The Gopher Tortoise


  • The gopher tortoise is the oldest living animal in Georgia and has been our state reptile since 1989.
  • Mature gopher tortoises can live 40-60 years in their natural habitat; however, less than 6% of their young live more than one year after hatching.
  • Eastern indigo snakes, gopher frogs, pine snakes and hundreds of other animal species depend on gopher tortoise burrows for shelter and protection from predators.
  • Gopher tortoises eat leaves and fruits, and benefit plant communities by dispersing seeds and improving germination.
  • Longleaf pine forests are prime habitats for gopher tortoises — they sustain life for plants, animals and humans by providing habitats, clean water, public recreational and more.

Longleaf Pine Forests


Longleaf pine forests once covered more than 90 million acres across Georgia and the southeastern United States. Today, less than 5 percent of this habitat remains due to urban expansion and deforestation. Restoring Georgia’s longleaf pine forests will benefit animal and plant species as well as people.

Gopher tortoises thrive in the grassy, sandy soils of open longleaf pine forests that are maintained through naturally occurring lightning-caused fires as well as periodic controlled burns. These forests are well suited habitats for tortoises for several reasons. Longleaf pines have open crowns that allow more sunlight to reach the ground. The trees can be burned at younger ages and managed on longer rotations. Compared to loblolly pines, the second-most common tree in the United States, longleaf pines are more disease- and insect-resistant. Also, the deep taproots and smaller crown densities of longleaf pine forests make them more resistant to wind damage than stands of other southern tree species.