News Releases

Celebrate Florida’s Gopher Tortoise Day and the reptile that can really dig

News Release

Monday, April 04, 2016

Media contact: Diane Hirth, 850-251-2130

Photos available on FWC’s Flickr site:

On Sunday, April 10, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and its partners will celebrate Gopher Tortoise Day for the first time in Florida.

Go to for ideas on being a part of this day and other gopher tortoise-related events and activities all year long.

Gopher tortoises live in every county of Florida and are known for their extraordinary digging skills. These gray or brown tortoises use shovel-like forearms to carve out burrows averaging several yards deep and 5 yards long. Their burrows give shelter to hundreds of other native species.

Gopher Tortoise Day is a newly-launched effort to highlight the importance of conserving this state-threatened species, whose presence goes back 60 million years.

 The FWC is encouraging the public to be aware of the gopher tortoise as a Florida keystone species and learn how their actions can strengthen recovery efforts. From now through May, for example, the gopher tortoise is increasingly active, leaving its underground burrow in search of spring greenery to eat and, in many cases, a mate. People can help by watching out for a tortoise crossing the highway and, if it’s safe for you to do so, picking it up and placing it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. Just don’t put this terrestrial animal in the water.

“Many Floridians and visitors to the state are knowledgeable about gopher tortoises and willing to take actions to help them. We’re excited about Gopher Tortoise Day as a way to get more people involved,” said Deborah Burr, who leads the FWC’s gopher tortoise management program. “Indeed the success we have had so far in conserving Florida’s gopher tortoise population and its habitats is closely tied to the enthusiastic support and participation of the public.”

Local governments and private landowners, including farmers, foresters and ranchers, have worked with the FWC to help conserve and restore gopher tortoise habitat. The tortoise needs sandy, sunny habitats with an open tree canopy, such as longleaf pine forests, to thrive and survive.

Individuals also have helped by using the ”Florida Gopher Tortoise” app, which gives people a chance to report gopher tortoise sightings while learning about the species.

On the Gopher Tortoise Day website, you can access many resources, including a resolution template for your community to adopt Gopher Tortoise Day, ideas on ways to celebrate with hands-on activities for kids, “A guide to living with gopher tortoises,” gopher tortoises and road safety, “Build a Burrow” instructions and the Gopher Tortoise Field Trip Guide.

More on gopher tortoises is at

FWC Facts:
A bird grinds up its food with its stomach, for digestion in the small intestines.

Learn More at AskFWC