Behavior and conspecific interactions of nesting gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus)
Document Type: Journal
Author(s): T. A. Radzio ; James A. Cox ; M. P. O'connor
Publication Year: 2017

Cataloging Information

  • Agassizii
  • Caretta caretta
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • gopher tortoise
  • Gopherus polyphemus
  • hatching success
  • home range
  • loggerhead sea turtle
  • longleaf pine
  • nesting
  • nests
  • Pinus palustris
  • predationWade Tract
  • reproduction
  • reptiles
  • southern Mississippi
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 1, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 55711
Tall Timbers Record Number: 33785
TTRS Location Status: Not in file
TTRS Call Number: Available
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Nesting behavior, including nest site selection, has important consequences for many egg-laying reptiles because it can influence egg depredation rates, embryonic development, and offspring characteristics. We investigated nesting behavior in a population of Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) inhabiting an old-growth Longleaf Pine (Pinus palustris) forest in southwest Georgia (USA) using time-lapse video cameras set to record nesting activity in front of tortoise burrows, where females often nest. Information on nesting in this species is primarily limited to frequency, seasonal timing, and location; actual nesting behavior remains incompletely described for wild individuals. Females engaged in nesting activity at their own burrows and at other burrows from 1000 to about 1800 during late May to mid June. Tortoises exhibited wide variation in nest site preparation activity, ranging from no preparation to circling and constructing a shallow depression. Nesting females faced away from burrows, braced with forelimbs, and used hindlimbs to dig nest cavities, arrange oviposited eggs, and initially cover nests. On average females spent 74 min constructing nests, but about twice as long manicuring nest sites thereafter. Manicuring females repeatedly nuzzled the ground, kicked dirt out of burrows onto nests and surrounding areas, and roughed up the soil, perhaps to assess and obscure olfactory and visual cues available to potential nest predators. Notably, on multiple occasions females abandoned nesting attempts in response to conspecifics. Additional observations of conspecific interactions at burrows, particularly aggressive mating attempts and female-female combat involving gravid individuals, further indicate that tortoises routinely interact in ways that can interfere with nesting and influence where individuals nest. © 2017. Thomas A. Radzio.

Radzio, T. A., J. A. Cox, and M. P. O'connor. 2017. Behavior and conspecific interactions of nesting gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus). Herpetological Conservation and Biology, v. 12, no. 2, p. 373-383.