Thursday, July 16, 2009

Go-Fer It Baby!

Last week, I was whining about the constant rain and the porch repair job using up my "get out there" time.
How would I get any new critter photos? It was grey, and either pouring or just about to pour all day long.
When it did pause for an hour of sunshine, the nagging porch job demanded that time.

I guess I worried needlessly, because one by one, critters kept popping up around PFHQ.
I forget sometimes that I live "out there", so it's not always necessary to go somewhere else to find wildlife.
I probably have photos for 5 or 6 posts just from the photos taken while working on the porch steps.

Today's example of that is below.

This little gopher baby was spotted by a sharp-eyed user of our Mowflex while cutting the "lawn". After a week of rain, the bahia grass had shot for the sky, and since it had been "get you in trouble with the neighborhood association of lawn Nazis if you have the misfortune to live in that kind of Animal Farm neighborhood high", it was pretty prairie-like.

So there I was working and whining, when the chief mower brought me this cute little gopherling.

Here's a view of gopher earth moving equipment.
Pretty impressive stuff.
I have, in my opinion, a thriving gopher tortoise colony here at PFHQ and this little fresh baby is more evidence for that. I haven't done an accurate count lately, but burrows abound and most of PFHQ's ten square acres is the kind of broken forest with plenty of open areas that gophers prefer.

Just for you herpetologists out there ... here's a view of the baby's plastron.

And the brightly colored baby carapace, which fades to brown in the adult.
I treasure my gopher colony because they are a link to my heritage and because, thanks to exotic pet tortoises brought in from overseas, they are now threatened by a respiratory virus ... among other things.
The link to my heritage is the fact that gophers are delicious and my St. Augustine Minorcan childhood was occasionally fueled by gopher stew as it was a common food item.
You know how today you might see a notice for a Church benefit fish fry?
In my formative years, the notice would just have easily said "Gopher Stew".
They were plentiful before carpetbagger condo developers paved their habitat and could be pulled from their burrows with a cane pole that had a dull hook at the end. The hook caught the edge of the shell near a leg opening and the gopher puller ... did just that.
I could never eat one of these guys today even if it was legal. Across the state, gopher populations have declined dramatically as their preference for high, well drained soils matches the preference of subdivision developers ... plus there is that pet trade virus out there.
"My" colony is fairly isolated from areas with the virus and seem to be healthy and vigorous. They are the easiest of animals to coexist with and cause me no problems. I am careful to do the same for them. These days we need each other, in some ways obvious, and others, harder to explain.
After all, we are both relics of a different, wilder Florida.
"They're on a similar course, it's just a different source, but I'm in danger of extinction too."


Anonymous said...

FC- He looks like a grumpy old man! And no, I'm not naming names! Have fun next week with Thunder!

threecollie said...

It is nice that gophers go pher your place so the rest of us can enjoy them. What a lovely baby! I miss the wood turtles who used to be so common here. Haven't seen one in years.

Thunder Dave said...

Now you're speakin' my language...gopher stew...mmmmm!

Sayre said...

Love your baby... We have protected places around here where gopher tortoises live, but I haven't been out in a while. I don't know how they're doing virus-wise.

Miz S said...

Thanks for that great photo of a turtle I may never see in real life. I'm glad they have a little haven at PFHQ.

I see an Eastern box turtle in my yard about once a summer.And, unfortunately, I see them on the road sometimes. That doesn't usually end well.

TROLL Y2K said...

Excellent post aside from the Jimmy Buffett quote!

robin andrea said...

That's a very cute critter, fc. Interesting info on the gopher tortoise and a shame about the pet trade viruses.

Bill said...

I remember gopher stew and turtle eggs. Tastes that no one will in this state will ever have the pleasure of enjoying. Thank goodness for datil peppers, smoked mullet, Vidalia onions and Hastings taters. We still have a few pleasures left.
Thanks for sharing.


Dani said...

Sweet, beautiful gophers. I still laugh when I think of the picture of Bear with the baby in his mouth.

Sandcastle Momma said...

He's beautiful. I love how his face looks so old and wise even though he's just a babe.
I remember going into downtown Pensacola with my grandmother on Saturday mornings. People would bring the gophers they'd caught and put them in a pen and then my grandmother (and many other folks) would spend a long time picking out just the right one for Sunday dinner. Like you, I could never eat one today but I still remember how good that stew was.

S N B said...


Caroline said...

Remarkable Reptile!
We stopped traffic one afternoon our last trip to Sanibel to help an Ancient One across the busy main road near Ding Darling NWR. Following the strict guidelines about handling the tortoises, I picked him up and transported him to the other side of the road. So neat to have one in my hands, even briefly. I was amazed at how heavy he was and how warm from the sun.

Pablo said...

"ten square acres" or "ten acres square"?

Anonymous said...

When we moved here, my big meadow had active gopher holes and a complimentary population of rattlesnakes and rats. When I mowed, I would make sure as the remaining grass grew narrow to mow only one side and eventually the rats would make a run for it, followed by the rattlers.
Sad to say my gopher holes are gone, despite my best efforts and with them the rats and the rattlers. Enjoy yours while you have them. Up here in North Florida they are dying off.

JGR in Havana.

Cathy S. said...

Ah, what a cute little baby. Nice to know he's safe and sound even from the mowflex.

Deb in Florida said...

Great photos of the tortoise. Do you, by chance, have a picture of their burrow? What I have always thought were gopher tortoise burrows, a friend recently told me were some type of salamander holes/burrows. I was so disappointed! I think my friend is you have a picture?

Thank you - Deb

Floridacracker said...

He does look stern for such a youngster.

I don't think we have those this far south.

You need help ... or lunch.

I confess I don't know the status of that virus either right now.

Miz S,
Doncha love box turtles? Ours are really brightly marked.

Thanks, but don't dis Buffett and I won't make fun of your dead mask wearing horse idol.

One of those unintended consequences of the international pet trade.

True dat, but don't you mean St. Augustine Sweets? How is Kevin's JEEP runnin?

Chickens, gophers, tennis balls, balls of twine, ... the list of things in Bears mouth just goes on and on. LOL!

They were such a regular food item for so long. Thanks for that image. Very similar events in St. Aug too.

Truly they are these days!

Good job! I've assisted a few myself. I want you to know I am reading your blog, but have the hardest time leaving a comment. I am there tho!

Now their u go splitting hares ovr how I rite.

Sad that they are gone. Mine seem to benefit from benign neglect.

Cathy S,
He is for now, but we will have to keep a good eye out for him and his kin. Maybe that is why the babies are yellow! LOL!

Anonymous said...

He is so cute! I've not seen one in person (in torto?), but that face is sweet in your photo. You are lucky to live in a place with with so many delightful critters nearby.

Floridacracker said...

Deb In Florida,
Go to this post of mine to see the distinctive burrow shape of a gopher tortoise.

If your friend called it a salamander, they may be thinking of the pocket gopher, as that burrowing mammal is often called a "salamander" by old timers. In that case, "salamander" is a corruption of the old name "sandy mounder". Those gophers make a chain of sandy mounds with the dirt they excavate, but usually there is no opening and if there is, it's small and circular. You can find pics of that too on this blog if you use the search this blog feature at the top or the google search bar at the bottom of the page.
Hope you win this debate deb.

Floridacracker said...

Thanks, I do feel lucky in that respect!

Floridacracker said...

Deb In Florida,
On my screen part of that URL didn't copy so here it is again.

nfmgirl said...

I love those guys, but never seen a baby like that! Our old dog could sniff out tortoise burrows. I'd take her out and say, "Let's go sniff turtles!" She'd run off into the field and find a burrow in no time. She loved them! Koreshan state park has a lot of them.

(Hey! Today I believe I encountered two brown widows in my entrance way. I swept one out of the room, but haven't bothered the other one yet. My first widow encounters that I'm aware of.)

Bill said...

Kevin is still working on the Jeep. I have only seen it running once, right about the time you saw it last.He and Kelly went to Alaska for a cruise this week so I don't have a progress report. I'll let you know when I actually see it again. He is always picking up parts when I see him though. I'm sure it is going to be sweet when I see the finished product. I did mean St. Augustine sweets, those Vidalia people are always in my head.

Thanks for the website. I start my day with it every morning. I like it that you are home for the summer, you rarely miss a day.


Boss Gator said...

I stumbled upon your blog earlier this year and have enjoyed following it daily. I'm a fifth generation Floridian (got the family tree to prove it!), but not Minorcan. However, my cracker Grampa was a big fan of Fried Gopher...and Fried Softshell Turtle to boot. He instructed me in the cleaning process when I was a kid, but given the changes of the times that you describe, it's just not a tradition one can carry on! The memory will never die, though.

amarkonmywall said...

13 scutes- they all have 13 scutes whether they snap, burrow, or swim. But, since moving here to Florida I've become very partial to Gopher tortoises. Their 30-40 ft burrows can be host to up to 300 other species in the case of brush fires (or when it's just to darn hot down here- when isn't it?) so they are very special in that way, too. Only other animal that is as hospitable is the aardvark.

It makes me happy that they are living at PF headquarters. Your he, incidentally, appears to be a she. ;-)