Pocket gophers are medium-sized burrowing rodents. They vary in length from 7 to 13 inches. The color of their fur ranges from light brown to what appears to be black. Pocket gophers have poor eye sight which is compensated by other well developed senses. Gophers are well equipped for a digging, tunneling lifestyle with powerfully built forequarters, large-clawed front paws, fine short fur that doesn’t cake in wet soils, small eyes and small external ears, and highly sensitive facial whiskers to assist movements in the dark.
Pocket gophers live in burrows. This burrow system can cover an area of 200 to over 2,000 square feet. Gopher burrows are about 3 to 4 inches in diameter; feeding burrows are generally about 6 to 12 inches below ground, whereas the gophers nesting site and food storage chamber can be as deep as 6 feet. Gophers seal the openings of their burrow holes with earthen plugs. Short, sloping lateral tunnels connect the main runway burrows to the surface.
Mounds of fresh soil are the best sign of gopher presence.
Mounds are formed as the gopher digs its tunnel and pushes the loose dirt to the surface. Typically mounds are crescent or horseshoe shaped. The hole, which is off to one side of the mound, is usually plugged.
Pocket gophers are herbivorous, feeding on a wide variety of vegetation, preferring plants, shrubs, and trees (including roots). Gophers use their sense of smell to locate food. Gophers commonly feed on the roots and fleshy portions of the plants they encounter while digging. However, sometimes they feed aboveground, venturing out a few feet from their tunnel opening. Burrow openings used to gather food are called “feed holes.” These “feed holes” are identified by the absence of a dirt mound and clipped vegetation surrounding the burrow hole.
Gophers will also pull entire plants into their tunnel. When snow has covered the ground, they may feed on the bark of trees… burrowing through snow to get to the tree.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
Gophers reach sexual maturity at about 1 year of age and can live up to 3 years. Females produce one to three litters per year. Litters usually average five to six young.
Gophers do not hibernate and are active year-round, although fresh mounding may not be seen. They also can be active at all hours of the day. Gophers usually live alone within their burrow system, except for females with young or when breeding, and may occur in densities of up to 16 to 20 per acre.
Pocket gophers often invade yards and gardens, and feed on many garden crops, ornamental plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. A single gopher can inflict considerable damage in a very short time. Gophers also gnaw and damage plastic water lines and lawn sprinkler systems. Their tunnels can divert and carry off irrigation water and lead to soil erosion. Mounds on lawns interfere with mowing equipment and ruin the aesthetics of well-kept turf grass.