Saturday, September 26, 2009

Turtle Happy On Sanibel

We've had pretty heavy rain at the eastern end of the island, for the last few evenings. It was sunny all day today with the high temperature reaching 90. The low last night was 76.

This evening there were no threatening clouds around, so it seemed a great time to head over to the beach. As I walked out to leave, I saw a beautiful hawk sitting on the deck railing. It sat up there looking down at me until I got the camera out and then it turned it's head. :-) Anywhere you look on this island, you can see wildlife.

When I walked out onto the beach, the first thing I noticed was the waves bringing in some shells.

There was hardly anyone on the beach.

I really didn't see any shells I wanted, but it was fun just looking at them.

It's nice to see how much the beach morning glory vines have grown. They not only provide colorful blossoms in the mornings, they also help keep the beach from eroding.

Resident access #5 is one of my favorites. I think walking the path out through the seagrapes is neat.

On the way back from the beach, on Casa Ybel Rd, I saw a huge land turtle walking beside the bike path. We had to stop, then walked back to get a closer look at it.
It was a gopher tortoise, the biggest land turtle I've ever seen. WOW!! Yes, 'Turtle Happy', that's me!

I've read that the gopher tortoise grows on average to be slightly less than one foot long and weighs about 29 pounds, though they have been found to be as big as 16 inches. This one had to be at least 16 inches. I'm sure it was well over a foot long.

This is one of the few tortoises that make large burrows, and there was an opening in the ground that was big enough for this turtle. When it saw us, it turned and started to move away, going under some vegetation. When I stood completely still, it came back out and walked right up to me, stood there looking at me for a minute and then turned and walked over to start eating some grass. I had heard that they graze on vegetation just like cows, but I was surprised to see it. This is one reason they are important to nature, they spread seeds.

They have front legs that are wide and flat,look like shovels or flippers and their back legs are shaped more like an elephants hind legs. The gopher tortoise reaches sexual maturity between 12 and 15 years of age, when their shells are about 9 inches long. So that means that this tortoise has been around for a long time.

There are a couple of things about the gopher tortoise that reminds me of the sea turtles. Their eggs are about the size of a ping pong ball, they incubate for about 80 to 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 85° F, the tortoises hatchling will be females. Lower temperatures produce males. They nest between April and July, with the nests dug very close to their burrow openings, where usually 4 to 7 eggs are laid. Hatchlings are 1 to 2 inches long and grow about 3/4 inch a year. The young hatchlings often spend the first winter in their mother's burrow. The burrow that is dug by the gopher tortoise, is it's home, and vary in length from 6 to 30 feet, some are even longer. Depths are usually 3 to 20 feet. The burrows vary in shape, most are straight or have a slight curve.

Florida gopher tortoises are on the Endangered Species List, as a Threatened Species, because their current numbers are dropping, mostly due to loss of habitat. That must be why this turtle seemed so comfortable here on Sanibel Island, where it is well protected. know who's going to be watching for the little gopher tortoise babies. :-) What an exciting end to a Sanibel Saturday!

Best viewed in HD on YouTube by clicking on the screen below.


Alan said...

Thanks for sharing the information about the Gopher turtle. Didn't know they were on the endangered species list. I didn't know they grew to be the large. Wow!

Caroline said...

We stopped traffic and helped a gopher tortoise off the road and on his way (following recommended guidelines) on our last trip to Sanibel. He was headed across San-Cap west of the elementary school. It was a highlight of the trip, among many other wildlife sightings for us.

Snowbird said...

Gorgeous coloring on your Gopher Tortoise. We've had some pretty big ones out at "that place" but usually their shells are darker. This guy's coloring looked a lot like the babies look-that light tan color. I love the Gophers. They are so gentle. We graze them everyday out there. Yup, graze! Some of them just sit and bask for an hour while others want to walk and walk stopping to eat once in awhile. They also LOVE red hybiscus flowers. They think it is probably the color that attracts them. I take flowers out every once in awhile when I remember to.

ChrisC and JonJ said...

We have them in our yard.I try to be patient with them but when they start dgging things up....Grrr...........

gpc said...

What a great sighting! The only one I've ever seen was a small one standing at the "gopher turtle crossing" sign at ding darling, but she was not willing to make nice! You are the turtle magnet -- they can probably sense that you are their friend :)