Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Turtles: Land Turtles
Florida Box TurtleFlorida Box Turtle- The Florida Box Turtle is an attractive turtle that has been used a a children's pet. It spends most of its time wandering through woods, fields, and gardens, but it will occasionally soak itself in water. A small to medium sized turtle, the Florida Box Turtle is one of the well known subspecies of eastern box turtle. In both appearance and color it is unlike its northern cousin the Eastern Box Turtle. It can be quickly identified by the almost black background to its elongated shell with the back of the shell flaring out. Box turtles have a highly domed carapace (upper shell) and a hinged plastron (bottom shell) that can be completely shut to keep out predators. These characteristics contribute to this turtle's descriptive name, 'box turtle'. The Florida Box Turtle feeds on different types of invertebrates, insects and plant matter. This species of box turtle seems to be very carnivorous even as adults. Males are slightly larger on average than females, the posterior lobe of their plastron is concave, and the claws on their hind legs are short, thick, and curved. Males also have thicker and longer tails. Females' rear claws are longer, straighter, and more slender, and the posterior lobe of their plastron is flat or slightly convex. Males have red irises and females have yellowish-brown irises.

Florida Gulf Coast Box TurtleGulf Coast Box Turtle- The Gulf Coast box turtle is larger than other box turtles, and can reach up to 7 inches in length. They have a domed carapace (shell) that is usually dark brown or black, with few markings (radiating yellow markings may be found on juveniles, but these often disappear in adults). The marginal scutes are often flared. The plastron is usually dark. The skin is brown, but the males may have brighter or white markings on neck and forelegs. This turtle is usually seen in moist woods, often near streams. Because they are often seen when crossing roads, it may appear that the turtle is a great wanderer, but in reality the Gulf Coast Box turtle spends most of its life within the confines of an area no larger than a football field. Female box turtles have the unique ability to store sperm and fertilize their eggs whenever they choose to lay them, up to six years after a single mating.

The endangered Florida Gopher TurtleGopher Tortoise- The loveable, slow-moving Gopher Tortoise is famous for digging underground burrows 10 to 35 feet long with "bedrooms" at the ends. The burrows are found in sandy well drained areas through out Florida. In good weather, the tortoise emerges from its burrow to browse on low-growing vegetation, including leaves, grass and wild fruits. Over seventy other kinds of animals have been found using the state protected Gopher Tortoise burrows in various ways. These include burrowing owls, raccoons, opossums, gopher frogs, spiders, insects, cotton rats, indigo snakes, and rattlesnakes.

When picked up the Gopher tortoise immediately pulls in his head into his shell and covers most of his face with his front legs. These front legs are large, flat and heavily scaled on their exposed surfaces, making identification easy. The name gopher tortoise is a reference to the pocket gopher, a small mammal which also creates lengthy burrows. Gophers, as they are often called are one of the original inhabitants of the coastal dunes along Florida's beaches. The Gopher Tortoise never stops excavating, and usually brings up some dirt every time it emerges from its burrow. The gopher uses his specially adapted feet to make the sand really fly when digging.

The gopher tortoise grows on average to be about slightly less than one foot long and weighs about 29 pounds, though they have been found to be as big as 16 inches. The gopher tortoise is a rather plain looking turtle as far as colors go. They are either a dark tan, or gray. Their front legs are broad and flat, almost like a shovel. Their back legs look just like an elephant's legs. The top part of their shell is fairly flat, The adult gopher tortoise is a rather drab looking animal, which is in stark contrast for the brightly colored hatchlings. Gopher tortoises live upwards of 100 years.

The gopher tortoise reaches sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years of age, when their shells are about 9 inches long. The gopher tortoise has an elaborate courtship that begins in the spring. They will nest between April and July. Typically, the nests are dug very close to their burrow openings, where a clutch of 4-7 eggs are laid. After about 80 - 90 days, the young hatch and will often spend the first winter in their mother's burrow. The gopher tortoise egg's are round and about the size of a ping pong ball, they incubate for about 80 - 90 days, The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature of the sand or dirt where the nest is incubating, if the temperature is above 30 C (85 F), the tortoises hatchling will be females. Temperatures below 30 C produce males. Hatchlings are 1 - 2 inches long and grow about 3/4 inch a year.
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