The Gopher tortoise’s upper shell is brown or tan, with growth rings evident on younger individuals. The under shell is unhinged, dull yellowish in color, with the soft parts grayish brown. The upper shell can range in length from 107 to 240 mm. Compared to the other species in its genus, the gopher tortoise's head is broad, hind feet small, and shell elongate.
It is an herbivore that enjoys low vegetation. The gopher tortoise spends most of its foraging time grazing in areas with a good supply of grasses and low herbs. Its food primarily consists of grasses and leaves with occasional wild fruits and berries.
The life of a gopher tortoise revolves around a tunnel-like burrow that is excavated using its shovel-like front feet. Burrows can be up to 12 meters in length and 3 meters in depth. Each burrow has a single opening and the width of the burrow is approximately equal to the length of the tortoise.
Tortoise burrows also afford refuge to other animals including the indigo snake, pine snake, gopher frog, Florida mouse, opossum, armadillo, burrowing owl, gopher cricket, scarab beetles, and many others. Some, such as the Florida mouse, cannot exist without the tortoise burrow.