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Photo © David Almquist

Equal-clawed Gopher Tortoise Hister Beetle (Geomysaprinus floridae)

This species is a 3 mm long black shiny beetle with prominent mandibles. They are only known to be found in gopher tortoise burrows and are therefore an obligate commensal species. Because they also prey on other arthropods, this species may be a mutualist (both species benefit from the relationship) with the gopher tortoise by reducing pest species that would adversely affect the tortoise. Very little is known about this endemic species besides the fact that it has been found in burrows in sandhill habitat.

Additional Resources:

Bug Guide: Geoomysaprinus floridae (with photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

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Gopher Tortoise Copris Beetle (Copris gopheri)

This species is a 9mm long shiny black scarab beetle. They are only known from association with gopher tortoise burrows and therefore appear to be an obligate commensal species. Because they provide dung removal services within the burrow, it is possible that this species is also a mutualist that could benefit gopher tortoises by lowering parasite loads and pest fly populations. The gopher tortoise copris beetle is endemic to Florida and has only been found within 50,000 square kilometers (about 19,305 square miles) of the Peninsula.

Additional Resources:

Encyclopedia of Life: Copris gopheri

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Gopher Tortoise Hister Beetle (Chelyoxenus xerobatis)

The gopher tortoise hister beetle is a 3 mm long black shiny beetle that is known only from gopher tortoise burrows. They are an obligate commensal species and possibly mutualists due to the fact that they prey on other arthropod species. These beetles are believed to prey upon fly larvae within gopher tortoise burrows, thereby possibly reducing pest species that would adversely affect the tortoise. They are known to occur in approximately 20 localities ranging across most of Florida, in addition to Georgia and Mississippi.

Additional Resources:

Bug Guide: Chelyoxenus xerobatis (with photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

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Photo © David Almquist

Gopher Tortoise Rove Beetle (Philonthus gopheri)

This species is a 5 mm long yellow to reddish-yellow beetle that is closely related to the western gopher tortoise rove beetle (Philontus testudo). The gopher tortoise rove beetle is only known from gopher tortoise burrows and is therefore an obligate commensal. They may be a mutualist species by preying on other arthropods, thereby reducing pest species that would adversely affect the gopher tortoise. Specimens have been found in dry sandhill habitats in the northern half of peninsular Florida, although records of this species are relatively sparse. While this could be due in part to a lack of survey efforts, it may also indicate a decline of species concurrent with that of its host. Very little is known about the biology of this species other than that it occurs in gopher tortoise burrows, but they most likely prey upon the eggs and larvae of other arthropods within the burrow.

Additional Resources:

Bug Guide: Philonthus gopheri (with photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

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Photo © David Almquist

Little Gopher Tortoise Scarab Beetle (Alloblackburneus troglodytes)

This species is a 3.5 mm long yellowish-brown scarab beetle with an elongated body. They are known only from association with gopher tortoise burrows and are therefore obligate commensals. They may be mutualists with the gopher tortoise by providing dung removal services within the burrow, thereby lowering tortoise parasite loads and pest fly populations. Several studies have found this species to be relatively common burrow insects. In Florida, they are known from approximately 25 localities ranging from Walton County in the panhandle to Miami-Dade County in the Peninsula. They are also known to occur in Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

Additional Resources:

Bug Guide: Alloblackburneus troglodytes (with photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Punctuate Gopher Tortoise Onthophagus Beetle (Onthophagus polyphemi polyphemi)

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Photo © David Almquist

This subspecies of Onthophagus polyphemi is a 6 mm long brownish-black scarab beetle. They are only known from association with gopher tortoise burrows and are therefore obligate commensals with the gopher tortoise. By providing dung removal services, they are possibly mutualists that benefit the gopher tortoise by lowering parasite loads and pest fly populations. They may be univoltine (one brood produced per year), with freshly-emerged specimens appearing in March and adults being active throughout the year. Specimens have been found primarily in scrub and sandhill habitat, although one study found them to be common at a site with moist dark soil. Habitat quality may also play an important role in this species’ presence, as they likely favor undisturbed habitats. They are known to occur at approximately 30 localities within 70,000 square kilometers (about 27,027 square miles) in Florida, but they are also known from Georgia and South Carolina.

Additional Resources:

Bug Guide: Onthophagus polyphemi polyphemi (with photos Camera)

Scarab Net Global Taxon Database: Onthophagus polyphemi polyphemi

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

 

Smooth Gopher Tortoise Onthophagus Beetle (Onthophagus polyphemi sparsisetosus)

This subspecies is a 6 mm long brownish-black scarab beetle that is indistinguishable from Onthophagus polyphemi polyphemi without close examination under a microscope. They are only known from association with gopher tortoise burrows and are obligate commensals. Because they remove dung within tortoise burrows, they are possibly mutualists which could lower tortoise parasite loads and pest fly populations. Relatively little is known of their biology, although they are likely similar in habitats to their nominate subspecies (O.p. polyphemi). In Florida, this subspecies has only been recorded from three counties in the Panhandle within less than a 10,000 square kilometer (about 3,861 square mile) area. They are also known from Alabama and Mississippi.

Additional Resources:

Scarab Net Global Taxon Database: Onthophagus polyphemi sparsisetosus

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Western Gopher Tortoise Rove Beetle (Philonthus testudo)

This species is a 5 mm long yellow to reddish-yellow beetle that is closely related to Philonthus gopheri .The western gopher tortoise rove beetle is only known from gopher tortoise burrows and is therefore an obligate commensal. They may be a mutualist species by preying on other arthropods, thereby reducing pest species that would adversely affect the gopher tortoise. Relatively little is known of their biology other than that they occur in burrows, but they most likely prey upon the eggs and larvae of other burrow arthropods. In Florida, this species has only been definitely recorded from Calhoun and Walton counties in the Panhandle, although there are specimens from Wakulla and Jefferson counties that are most likely this species. They are also known from one locality in southern Georgia and several in southeastern Mississippi.

Additional Resources:

American Museum of Natural History: Philonthus testudo (photo Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Camel or Gopher Crickets (Ceuthophilus latibuli and C. walkeri)

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These are large brown crickets that are often found in gopher tortoise burrows. They are not found exclusively where there are tortoise burrows, and so while they are commensals, they are not obligates (dependent on the other species). These crickets may benefit another gopher tortoise commensal species, the gopher frog, by providing them with a food source.

Additional Resources:

Orthoptera Species File: Ceuthophilus walkeri (photos Camera)

 


 

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Photo © David Almquist

Gopher Tortoise Burrow Fly (Eutrichota gopheri)

The gopher tortoise burrow fly is a gray and yellowish-brown 7 mm long fly. This species is only known from association with gopher tortoise burrows and is therefore an obligate commensal species. By providing dung removal services within the burrow, they are possibly a mutualist species with the gopher tortoise that may lower tortoise parasite loads and pest fly populations. Furthermore, this species may be an important food resource for another gopher tortoise commensal species, the gopher frog.

Additional Resources:

Bug Guide: Eutrichota gopheri (photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Gopher Tortoise Robber Fly (Machimus polyphemi)

This species is a 15 mm long fly that is mostly black with golden brown hairs and reddish yellow legs. All known specimens have been found in association with gopher tortoise burrows, so they appear to be obligate commensals. Some evidence has shown that this species may prey on other flies, so it is possible that they have a mutualistic relationship with the gopher tortoise by reducing pest fly populations. In Florida, the gopher tortoise robber fly is only known from two localities, although it is also known from one locality in Georgia and approximately five localities in southeastern Mississippi.

Additional Resources:

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Tortoise Burrow Dance Fly (Drapetis n. sp.)

The tortoise burrow dance fly is a slender, 1.75 mm empidid fly with yellow legs. It appears to be an obligate commensal and is only known from tortoise burrows in scrub habitat at four sites in Highlands County. This apparent rarity may be due in part to inadequate sampling methodology, as the fly appears to be most active in fall, winter, and early spring.

Additional Resources:

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Gopher Tortoise Acrolophus Moth (Acrolophus pholeter)

This species is a small, approximately 15 mm, moth with brownish gray wings. It is known only from one locality in Putnam County and only from sandhill habitat. It subsists on tortoise dung and detritus within the burrows and therefore appears to be an obligate commensal species.

Additional Resources:

NatureServe Explorer: Acrolophus pholeter

Biodiversity Heritage Library:Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington Adobe PDF (photos/illustrations)

Lepidoptera Barcode of Life: Acrolophus pholeter (photo Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Gopher Tortoise Noctuid Moth (Idia gopheri)

The gopher tortoise noctuid moth is a relatively drab 35 mm moth with wavy light lines across its forewings. This species is primarily known from association with gopher tortoise burrows and therefore appears to be an obligate commensal. Within the burrows, they feed upon dung and detritus. This species ranges from northern to central peninsular Florida; however, a few specimens have been found in Georgia and Mississippi. They are found year round, but appear to be active primarily in the spring and to a lesser extent in the fall. Comparisons between recent and past studies have shown that this species may be in decline.

Additional Resources:

NatureServe: Idia gopheri

North American Moth Photographers Group: Idia gopheri (with photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF

 


 

Tortoise Shell Moth (Ceratophaga vicinella)

The gopher tortoise shell moth is an approximately 8 mm long blackish brown moth with a white spot on each forewing and fluffy tan hairs on its head. This species is not a burrow commensal, but the larvae subsist upon keratin from dead gopher tortoise shells, and are therefore obligate scavengers. Due to this relationship with the gopher tortoise, they are probably one of the most endangered of the gopher tortoise associates. They require a population of tortoises large enough to provide at least one dead individual per year. This species ranges from Florida to Mississippi and is expected to occur in Georgia and Alabama as well.

Additional Resources:

Lepidoptera Barcode of Life: Ceratophaga vicinella (with photos Camera)

Distribution Map Adobe PDF



FWC Facts:
Freshwater fish have a series of sensory pores called the lateral line that detect movement and vibration in the water, which helps with predatory and schooling behavior.

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