If you love turtles, you should know something about the gopher turtle. Although it is often called a turtle, it is strictly really a tortoise. This means it lives mainly on land and has feet that are not webbed. It also generally has rounder shells than other turtles.

It is important to know about gopher turtles not because they make great pets. You should know more about them because they are on the endangered list. It is therefore illegal to pick up, sell, transport or privately care for gopher tortoises. Their endangered status is significant because they are the single species of tortoises that carry the distinction of originating in the US.

If you see a gopher turtle, you should avoid touching it. If you cannot tell the difference between turtles and tortoises, you could make the mistake of returning it to the water where it could die. Touching some of these tortoises could also distress them enough to kill them slowly. If you see a stray gopher tortoise, you should make your discovery known to the proper wildlife agencies for proper action.

You would know a gopher turtle when you see one. Its size ranges from 9 to 15 inches. Unlike turtles, it has a carapace, or top shell, that curves downward. The top of the dome however is flat. Adults have brown or dark shells while younger ones may have lighter shells. Its plastron, or underside, is colored yellow.

One other distinctive feature of these tortoises is its legs. It has large back legs. Its front legs are smaller but are stubby. This makes them perfect for walking on land and for digging. Unlike other turtles, the gophers generally have a preference for plant food over animal food. They feed on a variety of leaves and weeds and sometimes on fruits too.

These tortoises can be found in Florida and other southeastern areas. They live mainly on dry sand, digging their own homes or burrows. Their preference for digging is most likely a reason for their being known as gopher turtles. Their burrows can have a tunnel of more than 10 feet long that terminates into a hollow resting area. Aside from providing shelter, these burrows also have one other important ecological function. They also serve as havens for animals when wild fires break, thus saving many of these animals from death.

From all appearances, the natural environment of gopher tortoises is unique. It is also generally more difficult to copy. This is why saving them from extinction is even more difficult. This is also why you shouldn’t attempt saving gopher tortoises on your own even if the law allowed it. Legal conservation agencies would know better how to replicate the natural habitat of these turtles.

The legal and expert care of these tortoises present other challenges. Gopher tortoises are prone to respiratory tract infections as well as bone or scute problems.

Help save a gopher turtle when you can. If you are not very sure if you are face to face with a gopher tortoise or some other species of turtle, contact the authorities. Do not touch stray turtles unless you are absolutely sure that they aren’t of the gopher species.

Turtle Tanks Tip #1

Remember that turtles are not all alike. Each different species and sub species require different housing, feeding and water needs. Only after you have properly identified your turtle can you create the perfect environment for raising it. Therefore, your first concern should be to clearly identify what species your pet turtle is.

Turtle Tanks Tip #2

Aquatic turtles should be kept in aquariums that have fairly deep water, a basking area, and heat and light sources. Turtles that are mostly terrestrial still need to have some water but should not be kept in aquariums. They will be happier in wide wooden or plastic enclosures that contain the right substrate and a wading dish.

Turtle Tanks Tip #3

Be sure to wash and sterilize anything you pick up from the yard before placing it in the turtle tank. Don’t add any decorations in the tank that are sharp, pointed, or small enough that your turtle could potentially swallow them.