Gopherus, a genus-name
authored by C.S. Rafinesque

Gopherus is the name of a genus first described in

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, "Description of two new genera of soft shell turtles of North America," Atlantic Journal and Friend of Knowledge, 1 (1832) 64-65.

Shown here is Gopherus polyphemus, with common name gopher tortoise, chosen by Rafinesque as the type for the genus Gopherus. This species was first described in 1802 by François-Marie Daudin, who gave the name polyphemus after the the legendary cave-dwelling (i.e., burrowing) cyclops, Polyphemus, of Homer's Iliad..

In his choice of the name Gopherus, which means "burrowing" (cf., the burrowing mammal, gopher), Rafinesque echoes Daudin's reference to Polyphemus, the legendary burrower.

However, the burrowing tortoises are hard shell, and so one might wonder how they came to be introduced in an article on soft shell turtles. The reason is that in prefatory material, Rafinesque, referring to his book, Analyse de la nature, Palermo, 1815, writes that he had (in 1815) "proposed to divide the Turtles" into 15 genera, the third of which, in a list, he named Gopherus. The distinguishing feature which later taxonomists deemed sufficient to define the genus was "With flat round nails."

Pictured here is Gopherus agassizzii, or desert tortoise.

Shown here is Gopherus berlandieri, or Texas tortoise. This protected species is the subject of a webpage from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (link below).

The images shown on this page, used by permission, appear in

Carl H. Ernst and Roger W. Barbour, Turtles of the United States, The University Press of Kentucky, 1972.

Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, naturalist
The Texas Tortoise
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