small gopher digging it's burrow. anyway i lost your replies and contact info. but i haven't seen the little sucker in a while and no activity around the burrow since it's gotten cooler. do gophers basically hibernate when it gets cold and if they do how long can they stay that way?
thanks!! Tom

Hi Tom,
Yes, I am the person you emailed, and I remember because of the "Go Bolts" at the bottom of your note (my last name is Bolt and that tickled me).
Tortoises are cold-blooded reptiles and have no way to internally control their body temperature. They don't hibernate (in the true sense of the word), but they definitely slow their metabolism way down when it's cold and may stay in a burrow for several months in the northern parts of their range. Here in central Florida where I am located, they stay active all winter and come out whenever the temperature is more than 70 degrees.
Feel free to write back if you have more questions.

From: Patricia — Subject: Work book page please — Date: January 28, 2018
I have a gopher turtle in my back yard (Alachua County Florida) and would love to have the information about how to make my yard an inviting place which will encourage her/him to stay. I have been tempted to put lettuce, melon, etc out for him but don't want to hurt her.
Thanks, Pat

Hi Pat,
Workbook attached. It is copyrighted material, so use it for your own education only, please.
Thanks for not feeding the tortoise people food. It's really much better to let them graze.

From: blksandarabians — Subject: Feral cat and gopher tortoise — Date: January 10, 2018
Hi. I am beyond ecstatic that I have a baby in my yard. It is probably about 4-5 inches now, and still is colored. Lately a feral cat has been hanging around and I have caught it with It's head actually in the tortoise burrow. I am not sure if it would/could hurt the tortoise, but at the very least I think it is keeping the tortoise from venturing out as I haven't seen it since this cat came around. I am an animal lover and vet tech, and would never hurt the cat, but my tortoise!!! I have pelted the cat with pine cones, but it keeps coming back. It is also terrorizing the birds at my feeders. Any ideas? Would animal control trap it for these issues? I don't want it to be euthanized either. I am stuck! Thanks, Ginny

Hi Ginny,
The response from animal control will depend on where you are located; some counties will come trap the cat, some will loan you a trap, and some will say you are on your own. The cat will not likely give up until it gets the tortoise, so I would definitely try to get it captured one way or another. Call your local animal control and ask them about their policies regarding trapping and euthanizing. If that isn't satisfactory, you might try the SPCA or other local "cat/animal rights" group.
Don't give up!

From: Chris — Subject: Gopher tortoise getting whiter — Date: January 10, 2018
I have a gopher tortoise that. Is it's my yard Over the past several months I notice his shell is getting whiter and whiter. Is there something wrong with it.

Can you email me some pictures, please?

From: Michael — Subject: We have a building site in North Port Florida and have been posted with a protected site sign stating Gopher Tortoise present do not disturb. — Date: December 27, 2017 What rights do we have as owners of the land and will we've able to build on our site?
Michael & Patricia

Michael and Patricia,
It is difficult for me to give you any definitive answers, but I can tell you where to get more information. Much will depend on your specific situation. First, go to That page has links to rules and regulations regarding tortoises, and links to permitting. You can also contact your local regional office of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission through; someone there should be able to answer questions regarding your piece of property.
Lots of people have tortoises living on their land and everything is fine, so don't think that you can't build or use the property. Just find out the rules that apply to you and go from there.
Feel free to write me back after you look at the websites if you have questions.

From: Ann — Subject: Gopher Tortoise Head Waggling? — Date: December 25, 2017
Can you please tell me why a gopher tortoise shakes it's head around a lot when close to another tortoise? I don't think it is mating season yet - so is this a sign of challenge or maybe something else?
I have a video, but it is a bit large to email. Maybe I can make it smaller. but likely you have seen this behavior before?
Thanks, Ann

Hi Ann,
Yes, I am very familiar with the head bobbing behavior. It is the tortoises' way of being aggressive. I've seen males and females do it toward members of their own sex or opposite, and even had males do it at my burrow camera when it I put it down their burrow.
Makes me laugh. J
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.
Happy New Year!

From: Jennifer — Subject: Burrow on top of septic field — Date: September 22, 2017
We've recently bought a house in Southwest Florida, Lee County and are enjoying the tortoise population in and around our property. One of the smaller tortoises has its burrow in the middle of the front yard that is also the area of the septic field. Not knowing much about either gopher tortoises or septic fields I worry if this is a good place for a burrow. Are they known to cause damage to septics?
I love being able to sit in the window and watch but don't want expensive septic repairs.

I am very glad to hear that you are enjoying your new neighbors. The tortoise won't be able to dig into your septic tank, and a small tortoise burrow probably isn't deep enough to get anywhere near it. My only concern is that if/when you have to get the tank pumped or opened for any reason, the tortoise is not accidentally dug up by the company that does the work. However, if you just bought the house, the tank should have been emptied before you moved in and it will be a long while before it needs to be done again.
Feel free to write back if you have other questions.



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