Many, O LORD my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered.
He looks slow and unimportant. He spends 90 percent of his time underground. But the gopher tortoise constructs a housing development that is home to over 360 species. In addition, his tunnels provide emergency shelter to many other creatures during forest fires.
Gopher tortoise burrows are often 30 feet long and may extend to a depth of 15 feet. The record length of a tunnel is nearly 50 feet. One tortoise may dig or enlarge many tunnels over its 60-year lifetime. Obviously, the tortoise is well-designed for digging, with spade-like front legs. The tortoise is a vegetarian. It is found in temperate climates, so its burrow serves to protect it from winter temperatures that are dangerous to reptiles. In addition, the tortoise has a large urinary bladder touching the back of its shell that acts as a hot-water bottle. The tortoise heats the water by aiming its back at the sun.
Because the tortoise can weigh over 10 pounds, its tunnels are large enough to accommodate many creatures. The Florida mouse will dig several tunnels off the main tunnel that it calls home. Insects, lizards, snakes, alligators, bobcats, and even wild turkeys, burrowing owls, wrens and robins use the burrow for shelter or to look for food. Abandoned burrows may be used by foxes, skunks and other mammals for dens.
The gopher tortoise, now endangered, has been designed by the Creator to make the forest community richer and more diverse.
Father in heaven, I ask that you would move those who can do something for the gopher tortoise to take reasonable steps to preserve this wonderful creature in forested areas. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Burke, Russell L. 1992. “Multiple Occupancy.” Natural History, June, p. 9. Photo: Gopher tortoise hatchling. Courtesy of Steve Beger. (CC BY-SA 2.0)