Monday, August 01, 2005
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 gophers...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 ...it 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...?
Posted by R.Powers at 10:30 AM