At Home with the Gopher Tortoise: The Story of a Keystone Species

From owls to rabbits to skunks, many animals depend upon gopher tortoise burrows for shelter, food, or a place to raise young.

Author: Madeleine Dunphy
Illustrator: Michael Rothman
Format: Paperback
Pages: 32
Ages: 5-9
Grade Levels: K-4
Lexile: 1070L
Paperback ISBN: 978-0977753956
Price: $11.95
Where to Purchase:

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“Educational without being didactic, this picture book is an engaging introduction to the concept of a keystone species—an animal on which many other species depend. Rothmans’s eye-catching, full-bleed acrylic paintings depict a wide variety of creatures utilizing the gopher tortoise’s burrow. Almost every spread features a beautifully illustrated example of yet another animal, bird, or insect—from skunks to owls to scorpions—that relies on the gopher tortoise’s burrow for shelter, nesting, and protection from predators. Dunphy’s clear text adds additional interesting details (“The loose soil created by the tortoise’s digging is perfect for growing plants”). With a map showing the tortoise’s range of habitat in the southeastern United States and an end not relating that the animal is a threatened species, this attractive book effectively demonstrates the interdependent nature of the animal world.” —Booklist Reviews

At Home With the Gopher Tortoise: The Story of a Keystone Species is an illustrated nature/conservation book for children featuring a unique “keystone” species. With 360 different species of animals dependent on it for survival, the gopher tortoise presents a fascinating study of ecological interdependency. Because the gopher tortoise digs burrows for its dens in parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, and other Southeastern states of the US, many other species including skunks, birds, frogs, mice and snakes depend on the burrows for their own protection and survival of their young. Even burrowing owls use the gopher tortoise’s burrows to shelter their fledgling owlets. Other insects use the burrows and other birds eat the insects that thrive in the burrows, completing yet more circles of interdependency. Even a bobcat may use a large burrow to hide and cool itself, while birds such as bobwhites, rabbits and lizards also find refuge in the burrows. In the soil loosened by the gopher tortoise’s digging grow plants such as the scrub mint which provides a pleasant fragrance. In this way the life activities of the gopher tortoise provide protective, favorable habitat for a whole spectrum of living creatures who depend upon the continued survival of the gopher tortoise species for survival. At Home with the Gopher Tortoise: The Story of a Keystone Species shows how one humble species can be at the center of a vast web of creatures’ lives. The beautiful detailed illustrations show many of the different animals in their natural settings, enhancing appeal to an audience of children ages 5-9.”  —Midwest Book Reviews

 “This book gives a simple yet in-depth look at the importance of an unassuming and often overlooked animal.  Surprisingly, the gopher tortoise significantly affects more than 360 different kinds of animals that depend upon its burrows for shelter, food, or a place to raise young.  This is a fascinating look at how one species can affect the fate of many.” —Science & Children

Click to download “Gopher Tortoise Web of Life Activity.” Enact the gopher tortoise burrow ecosystem by passing a ball of yarn to and from each other to represent the relationships between the animals and plants in At Home with the Gopher Tortoise.

Click to view educational standards and leveling information.

Click to download “Put the Animals Back in their Home” activity. Cut out the animals and then place them in the gopher tortoise burrow


Madeleine Dunphy

Madeleine Dunphy has studied and visited many of the world’s ecosystems, and was inspired to write books about our world’s great diversity of life. Her books have been published by Hyperion Books for Children, Millbrook Press, and her own publishing company, Web of Life Children’s Books—a publishing company devoted to publishing picture books about the environment. Madeleine is also a teacher, activist and mother. She lives in Oakland, California. For more information about Madeleine, her books, and her school presentations visit


Michael Rothman

Michael Rothman is a noted natural science illustrator whose work has appeared in the science section of the New York Times, among other publications. He has illustrated many children’s books including, Inside the Amazing Amazon by Don Lessem, Jaguar in the Rain Forest by Joanne Ryder, and The Mystery of Mars by Sally Ride & Tam O’Shaughnessy.  Michael has participated in numerous research expeditions to Brazil and French Guiana with scientists from the New York Botanical Garden. He lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, with his wife, Dorothy, and their daughter, Nyanza. For more information visit

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