Love has been in the air at our Chickasawhay Conservation Bank in Mississippi! Tortoise love, that is. We have recently found several new burrows at our site, which indicate our resident Gopher Tortoises have been busy expanding their population at the bank.
When we established our Gopher Tortoise conservation bank back in 2009, we carefully considered all the elements that support a healthy Gopher Tortoise population. The right soils, vegetation and general ecology of an area have to be just right to make a site suitable for preserving and growing a tortoise community.
These tortoises generally breed from April to June, but some eager individuals may continue on until the late summer or fall. Females lay only one clutch per year, typically consisting of 3-15 eggs. Depending on the location, the incubation time varies from 80 to 100 days. Unfortunately, nest predation can be high, as raccoons, armadillos, foxes, skunks, and fire ants are all known to raid the eggs. Hatchlings are also quite susceptible to native predators such as red-tailed hawks, snakes, black bears, and raccoons. Gopher tortoises’ shells also don’t fully harden until they are 6-7 years of age, adding to their vulnerability.
Given all these factors, we are genuinely excited to see new sub-adult burrows appearing at Chickasawhay. It means the little ones have beaten the odds and made it far enough to make their own spaces at the bank. And it means we have done the best we can to provide suitable habitat to help grow the Gopher Tortoise population in the Southeast. Rewarding, isn’t it?