Split Oak Forest - Wildlife
Wildlife viewing is most productive along the hiking trail system, and at overlooks and pasture areas. The gopher tortoise, Sherman’s fox squirrel, and sandhill crane are a few of the state protected wildlife species that can be seen on this area.
Two viewing platforms/overlooks are located along the hiking trail (one along the South Trail and one on the Lake Loop overlooking Lake Pond). The wetland fringes offer excellent viewing opportunities for wading birds. Visitors may also see some of the white-tailed deer and wild turkey that are common on the area. The Eastern coachwhip snake, brown-headed nuthatch, red-headed woodpecker, gray fox and box turtle are some of the additional wildlife species that are found on this area.
Check out other species recorded from Split Oak Forest WMA, or add observations of your own, by visiting Split Oak Forest WMA Nature Trackers Project.
Wildlife Spotlight: Gopher Tortoise
Within the dark, cool, tunnel-like burrows of the gopher tortoise, more than 300 kinds of organisms find food and protection from predators, weather extremes and fire. The list includes insects, snakes, frogs, mammals and birds, some of which could not survive without the gopher tortoise. This long-lived reptilian earthmover uses its strong, flattened forelimbs like hoes to excavate the burrow, approximately 15 feet long and six feet deep. Females lay eggs in May and June in the sandy mounds surrounding burrows or in nearby open, sunny spots.
The gopher tortoise is found from extreme eastern Louisiana to southern South Carolina and throughout Florida. Unsuitable habitat and increased urbanization restrict its distribution in the southern parts of the peninsula. Though found in a variety of habitats, natural stands of longleaf pine and scrub oaks are favored. Loose, sandy soils for burrowing, an abundance of low-growing herbs for food, and open, sunny areas for nesting characterize the best habitats.
Over the last 100 years, the gopher tortoise population has been reduced by an estimated 60-80 percent. Habitat loss or destruction from urbanization, agriculture and forestry practices; human predation; and habitat degradation from the exclusion of fire are the primary culprits. After careful scientific study, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listed gopher tortoises as threatened in 2007 and created a program that ensures their long-term survival. The gopher frog, eastern indigo snake and Florida mouse are some of the other state or federally protected burrow residents that also benefit by conserving gopher tortoises.
Frequent prescribed burning is essential to provide tortoises with open sites for nesting and with low growing grasses and herbs for forage. Protection of the gopher tortoise and its habitats extends a measure of protection to hundreds of other organisms as well.