Pocket gopher, are burrowing rodents that get their name from the fur-lined, external cheek pouches, or pockets, they use for carrying food and nesting materials. They are found throughout the western two thirds of the United States. California has five species, with Botta’s pocket gopher, being most widespread
Depending on the species, they are 6 to 10 inches long. For the most part, gophers remain underground in their burrow system, although you’ll sometimes see them feeding at the edge of an open burrow, pushing dirt out of a burrow, or moving to a new area mostly in the early morning hours.
Mounds of fresh soil are the best sign of a gopher’s presence. Gophers form mounds as they dig tunnels and push the loose dirt to the surface. Typically, mounds are crescent or horseshoe shaped when viewed from above. There is only one gopher per burrow system except when mating occurs and females are caring for their young. The hole, which is off to one side of the mound, usually is plugged. One gopher can create several mounds in a day.
Pocket gophers live in a burrow system that can cover an area that is 200 to 2,000 square feet. The burrows are about 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Feeding burrows usually are 6 to 12 inches below ground, and the nest and food storage chamber can be as deep as 6 feet. Burrow systems consist of a main burrow, generally 4 to 18 inches below and parallel to the ground surface, with a variable number of lateral burrows off the main one. These end at the surface with a soil mound or sometimes only a soil plug. There are also deeper branches off the main burrow that are used as nests and food caches. The maximum depth of at least some portion of a burrow may be as great as 5 or 6 feet below the surface. The diameter of a burrow is about 3 inches but varies slightly with the size of the gopher. The home range of a single gopher may be up to 700 square yards. This activity represents one gophers ability to move up to 2 1/4 tons of dirt per year.
In non-irrigated areas, mound building is most pronounced during spring or fall when the soil is moist and easy to dig. In irrigated areas such as lawns, flower beds, and gardens, digging conditions usually are optimal year round, and mounds can appear at any time.
They similarly are found in a wide variety of soil types and conditions. They reach their greatest densities on friable, light- textured soils with good herbage production, especially when that vegetation has large, fleshy roots, bulbs, tubers, or other underground storage structures.
BIOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR
Gophers usually live alone within their burrow system, except when females are caring for their young or during breeding season. With 16 to 20 gophers per acre not being uncommon, they may attain densities of up to 60 per acre if left undisturbed. Gophers reach sexual maturity about 1 year of age and can live up to 3 years. In non-irrigated areas, breeding usually occurs in late winter and early spring, resulting in 1 litter per year; in irrigated sites, gophers can produce up to 3 litters per year. Litters usually average 5 to 6 young.
Pocket gophers are herbivorous and feed on a wide variety of vegetation but generally prefer herbaceous plants, shrubs, and trees. Gophers use their sense of smell to locate food. Most commonly they feed on roots and fleshy portions of plants they encounter while digging. However, they sometimes feed above ground, venturing only a body length or so from their tunnel opening. Burrow openings used in this manner are called “feed holes.” You can identify them by the absence of a dirt mound and by a circular band of clipped vegetation around the hole. Gophers also will pull entire plants into their tunnel from below.
Pocket gophers often invade yards and gardens, feeding on many garden crops, ornamental plants, vines, shrubs, and trees. A single gopher moving down a garden row 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, which leads to soil erosion. Mounds on lawns interfere with mowing equipment and ruin the aesthetics of well-kept turfgrass. They eat forbs, grasses, shrubs and trees. Gophers also like perennial forbs and annual plants with fleshy root systems. Gophers utilize above ground portions of vegetation mostly during the growing season, however, roots are the major food source year-round. The rate of mound building is highly variable, and could average from 1 to 3 per day, up to 75 mounds per month.
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