southeastern United States
Carapace length: 20 - 30 cm
2 - 6 kg
Unknown, population declining
Southeastern United States prefers habitats with well-drained, sandy soil, including longleaf pine forests
A born burrower. The gopher tortoise is endowed with shovel-like front feet that allow it to dig burrows up to 12 meters in length with relative ease. These underground lairs provide shelter from forest fires—but not always—waiting until the tortoise has abandoned them. In fact, these burrows are so important to the overall ecosystem that the gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species. If its habitat continues to fragment and shrink, however, its burrowing days may well be numbered.