Helping protect reptilian species
Joy Ryan, Senior Scientist/Authorised Gopher Tortoise Agent
In celebration of National Reptile Awareness Day, we are celebrating one of our favorite reptilian species, the gopher tortoise. The gopher tortoise is usually around 9-11 inches (23-29 cm) long with stumpy hind feet reminiscent of an elephant. They use their appendages, similar to a shovel, to dig their incredible burrows.
The gopher tortoise will dig a deep burrow (up to 45 feet/14 metres) in order to live in the dry, upland habitats it prefers, which is often where humans reside. Over time, this urbanisation has caused the species to be threatened by loss of habitat: it is currently listed as threatened in Florida and is a federal listed candidate species.
In Florida, where I reside, gopher tortoises prefer high and dry sandy habitats. One gopher tortoise that Amec Foster Wheeler relocated lived at a former gas station in Trenton, Florida. During the assessment of this project site designated for clean-up (removal of under and above ground fuel storage tanks), a potentially occupied gopher tortoise burrow was discovered, and it was necessary to relocate the animal before site clean-up activities could begin.
After obtaining a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we excavated the burrow, captured the tortoise and delivered it safely to an authorised recipient site.
I’ve always liked the gopher tortoise because it is a unique species, and its burrows can support hundreds of other species, such as burrowing owls, Florida mice, indigo snakes, rabbits, gopher frog, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and gopher crickets. The gopher tortoise is a keystone species, able to support other wildlife similar to how the upper (keystone) of an arch is able to support and hold the other stones in place.
We were happy to help this particular gopher tortoise move to a more suitable habitat.
About the bloggers
Joy Ryan is a Senior Scientist and Authorised Gopher Tortoise Agent who resides in Gainesville, Florida. She is a native Floridian who has been with Amec Foster Wheeler for 28 years, working in a biological/ecological capacity for the last 15 years. She studied wildlife ecology at the University of Florida and enjoys natural resources and the fulfilment of wetland restoration work. She enjoys the mix of field work and associated in-office work. Project sites are often located in rural areas, are beautiful, and provide opportunities to see wild areas and wildlife not typically observed.