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Last Wednesday's walk at Hidden Waters proved to be a highly-successful one, due in large part to the happy convergence of having my camera and finding a Gopher Tortoise that didn't hide or skitter into its burrow as I walked up the trail!! Yahoo!! Quite often they make this funny chuffing noise and pull their heads into their shell if not near enough to the burrow to beat a hasty retreat. Not so much for this big guy. His burrow is quite close to the bench I always rest at, so I suspect he may be somewhat more used to people. We really did face off and it wasn't until I got one step too close that he slid off into his burrow.
The gopher tortoise, a "Species of Special Concern In Florida", is designated a keystone species in our xeric (dry) communities. This means that its presence and behavior affects the survival of many other species. Its burrow not only provides shelter for many other animals, such as some frogs, mice, insects and snakes, but the digging also returns leached nutrients to the surface. When a lightning fire sweeps through the sandhills, gopher tortoise burrows become a refuge.
For more information, please visit www.wildflorida.com/wildlife/turtles/Gopher_Tortoise.php
Texture courtesy of NinianLif, www.flickr.com/photos/beapierce/sets/72157601574009156/