Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner

Nothing Finer than Living in North Caroliner
Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains

Friday, July 1, 2011

Day 169 - Tortoise Turds and Gopher Crossings

A coworker of mine had built a house near the ocean of all recycled products from the local Goodwill, Habitat for Humanity and Salvation Army stores.  It was a "beach outdoorsy" theme so eccentric, rustic and beachy was pretty easy to accommodate.  Every weekend he and his wife drove to the house and continued to build the entire frame, electrical wiring, plumbing and even making their own furniture.  When we arrived, Larry explained that the only thing that wasn't made by he and his wife was the stone fireplace that reached from the floor to the ceiling.

He had a fox that would come on his back porch as if he was the pet.  The house was built with large windows so that it was one with nature.  He insisted driving the three hours one way every weekend to the house because if he didn't feed the catfish in the front pond they would die. He let me use his four wheel ATV and he showed me how to use it with a quick tutorial and off I went. I  drove up into the old sand dunes and road for about a mile.  As I adjusted to the bike, I came upon a turtle.  It was HUGE!  I thought I'd bring it back to Larry's so that he could add this to his catfish pond.  I lifted this thing up and rode with him on his back in my left hand and me trying to drive the ATV over bumpy dirt roads with my right hand.  The turtle was so scared he shit himself and I was trying to dodge turtle turds as I drove.  He weighed about twenty pounds and he kept peaking its head out as I tried to hurry to get back to Larry's pond without dropping him.

As I stopped, I got to the edge of the pond and Steve came running and yelled, "NOOOOOO, don't put it in the pond!" I was baffled.  Didn't all turtles love water?  As he ran toward me in a mad dash, I understood that I hadn't done something right.  He said, "That isn't a turtle, that is a tortoise.  A gopher tortoise!"  He would drowned in the water.  Phhhewww. Here I had all the best intentions and I could have killed the poor thing.  The gopher tortoise is a protected threatened species here in Florida and builders hate it because they can't build if a Gopher Tortoise has a hole/home on that part of the land to which they want to build.

Burrow Opening
They are twenty-nine average pounds and are solitary creatures that can have up to 35 different burrows.  Each burrow is its own microclimate.  The only time they get together is during mating season. Even baby tortoises start digging their own burrows within a month of being hatched. The most amazing thing about these creatures is that they have an unusually keen sense of smoke.  With all the recent fires, they picked up the smoke and burrowed deep down in the earth and actually outlasted the fires.  Their burrows are ten feet deep and about forty feet long. They are amazing creatures.  They also never  know who is going to be in their burrow for company on any given night.  Many other animals get into their holes when they are out roaming around for food.  We discovered last year that we have a Threatened Gopher Tortoise that crosses the road everyday.  We called the city and asked them if they could put up signs for the drivers in our area to watch for the turtle.  The gentleman for the city, said sure and delivered.  Although the turtle on the sign is actually a sea turtle, the same message gets across. Caution, please slow down so you don't run over the turtle.

Tortoise Crossing
Whenever Steve or I see a turtle/tortoise crossing the middle of the road on a busy street, we stop and get out and move the turtle to the side to which he is going.  It is the right thing to do and unfortunately if we didn't do this many of them would be killed because they are so slow and small.  Sometimes we come upon a dead tortoise and realize we are too late.  They can live up to sixty years, that is longer than some men.  We are thankful to Russell who painted the sign and put them up who works at the City of Palm Coast. We are thankful to Mike, his supervisor who listened to my concern for this sign and acted upon our concern.  Russell, Thank you again, you made a difference! We hope we've done our part so that the sign will allow our tortoise neighbor to last as long as he is supposed to.

The Gopher Tortoise: A Species in Decline

"...Everything affecting the gopher tortoise's habitat affects the tortoise and ... eventually affects all other organisms in its ecosystem. Efforts to save the gopher tortoise are really a manifestation of our desire to preserve intact, significant pieces of the biosphere.
...We must preserve...the gopher tortoise and other species in similar predicaments, for if we do not, we lose a part of our humanity, a part of our habitat, and ultimately our world."
--Dr. George W. Folkerts, Department of Zoology, Auburn University, Alabama

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