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What Is a Pocket Gopher?

Marjorie McAtee
By Marjorie McAtee
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a pocket gopher?

A pocket gopher is a small, burrowing rodent native to North and Central America. Known for their fur-lined cheek pouches, or 'pockets,' which they use to transport food, they are solitary creatures that spend most of their lives underground. Their powerful forelimbs and large claws make them adept at digging extensive tunnel systems.

How do pocket gophers build their tunnels?

Pocket gophers are master excavators, using their strong forelimbs and elongated claws to loosen soil, which they then push to the surface with their hind feet, creating characteristic mounds. They construct a network of tunnels for foraging, nesting, and storage, which can be quite complex and extend up to 200 yards in length.

What do pocket gophers eat?

Pocket gophers are herbivores, primarily feeding on roots, tubers, and other plant material they encounter while digging. They also forage above ground at times, quickly snatching vegetation and retreating to the safety of their tunnels. Their diet is crucial for maintaining their energy-intensive burrowing lifestyle.

Are pocket gophers considered pests?

While pocket gophers play an important ecological role in soil aeration and nutrient mixing, they are often considered pests by farmers and gardeners. Their burrowing can damage crops, irrigation systems, and landscape aesthetics. However, they are also beneficial as their activities help improve soil quality and reduce compaction.

How do pocket gophers reproduce?

Pocket gophers typically have a breeding season that corresponds with the availability of food, which can vary by region. Females give birth to litters of around 3-4 young after a gestation period of about a month. The young are weaned and ready to establish their own territories within a few months.

What are some conservation concerns for pocket gophers?

While many pocket gopher species are not currently at risk, habitat destruction and fragmentation can pose threats to their populations. Conservation efforts focus on understanding their ecological role and mitigating negative impacts on human activities. Some species with limited ranges or specific habitat requirements may be more vulnerable and require targeted conservation strategies.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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