The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is an herbivore that eats more than 1,000 types of regional plants, particularly grasses and legumes. Their diet includes wild mushrooms, fruits, berries and flowers found in longleaf pine forests. A mature tortoise can burrow up to 40 feet in length and nearly 10 feet deep, which is often deep enough to reach the ground water table. When laying their eggs, the depth of the nest and its ambient temperature determines the sex of each hatchling.

Species Facts

  • The name "gopher tortoise" is due to the animal's deep burrowing ability
  • The gopher tortoise is the only tortoise species in the eastern United States and lives in areas across Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Mississippi
  • When feeding, the tortoises can only reach about four inches above the ground, a browsing level that prunes plants and readies them for new growth
  • Gopher tortoise eggs are approximately the size of ping-pong balls and hatch in about 3 months
  • Eggs and hatchlings are at high risk of being eaten by raccoons, skunks, dogs and other predators
  • Gopher tortoises mate from April to June and females can lay 3-15 eggs per season

Environmental Impact

Preserving gopher tortoise habitat is an investment that will protect both the economic viability of the state of Georgia and many native animal species. This effort will also provide additional resources for conserving longleaf pine forests that will, in turn, create exceptional hunting opportunities for other pine savanna species such as bobwhite quail. Finally, public lands such as these also generate dollars for local communities. And ensuring the gopher tortoise is not listed as Threatened saves costly fees and allows landowners to sustainably develop their assets.

Size comparison


Adult Gopher Tortoise

9-15 inches


Average Adult Pet Turtle

6-8 inches