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In nature's condo, gopher tortoises create homes for other critters

Gopher tortoises are homely as a prune, older than the dinosaurs and constantly in the way of developers. But they're also one of the most important animals in Florida — because of the holes they make.

They have powerful front flippers that they use to dig burrows up to 40 feet long and 18 feet deep. In a burrow the gopher can keep cool during the day and dodge predators. The burrow also provides shelter for more than 300 other species, including several frogs and snakes already on the endangered species list. Think of it as nature's condominium.

For 16 years, Florida's own wildlife agency issued permits allowing developers to build on top of an estimated 94,000 gopher tortoise burrows, suffocating the gophers and all the other animals in their burrows. In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the gopher probably deserves to be added to the endangered and threatened species list, but the agency didn't have the money to do the job.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com. Follow @CraigTimes on Twitter.

About the photos

John Pendygraft photographed these threatened animals portrait-style on a black background. He set the backdrop and the lights where the animals could become comfortable with them and then waited. Eventually they got used to the new things and wandered over

In nature's condo, gopher tortoises create homes for other critters 12/13/13 [Last modified: Saturday, December 14, 2013 5:45pm]

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