Ecology of juvenile gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) on a Georgia barrier island
Harris, Bess Brown
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Little is known about the ecology of the juvenile age class of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), limiting our ability to manage the species. I evaluated the overwintering timing, temperatures, and winter activity of juvenile gopher tortoises. I also compared the juvenile growth rates of gopher tortoises at St. Catherines Island to the growth rates reported at other study sites throughout the gopher tortoise range. My results found that the timing and duration of overwintering in juvenile gopher tortoises appear to be similar to that of their adult counterparts; however, juveniles are more active than adults throughout the winter. On average juveniles emerged during the winter at ≥21ºC ambient temperatures (the minimum activity temperature observed in adults) but were also beginning activity at temperatures as low as 15.8 ºC. I also found that the St. Catherines Island juvenile tortoises exhibited the highest growth rates reported for any study sites.