GREAT FALLS — Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is temporarily the custodian of something rarely seen in the Treasure State: a gopher tortoise.
FWP Region 4 in Great Falls said on Monday that someone dropped off the tortoise at their office near Giant Springs State Park.
FWP plans to ship the tortoise to a wildlife refuge in Florida, where it will be used for breeding.
Gopher tortoises are not native to Montana; their normal range is limited to Florida and southern areas of neighboring states.
The US Fish & Wildlife Service website states:
Gopher tortoises are dry-land turtles that usually live in relatively well-drained, sandy soils generally associated with longleaf pine and dry oak sandhills. They also live in scrub, dry hammock, pine flatwoods, dry prairie, coastal grasslands and dunes, mixed hardwood-pine communities, and a variety of habitats that have been disturbed or altered by man, such as power line rights-of-way, and along roadsides.
The website notes: "With their strong elephant-like back legs and front feet specialized for digging, they are well-adapted to burrowing. The burrows can vary from three to 52 feet long and nine to 23 feet deep. Their burrows also provide refuge for about 360 other species throughout its range."
There is no word yet on the circumstances surrounding the tortoise's presence in Montana.
According to the Montana Field Guide, there are no tortoise species native to Montana, and only three types of turtles that are native to Montana: pond turtles, snapping turtles, and softshell turtles.
We have a reporter working to get more information about this tortoise.