Springtime in Florida means the sight of gopher tortoises strolling across a road or through a backyard or field. They leave their burrows in search of green plants to eat and a tortoise to become their mate. From now through May, females will be laying eggs the size of ping-pong balls in the sandy apron outside their burrows. This activity, however, makes them vulnerable to being struck by vehicles and injured or killed.
Now, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has launched a new smartphone app to report to the FWC when and where they spot gopher tortoises. Available for iPhone and Android, the free “Florida Gopher Tortoise” app allows citizen scientists to take a photograph of a tortoise or its burrow and send the photo and its GPS coordinates automatically to the FWC.
App-generated data collected by citizen scientists will help guide conservation of this threatened species. Biological information and a quiz testing the user’s knowledge of the only tortoise east of the Mississippi River also are included in the app.
FWC encourages drivers to slow down on highways to help protect the state’s gopher tortoises. If a gopher tortoise is crossing the road, it is okay to pick it up and move it to safety, but keep it pointed in the direction it was heading. Do not put this terrestrial animal into the water.
The FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Management Plan spells out goals and actions to protect the tortoises, their burrows sheltering hundreds of other species and their habitat. Prescribed burning is critical to maintaining the sandy, open fields and forests, and the growth of soft-stemmed plants that tortoises need to survive. To access the management plan, go to MyFWC.com/Wildlife and select “Managed Species.”
People can report injured or dead gopher tortoises to the FWC by calling 850-921-1030 during weekdays or by contacting the Wildlife Alert hotline at 888-404-3922. Harming a gopher tortoise, its burrows or eggs is against the law.
For “A guide to living with gopher tortoises,” go to MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise and click on “Education Corner.” To find “Safe roads for people and gopher tortoises,” go to MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise and select: “How you can help.”