Forget the cute Winnie-the-Pooh character, these gophers can be a serious threat to backyards, gardens and farms. These burrowing gurus are adept at their life calling; they can create a labyrinth of tunnels and cover up to 2000 square feet and six feet deep in a relatively short amount of time. Thanks to their physical prowess, the pocket gopher is difficult to catch or bait; they have a keen sense of smell and a body built for strong, quick movement.
Found prevalent in North America, there are dozens of pocket gopher species within the family Geomyidae. Each species is still considered a ‘pocket’ or ‘true’ gopher, but in many instances the region in which it is found, for example, ‘Idaho pocket gopher,’ ‘mountain pocket gopher,’ and ‘northern pocket gopher’ define the species. Pocket gophers can survive in almost any climate, but thrive year round where soil is moist and soft. Where soil is ideal, the gopher can dig at an incredible rate, creating several lateral tunnels in a matter of days. There will always be one main tunnel that the pocket gopher will return to and create extensions from; it is important to remember this main tunnel when trying to get rid of gophers. In areas where the gophers breed and sleep, the tunnels can be as deep as six feet, though most other (feeding) tunnels only reach 6”-12” deep. Pocket gophers can be very allusive, and so it is even more important to understand these large rodents before trying to trap or bait them.
Pocket Gopher Identification
You may have seen the TV shows that highlight people who hoard things from year and year to the point of the ridiculous. Well, the pocket gopher is the ultimate hoarder. Getting its name from the reversible pouches that extend inside the gopher’s cheek to the top of his shoulder, these pockets are fur-lined an ideal for carrying food from one place to another. Taking full advantage of this physical gift, the gopher will pocket and carry large amounts of food to several feeding tunnel to save for later, colder months.
The gopher’s pockets, however, are not the only things that make this creature ideally placed. Weighing a little over two pounds as adults, the gopher is husky looking with strong shoulders and front paws that are ideally suited to remove dirt from inside the tunnels. While gophers are very territorial they will most likely scamper into their tunnel if threatened, however, if attacked the gopher will use its extremely sharp teeth to cause serious damage. Pocket gophers are also equipped with several practical features that allow them to burrow no matter the time or year or day.
Whiskers on pocket gophers allow them to sense their surroundings and move efficiently in the dark.
The short tail of the gopher is actually ideal for navigating backwards travel in tunnels.
Specially formed jaws allow the gopher to close its mouth completely while leaving its teeth exposed, eliminating dirt in the mouth.
Specialized fur does not clump in moist soil.
Pocket Gopher Habitat
As herbivores, pocket gophers will flock to areas that can provide the adequate tunneling room and food. Ideal locations for the gopher are in crop fields, backyards and private gardens. Pocket Gophers will rarely surface to find food, so they must choose a location that provides a number of underground roots; once the gopher gets a hold of the root they can pull the entire plant underground. Thanks to sharp teeth and body type, the pocket gopher can survive through winters and tunnel through hard soil, but where there is moist soil year round you are more likely to have a pocket gopher problem.
Pocket Gopher Life Cycle
On average the gopher will live about three years, most of the time on its own. Mating and weaning season is the only time a gopher will share its burrow; after late spring it is up to the mate and litter to find their own territory. A litter generally will consist of five pups (though the number will vary by location and species). Once born, these pups are virtually helpless and must be with their mother for over a month before they can venture out on their own. Once the pups move on, they will reach their adulthood/sexual maturity about 11 months later.
Pocket Gophers and Humans
For anyone who has a backyard, garden or even sprinkler system, pocket gophers pose a threat. Gnawing on pipes and irrigation lines can cause expensive damage and garden invasion can be detrimental to a harvest. Because pocket gophers live the majority of their lives underground, you will have to watch for the telltale mounds of dirt that will start appearing on your lawn. The gophers will push the dirt into a small mound and plug up the hole only to move on to the next tunnel. These gopher holes and mounds can start appearing at a rapid pace and before you have time to register that you have a gopher, your lawn is under attack.
Pocket Gopher Control
There are several methods to help alleviate your lawn of pocket gophers; unfortunately, most of them consist of trial and error. The most popular uses a gopher prod (available commercially) to locate the main gopher tunnel. To use the gopher prod you must find the freshest mound of dirt, move about a foot from the mound and plunge the prod into the ground. You will have to go down at least 6” before you feel the ground give way to a gap, indicating a tunnel. Once you have located the tunnel, you can purchase traps or toxic bait to put inside, this will require digging up the earth above the tunnel and lightly covering once the trap is placed. It is wise to attach a piece of sting to the trap so you can easily locate it above ground. If your trap has not worked for two or more days you should move it to a new tunnel and try for better results.
There are more expensive methods, such as, underground fencing, but these are costly and risky. Persistent gophers will not usually be dissuaded by fencing, and in the end it may ruin tree roots. Your best bet is to purchase traps and toxic bait as soon as possible before the amount of tunnels becomes overwhelming and your yard begins racking up expensive repairs.