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What are Gophers?

Mary McMahon
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Gophers are burrowing rodents in the family Geomyidae found across much of North America. In the garden, gophers can be a devastating nuisance, and most people treat them as pests, using a variety of pest control techniques to deal with gophers. These rodents vary in size, with some specimens reaching a weight of up to two pounds (almost one kilogram), and they are extremely adaptable, being found in cities as well as rural areas.

One very distinctive feature of the gopher is the pouch which surrounds both sides of the face. The pouch gives gophers a puffy faced look which makes them very recognizable. Gophers use this pouch to carry food back to their larders, building up significant hoards of food. Some people refer to gophers as “pocket gophers” in a reference to this pouch.

Gophers spend the bulk of their lives underground, living relatively solitary lives except during breeding season. They use their very large incisors to dig, and they have short, stubby tails which they can use to sense the environment behind them, along with small, weak eyes, as vision is not terribly useful underground. Most gophers are brownish in color, blending in with the dirt they call home.

Obviously, tunnels under a garden or lawn are going to be a problem, causing soil subsidence and potentially causing people to injure themselves by twisting their ankles. Gophers also greatly enjoy eating plants, roots, and bulbs, however, and this is where the bulk of gopher damage is done. Once gophers settle into a garden, they can destroy the plants in relatively short order, which can be quite frustrating and depressing for gardeners.

There are a number of ways to deal with gophers. Many people like to use gopher traps, using the small mounds produced by gophers when they surface to find their tunnels, and then inserting a baited trap into the hole. Some gardeners also tamp down gopher mounds in an attempt to trap them underground before flooding the holes or inserting flares, which generate a great deal of smoke, potentially suffocating the gophers. Some gardeners also use poison, although this is not advised, as poisons can potentially hurt animals which predate on gophers.

For a serious gopher infestation, it sometimes help to call in a pest control company, which has industrial strength tools to deal with the problem. It can also help to garden in raised beds protected with mesh underneath, and gardeners sometimes also plant a border of gopher spurge, a plant which exudes a milky sap which gophers apparently dislike.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a All Things Nature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By DinoLeash — On Dec 26, 2010

@stormyknight: Here’s an interesting fact about gophers: They can exert up to 18,000 pounds per square inch with their bite! That’s one heck of a bite!

By googie98 — On Dec 25, 2010

@stormyknight: Gophers are often confused with moles and voles but they are actually very different. Even though gophers are considered a pest, they are pretty remarkable animals. One single pocket gopher can dig a burrow system consisting of around 200 yards of tunnel in one year. Doing this, they can move over 2 tons of soil.

Most gophers have about one litter per year. Pocket gophers usually have 2. Some gophers living in the western United States breed all year long. Litters range from 1 to 10. The average litter consists of 3 to 4 babies.

By StormyKnight — On Dec 23, 2010

I am doing a biology project on different types of animals that create problems for people and I chose gophers. Does anyone have any more detailed information about the gopher that I might could use?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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