Monday, August 01, 2005

Living With Gophers...Ice Age Leftovers.

The last ice age left a neat creature on my property. One of the side effects of an "ice age" is a great lowering of sea levels as oceanic water is converted into glacial ice. The effect up north is ...well, everything gets plowed under by vast sheets of ice.

The effect down south is a change from our warm humid climate to a cooler more arid environment. Another side effect is expansion of available land as the shallow Gulf coast becomes exposed by falling sea levels. Florida more than doubles in size (SWEET!) during these cycles. Parts of the Gulf Coast and much of Florida became near desertlike during the last ice age. Animals and plants who were best adapted thrived while others moved on or perished. In Florida, we call these ice age remnant habitats SCRUB. We have a scrub jay which is found in a few scrub areas in Florida and then you don't find them again until about Texas or so. Our gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is very similar to the desert tortoise(Gopherus agassizii) of the arid west also.

Somehow, the gopher tortoise...from now on referred to as gophers, managed to hang on and survive in post ice age Florida. They actually prospered on the sandy hills away from soggy wetlands and were an important food source to humans for a very long time. The gophers were "fished" from their burrows using long poles with a hook at the end to snag the shell and pull the gopher out. It really was a staple and gopher stew was a required dish at cookouts when I was a boy. Then Florida grew and cookie cutter houses on tiny lots went up on those same sand hills where gophers had lived. The gopher population dropped and they were finally listed as a protected species by the state of Florida.

Now if I pick one up to help it off the road, I am breaking the law. The laws to protect gophers sometimes backfire on the poor critters in another way. Gopher colonies have been known to ..."disappear" from an area just before development occurs. No expensive gopher mitigation or transplant requirements. Such a shame when gophers don't seem to need a huge territory to be successful.

But I digress... this post is supposed to be about living with gophers. We have 6 or 7 active gopher burrows on our property. In general, if it weren't for the burrow openings and the occasional encounter, you would not know they were here. They are herbivores and seem to really appreciate the fact that I don't mow much away from the house. That leaves them a nice mix of native grasses and plants to eat.

Once while working in the garden, the big female gopher that lives behind the barn waddled over to my compost pile, dug a nest, and layed her eggs while I held my breath and my slobbering Labrador. When she finished I staked the site so it would not get tilled, and about 2 months later the gopherlings hatched out. I knew they had hatched, because the same slobbering Lab (Ranger) brought me one unharmed in his gentle Lab mouth.

The point is, gophers are very easy to live with and we get along just fine.I suppose horse owners would be concerned about any burrowing animal causing their horse to break a leg, but we are not cursed with horses. The gopher burrows are used by a whole host of animals that cohabit with the gopher, or use the abandoned older burrows. Some of these gopher dependents have also become rarer as the gopher population has dropped. The gopher frog and the incredible indigo snake are a few of these.

As an ice age leftover, gophers are pretty mild could have been worse. There was an 12 foot tall Terror Bird that lived here during the last ice age.

What would the developers do then...?

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rick said...

Seeing this picture made me want a bowl of gopher stew oops can't do that anymore.Turtle eggin is gone also.But I do support the ban on both practices.But also glad I had a chance to do both before we learned it wasn't a good thing.I see 20 or more gophers a day along the railroad tracks and Im sure those numbers would be much lower if it wasnt prohibited.

Floridacracker said...

We Minorcans have to control our urges in the new Florida.

kevin said...

I've seen FHP cars on I-95 guarding gophers as they crossed the road. I'm not sure if that's the best use of my tax money, but the FHP officer could be giving me a ticket instead so good for the turtle.

When I was a kid, we had a gopher that lived in our yard that was big enough to ride. Seriously, I could stand on it's back and it would carry me. I doubt I could find one that could carry me now.

I do miss gopher stew, though.

Hick said...

I dunno, guys. Turtle stew just doesn't seem right.

Turtles fall into Hick's DO NOT EAT CAUSE IT LOOKS LIKE IT TASTES BAD category. Turtles are safe around me.

By the way, the web page on the turtles but it doesn't answer my question as to how those animals are able to cohabitate...unless I'm missing something.

Floridacracker said...

You have to forgive Kevin and Rick, they are Minorcans like me and eating Florida critters has been passed down to us through our families for centuries...literally. We mostly behave now.

kevin said...


It's gopher stew, not turtle stew. You probably wouldn't be able to tell it from beef stew. Butchering them is a different process, though.

As far as the cohabitation thing works, the gopher digs the hole and everything else just stumbles across a place to live. As long the animals living together aren't normally on each others things to eat list, they get along. The holes can be pretty deep, way longer than arms length. So there is plenty of room.

Hick said...

Oh...okay, then. Gopher stew I can handle. I got all confused with the gophers and the gopher turtles and the turtles and all that other confusing stuff. Plus, I was probably still scared from hearing about swimming with sharks. That just threw me into a tizzy.

Thanks for clearing up the cohabitation stuff. I'm very literal...which annoys the heck out of my family.

kevin said...


To confuse this a little more, I'm talking about gopher tortoise stew. Not the gophers that are mammals. I don't think we have the rodent kind in Florida, at least I haven't seen them.

Floridacracker said...

I have both of the gophers on my property. The mammal is called a pocket gopher, BUT down here, they are also called Salamanders which is a corruption of the name "Sandy Mounders". (Say sandy mounders a few times and you can see how it might happen.)
So now you have two different animals with the same common name, plus one of them is often called salamander which of course is a totally different type of critter.
WHEW! Does anyone still not see why we need those nerdy scientific names. They really serve a purpose.

kevin said...

I did not know there was the "other" type of gopher in Florida. I've never seen one, or if I did, didn't know what I was seeing. And I always thought salamanders are lizards.

Rurality said...

Hey don't talk about ice ages when I've just watched "The Day After Tomorrow"! I think y'all were all under water in that movie. :)

Hey FC you need an email link on your blog. Or am I just missing it?

Was going to email you privately with a more thorough pond answer. :)

Floridacracker said...

Hey Rurality,
I love those global change disaster movies.
As for my email link,It's buried in my profile:
Take care.