Happy Florida Gopher Tortoise Day!

Gopher tortoise, Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area

Today, April 10, 2018 is Florida Gopher Tortoise Day!

Thanks to the much-missed Diane LaRue (Class of 2014) who shared the photo above of a gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) at Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area on the north side of Oslo Road. The small area of scrubby pine flatwoods there are home to few large gopher tortoise That area is evolving into hammock and will become an unsuitable habit for gopher tortoises.

Pictured above is a gopher tortoise, grass in mouth, that we saw at the North Sebastian Conservation Area when we field-tripped there on 4/24/17.

Gopher tortoises are found more commonly in sandy and sunny places, including coastal strand, xeric scrub, scrubby pine flatwoods, and sandhills. They graze upon grasses and herbaceous plants, as well as fruits of native plants like gopher apples (Licania michauxii) and coco plums (Chrysobalanus icaco).

Their favorite food, according to Claudia Larsen in an article in the Palmetto, the quarterly magazine of the Florida Native Plant Society, is tread-softly (Cnidoscolus stimulosus), which we saw at Captain Forster Hammock Preserve when we visited on 3/3/2018 …

Finger-rot is another name for this plant, as is stinging nettle. Note the urticating (stinging) hairs that festoon all part of this plant except for the lovely white flowers …

Gopher tortoises apparently are undaunted by this feature that, for the most part, protects this plant from herbivory – except by gopher tortoise.

More thanks to Lani York (Class of 2016), who shared the photo below of a baby gopher tortoise in January of 2016 at south ORCA …