The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is one of four tortoises that are native to North America and is the only one found east of Texas.
The limbs are very stout and strong, with wide flat claws. The front legs are protected with small scales. Male tortoises can be distinguished from female tortoises by their concave plastron (bottom shell).
Although most tortoises dig burrows, the gopher tortoise is unusual in that is spends the majority of its time there (Perhaps its noding?). Each tortoise will dig and use several burrows within its home range. A burrow may be as much as 10 feet deep and 25-35 feet long (on a 30 degree angle). The burrow provides refuge from fire, predators, and climatic conditions, not only for Gopher Tortoises, but also for many other species, such as the dung beetle, various snakes, the Florida Gopher Frog and even some birds such as the Florida Scrub Jay and burrowing owl. The Gopher Tortoise is thus somewhat of an innkeeper and is considered a "keystone species" because it greatly influences its community.
Gopher tortoises are primarily herbivorous, although they will eat bones from dead animals, presumably to get calcium.
Habitat: Gopher tortoises are found from southeastern South Carolina through southern Georgia and most of Florida (except the Everglades).
Like most tortoises they are very long-lived.
Flodira lists the Gopher Tortoise as a species of Special Concern