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What Is a Pocket Gopher?

Marjorie McAtee
Marjorie McAtee

The pocket gopher is a type of gopher that can generally be found throughout North and Central America. There are believed to be about 35 species of pocket gopher, all belonging to the family Geomyidae. These animals typically make their homes underground, and their burrows can often be quite large. An individual animal is often capable of building about 200 yards (182.8 meters) of tunnels in 12 months' time, and may move up to four tons (3.63 metric tons) of earth to do so. The average pocket gopher will leave heaps of earth at the mouths of its burrow tunnels, and since they prefer the loose, damp soil of farms, gardens, and lawns, many people consider them a nuisance. Depending on the species, a pocket gopher can range in weight from 7 ounces to 1 pound (7.05 grams to 2.2 kilograms), with males usually being much larger than the females.

The burrowing rodent known as a pocket gopher takes its name from its characteristic facial pouches. These pouches can normally be found on the outside of the gopher's face, on either side of its head. They typically begin at the sides of the mouth and can reach to the back of the shoulder area. The rodent's facial pouches are typically furry both inside and out. These gophers usually stockpile large amounts of food inside their burrows, and these facial pouches help the animals carry that food back to their nests.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The average pocket gopher begins breeding in the first spring after its birth. Some species breed only once a year at a specific time of the year, while others may continue breeding throughout the year and produce multiple litters. Among those who breed only once a year, young are typically born in spring or early summer. Females normally carry their young for about 18 days. The average litter contains two to eight young gophers, who will remain with their mother for at least 40 days.

While some species can grow quite large, the average pocket gopher will reach an adult length of 5.5 to 12 inches (13.9 to 30.5 centimeters) and will weigh between 4.2 and 12.4 ounces (120 to 350 grams). They are usually brownish in color, though the fur coat coloration will often vary to blend in with the color of the soil found in an animal's habitat. These animals don't usually hibernate, and will generally continue their burrowing activities throughout the winter season. They typically subsist on a diet of grasses, roots, and leaves, though they are known for feeding on cultivated vegetables and can harm trees by feeding on their roots.

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