Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gopher Tortoise: Nature's Landlord

The Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is a member of a family (Testudinidae) of ancient North American land tortoises. 
The Gopher Tortoise is found throughout Florida, and in the southernmost portions of Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and South Carolina.

Of medium size, about 9-10 pounds, individuals live about 50 years in the wild....and up to 100 years in captivity.

Listed as a "Threatened Species" on the Endangered Species List, the main enemies of this slow moving herbivore are cars and land developers.

Polyphemus excavates and lives in burrows which extend from 6 to 50 feet underground.  These burrows are cohabited by over 300 other species....vertebrates, invertebrates....and often the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.
Thus, when a Gopher Tortoise burrow is destroyed, the effect is devastating not only to the tortoise, but to many onther species as well.
Why Polyphemus????  Doesn't look like the One-eyed Cyclops from Homer's Odyssey!
Here's an oil on canvas, "Ulysses in the Cave of Polyphemus."  Jakob Jordaens, 1630.

My guess is that the binomial name comes from the Greek, "cave dwelling."  What do you think?

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