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Elusive, Threatened Gopher Tortoise Spotted Laying Eggs in Alabama

Gopher tortoise laying eggs on freshly cultivated field.

Gopher tortoise laying eggs on freshly cultivated field.

Gopher tortoises are fairly elusive creatures. Usually the only sign you see of them is their burrows or ravaged foliage.

But recently a Mobile, Ala., tortoise allowed Marshall Colburn, a Soil Conservation Technician with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a rare, up-close-and-personal moment as she laid her eggs in a freshly cultivated field.

“I was on a landowner’s property doing a site assessment for the Working Lands for Wildlife program, when I observed a gopher tortoise laying eggs,” Colburn says. “She had dug a nest about 20 yards away from her burrow in soft soil where the landowner had planted chufas [a type of nut-grass typically planted for wildlife] the day before. I was able to stand and take photos about two feet from the apron of the nest…It was pretty cool!”

The gopher tortoise is known as a keystone species in the longleaf pine ecosystem of the Southeast because it digs burrows that provide shelter and habitat for many other animal species.  It is also considered an indicator of longleaf pine ecosystem health. Gopher tortoises contribute to biological diversity by dispersing seeds found in the fruits and berries they eat.

Unfortunately, as the once–vast longleaf forests disappear, so does the gopher tortoise’s habitat. The population has been reduced to the extent that the tortoise is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act throughout the western part of its range.

Working Lands for Wildlife is a partnership between NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that offers landowners voluntary, incentive-based conservation assistance to restore habitat for seven targeted wildlife species in decline in 36 states, including the gopher tortoise in Alabama.

It is hoped that through the success of the Working Lands for Wildlife program, gopher tortoise habitat will improve to allow many tortoises to lay their eggs—whether a conservationist is watching or not.

Find out more about Working Lands for Wildlife.

Check out more conservation stories on the USDA blog.

Follow NRCS on Twitter.

5 Responses to “Elusive, Threatened Gopher Tortoise Spotted Laying Eggs in Alabama”

  1. Anita M. Forde says:

    What a delightful base for a children’s story on conservation! How can I obtain photos from Marshall Colburn?
    Anita M. Forde

  2. Lenora Tooher says:

    Turtles are so precious! I have loved them all my life. In FL, it is quite interesting how they ‘just know’ where the next pond is…without a map. They cruise across our backyard to a small pond throughout the year here in FL. They really make me feel like my nose is really not that keen to smells like I think it is.;-)

  3. Troy says:

    I’ve seen them walking around and their borrows in Washington County, AL for years. Just recently seen a borrow for one close to the Splinter Hill Bog Complex.

  4. Justin Ricklefs says:

    Good afternoon – hope this finds you well this weekend.

    Our daughter found a baby gopher tortoise beer our home in FL. She fell in love with I’m and named him Spots. Once we realized the exact kind of tortoise he was, we retuned him to the wild.

    She has now written about about Spots the Tortoise and is running a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the necessary funds.

    Here is her campaign, we have about $2,000 to go.

    Any help you can give us in spreading this message, we would be extremely grateful.

    Thanks a bunch,

    Justin Ricklefs

  5. windell avery says:

    I can remember as a child riding on gophers back (southeast Alabama) and keeping them as pets. There were larger ones back then. Now there are several hundred living here on the same farm but they seem to be a smaller type of gopher. Wasn t there a larger breed back in the 1950s and are they now extinct?

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