Nature is full of strange and unusual critters and as we have learned before, some of their habits are even stranger. One of the quietest and most harmless of these critters is the gopher tortoise. Compared to the giant Galapagos Island tortoise the Gopher tortoise is a small reptile. The average size is about ten to twelve inches long and six or eight inches wide. There are about three or four species here in the United States. I don’t know of any here in Tennessee but they do inhabit lower Georgia and Florida and around the Gulf Coast region. They dig a burrow just a little bigger than the diameter of their own shell and about eight to twelve feet deep. The burrow angles down at approximately thirty-degrees. At the bottom of this hole they round out a good size area big enough to be able to turn around and even share space with their young. The dirt is pushed to the top and spread around the opening to help keep rains from flooding their den. These tortoises like it dark and humid and it keeps them from needing water as often as other animals. Most of their water comes from the leaves they eat. Like their cousins the Box Turtles, they do like a good rain bath and a good long drink from a rain puddle when available.
About nine or ten o’clock every morning they come out of their hole to eat, except in the winter when they are almost totally inactive. The diet is very simple and consists mostly of new grass sprouts, small flowers and tender leafy greens. They feed for only about an hour or two before it gets to hot and then return to their cool den under ground. There they sleep away the day until late afternoon when sometimes they will come out for a short period to snack before bedtime.
At about the same time they are coming out to eat in the morning their buddies, the snakes, are coming in from the night’s hunt. The snakes, especially the rattlesnakes, need a place to hide and keep cool for a day or two. This gopher burrow is the perfect spot. They share this den all day long until the snake leaves to hunt and feed at night. Rattlesnakes live very peaceably with the tortoise and rarely if ever strikes at him. It wouldn’t do much good since his fangs couldn’t penetrate the tortoise shell very easily. .
Some studies done by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources have found that over sixty species of other wildlife often depend on these gopher tortoise holes for their existence. These dens are home for insects, small mammals, some amphibians and other reptiles. If it weren’t for these tortoise burrows the Gopher Frog probably would have no home at all. The ole tortoise never planned on all these dependents but as Mother Nature usually does, she has a plan. As my Dad would say, it’s all a part of the web of life. That tortoise and the rattlesnake live side by side, day after day, and co-exist peaceably for years. The tortoise feels no danger and sleeps all day long with a rattlesnake is his bed. The rattlesnake is cool and calm with no threat from the tortoise.
Christians show how happy they are by the smiles on their faces. When we share even in the smallest ways we are happy. I remember a song my kids used to sing; Happiness is to know the Savior, living a life within His favor---. Our Savior spent His entire life giving and sharing with others. Hopefully we will never share our home with a rattlesnake but we can share a smile or a helping hand to our neighbor. May your creator guide you as you share your faith and happiness each day.
- Uncle Burney
("McDonald Manna" April, 2007)