At Home with the Gopher Tortoise
The Story of a Keystone Species
Paperback, 32 pages
Web of Life Books
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This book would be doing a great service, even if it were not stunningly illustrated by Michael Rothman. But because every lavish two-spread takes you either close to, or deep inside, the ecologically essential Gopher Tortoise burrow and the many animals that make use of it, this book is all the more special.
The Gopher Tortoise, native to the Southeastern United States, is known as a Keystone Species because over 360 other species depend on its burrows for nesting, protection, and sustenance. It is now listed as Federally Threatened in Louisiana, Mississippi, and western Alabama.
I was surprised to learn what a wide variety of birds, insects and mammals is supported by the burrowing habits of the Gopher Tortoise. Creatures as diverse as the gopher cricket, mole skink, Northern Bobwhite, Red-Tailed Hawk, the Gopher Frog and even the bobcat would be adversely affected if the Gopher Tortoise became extinct.
A short essay at the end of the book summarizes the plight of the Gopher Tortoise alongside sketches of the animals that interact with the Gopher Tortoise's burrows. Here is a bit more info on the Gopher Tortoise and a nice pictorial on how the Gopher Tortoise lives. There's also helpful site for land managers, developers, and others seeking to minimize their impact on the Gopher Tortoise.
This is a beautiful book for teachers to read aloud in the classroom, or for naturalists to use in presentations to children. I hope the National Parks in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida are all aware of this very well-made and educational children's book.
Great footage of Gopher Tortoises eating in this video:
Ceci Miller is co-publisher of BooktiMookti Press, home of the Runt Farm chapter book series. She is also a children’s author, book editor, and owner of CeciBooks editorial and book publishing consultancy for authors and indie publishers. See some of her book projects here.