gopher tortoise

Our short-term visitor

Last weekend, my husband, Jason, noticed a Gopher Tortoise in our back yard.  The kids and I scoped him out, kinda weary of his presence.  Gopher Tortoises, we thought, are an endangered species and we weren’t sure if we were supposed to have one in our “possession”.

The tortoise wandered around our back yard and originally had himself wedged behind our doghouse.  Finally, after an afternoon worth of struggling, Mr. Tortoise made his way inside our unused doghouse.  After a solid day worth of digging, we decided that Mr. Tortoise was Mrs. Tortoise! She was hurriedly digging a hole in our doghouse to prepare for baby tortoises!That’s right, our new visitor was in our doghouse about to lay her eggs. Our entire family was excited!

gopher tortoise, homeschooling
The Gopher Tortoise digging the hole in our dog house. This picture is of her rear- with her head down while she’s digging.

I rushed inside and scoured the internet for info on this spectacular species.  Thanks to Google  I discovered that the Gopher Tortoise is extremely important because over 300 species of animals depend on it’s burrow for a home.  Some share the burrow with the tortoise, some wait until the burrow is vacated to make it their home.  I also found that the female Gopher will stay on her eggs for about 100 days on a nest (in South Georgia) and that the temperature of the soil determines the sex of the babies.  If the soil temperature is over 85 degrees, all of the babies will be female- under 85 degrees ensures male tortoises will be born.

The most exciting information I discovered was that the baby tortoises stay with the mother, near the burrow, for 3-5 years which would mean that we would have baby tortoises in our yard for the next several years.  As a homeschooling mom, I thought about the amazing things we could learn over the next couple of years from these amazing reptiles.  I think I was more excited than our girls!

gopher tortoise
Mrs. Tortoise in the nesting position.

I made up my mind to start tracking the tortoise’s movement.  I walked outside daily to check the progress made by Mrs. Tortoise.  Last week, while Jacy and I were checking on Mrs. Tortoise, we realized she had moved into the “nesting” position and seemed to be laying on her eggs.  We ran inside, charting her movements in my homeschooling planner (the only thing I look at daily).  We were so excited to start the countdown until the day we could expect 6-10 little tortoises in our yard.

Today we went out to check on Mrs. Tortoise and see if she needed some food, and to our dismay, she was gone.  She left us, and her new home, most likely to find a suitable place to raise her babies where there weren’t prying eyes.  (Sometimes as humans, we get so interested in our own wants and needs that we don’t even consider the needs of others.)

We checked for Mrs. Tortoise everywhere and still can’t find her.  While we’re disappointed, we hope she’s able to find a home suitable for raising her babies.  Jacy and I hope she’ll bring them back for a visit.

The information I found on Gopher Tortoises can be found at the Gopher Tortoise Council website.

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