Today is WORLD TURTLE DAY! Another awesome benefit to following my blog, as if you needed another... is you will never miss another World Turtle Day! Many of you have no doubt suffered this embarrassment in the past... all caught up in yourself then "bam!" you miss one of the most important days of the year!
The purpose of World Turtle Day is not just to party like its 1999... or party like we are between pandemic waves! No... its to bring attention to turtles and tortoises, and encourage human action to help them survive and thrive.
Here at Barlow woods our flagship animal is my favorite keystone species the gopher tortoise! Keystone species play a vital role in the ecosystem... because so many other animals depend upon them. If you pull out the keystone... the entire system collapses. The gopher tortoise earns its keystone status due to its amazing ability to dig subterranean burrows. These large burrows provide shelter for over 360 other animal species! Animals who themselves can't dig or create a burrow. Florida is one of the last strongholds for the gopher tortoise but it loses habitat everyday here to development. Along with development the addition of the new roadways is particularly problematic for the tortoise as they are not well adapted at playing "frogger" in traffic nor do they do well digging through cement or asphalt!
Growing up in Barlow Woods I was blessed to learn about the gopher tortoise at an early age. I learned the location of every burrow on the homestead and loved every encounter I made with these ancient animals. One of my earliest memories was the siting of a majestic adult indigo snake entering a burrow. The indigo snake is another endangered species which here in north central Florida depends on the tortoise's burrow to over winter. I can remember my dad telling me "Wow check out that gopher snake!" Dad made sure we kids understood the gopher snake was a "good" snake because they eat other poisonous snakes. That indigo snake siting with my dad around 1976 was the last one I ever saw in the wild.
At our local town festival, the annual watermelon festival us kids all participated in the gopher tortoise race. We would bring our fastest tortoise to the town square to enter it into the race. There were probably 25-50 racers entered in this competition each year with the addition of creative painting on the tortoise shell being just as important for success as the animal's speed. This event was "outlawed" somewhere around 1980 I would guess, but it had a great run.
Later I was grateful to devote my Masters research at the University of Florida to the gopher tortoise. Part of this work included collecting blood from a sample of tortoises to monitor them for a new upper respiratory infection. Sort of the gopher tortoise covid! Yes they had to deal with a new respiratory disease way before we did! With this work I soon learned two things... tortoises can actually run! and drawing a blood sample from a dehydrated tortoise is like collecting water in a desert! But I was able to catch enough tortoises for my sample size... If memory serves correctly they all tested negative for the URT disease.
Now for the past 20 years I have dedicated
my free time and significant $ to restoring gopher tortoise habitat on the family homestead here at Barlow Woods. As I type I can hear the whistle of bobwhite quail and only a few days ago Sandy the dog and I watched as a gopher tortoise crossed in the small yard in front of our porch, where my work station is perched. This work would not have been possible if not for landowner assistance programs at natural resource agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service NRCS, The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, The Florida State Division of Forestry and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. I am grateful for these programs and the work I have been able to carry out, work which will provide no monetary benefit in the form of profit... but will certainly provide the profit I seek... I call this profit LEGACY.
I would write more but as you can imagine we have quite the packed schedule here at Barlow Woods for World Tortoise Day! Have a great day!