Sunday, October 24, 2021

Gopher Tortoise Day Recognizes Marco’s Oldest Residents

The City of Marco Island, through an official Proclamation by the City Council, proclaimed April 10, 2018 as “Gopher Tortoise Day.”

Gopher tortoises are Florida’s only native tortoises. Three cheers for this gentle, prehistoric Marco resident!

The Proclamation memorializes the City’s commitment to the protection of its threatened wildlife. But the Proclamation is not just a symbolic gesture – gopher tortoises need our help and protection. At the April 2nd City Council meeting, the Councilors voted 7-0 to update its Ordinance on Protected Species (which was signed in 2001).

The City of Marco Island proclaimed April 10, 2018 as “Gopher Tortoise Day.” (Photo by Steve Stefanides)

Gopher tortoises (Gopherus Polyphemus) have been living on the earth for 500,000 to two million years, and are the oldest residents of Marco Island. They are listed as a state Threatened Species due to many factors – such as habitat loss, death from vehicular strikes, poaching and use of pesticides.

The gopher tortoise is a very generous landlord; its burrow is home to some 350 animals that depend on the burrow for protection, such as the threatened eastern indigo snake, Florida mouse, gopher frog, and even the burrowing owl.

In Marco Island, you will find the gopher tortoises from midday to late afternoon, leaving their underground burrows in search of spring greenery to eat and, in many cases, to seek out a mate and to warm up.

If you see one trying to cross the road, you may be able to help get it out of harm’s way. If it’s safe for you to do so, pick up the tortoise and place it on the roadside in the direction it was heading. Don’t put this terrestrial animal in the water – they cannot swim! When Sandy Engel of Copeland Drive is driving down S. Barfield, she makes it a point to help the slow moving tortoise “cross the street” safely.

The City of Marco Island is very protective of gopher tortoises. They require a protective zone around their burrows during construction. This consists of silt fencing of at least 25 feet around each burrow.

Cool Facts About the Gopher Tortoise

  • Gopher tortoise are so named for the ability to dig large, deep burrows.
  • They have specialized shovel-like front legs and their backs are strong and sturdy.
  • They have a distinctive half-moon shaped burrow entrance; the larger the burrow, the larger the gopher tortoise.

How can you help?

Download FWC’s gopher tortoise smartphone app – go to You can take a picture and record locations with its GPS coordinates. This will help FWC get a better estimate of their population.

It is against the law to kill, harass or destroy gopher tortoises, their burrows or eggs. If you suspect illegal activity, you can report it anonymously to FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922, calling #FWC or *FWC on your cell phone, or texting

Gopher Tortoises are named for their ability to dig large, deep burrows with specialized shovel-like front legs and a strong and sturdy back. (Photos by Maria Lamb)

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