Tank, the gopher tortoise at the Anniston Museum of Natural History.

Tank the gopher tortoise is a museum ambassador for the Anniston Museum of Natural History. She has been with the museum since the 1990s. As a museum ambassador, she helps present educational programs and helps teach the public about the importance of gopher tortoises to the Southeast.

What do you do at the Anniston Museum of Natural History?

Let me begin by mentioning … that I do things a bit … slower-paced … including speaking. My ability to … slow things down … helps my teaching style. I was brought to … the Anniston Museum of Natural History … for permanent placement after being found strolling down … Noble Street in the ’90s, and I … became a member of the education team.

What is the average lifespan of a gopher tortoise?

I am an adult tortoise. In the wild, gopher tortoises can live up to 60 years.

What do gopher tortoises eat?

Gopher tortoises are herbivores, so … we love a good salad bar.

Where do gopher tortoises live?

We love … the beach life, and we can be found in the … sandy forested areas of south Alabama, south Georgia and throughout Florida.

What kind of structure do you live in?

I live here … at the museum, but gopher tortoises in the wild will dig burrows … 10 feet deep underground and 40 feet long. Our burrows … create homes for over 300 different species. The fact that … our burrows help so many other species … make gopher tortoises a “keystone species.”

What does it mean to be a “keystone species”?

It means that we are vital … to the survival of other animals.

What is unique about the build of a gopher tortoise?

We are built to dig. Our back legs … are strong and solid, like … an elephant’s, while our front legs … act as shovels.

Where can folks see you in person?

My next scheduled appearance is … this Saturday at HerpFest 2018 at the museum. The event … begins at 10 a.m. and lasts until 3 p.m.

What is HerpFest?

HerpFest is a day … of recognition for reptiles and amphibians. The event name … comes from “herpetology” … which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. HerpFest began … as a collaboration between the Jacksonville State University Biology Department … and Anniston Museum of Natural History. HerpFest 2018 features … educational displays and live animals presented by Jacksonville State University … JSU Field Schools from Little River Canyon Center … the Alabama Herpetological Society … the Alabama 4-H Science School’s Herp Journey … and the museum. Baby Boy’s BBQ will also be … on site with food available … for purchase. Admission to HerpFest is free with … paid admission to the museum.

What other events are planned this summer?

On Tuesdays in June and July … from 1-3 p.m. … we will host a “shell dig” in our exhibit halls. This event is … designed for children 12 years old and younger, but everyone is welcome … to dig in the sand. On Thursdays in June and July … from 1-3 p.m., we invite you to “catch Cheyenne” … in our exhibit halls. Cheyenne will be in the exhibit halls … with a surprise live animal guest. On June 16 at 11 a.m., we have a summertime behavior program … to explain how animals adapt to warmer temperatures after the winter months pass. All of these programs … are included in your museum admission, and members get in for free …. On July 27, we have the “Nocturnal Night at the Museum.” It begins … at 5 p.m. on Friday and lasts until 8 a.m. the following day. This program is … for children 7-12 years old. There will be … live animal encounters, trivia, a visit to the Berman Museum and more. Pre-registration is required. The cost is $35 for members, $45 for non-members, and you … will receive $10 off each additional ticket if you purchase … two or more. Call us at 256-237-6766 for more information.

Faith Dorn is a freelance writer in Anniston. Contact her at faith.h.dorn@gmail.com.