Kevin Armstrong - June 5, 2023

FAQs about Gophers

In the realm of subterranean creatures, gophers and moles often capture our curiosity with their burrowing prowess and secretive lifestyles. While these two animals may appear similar at first glance, they possess distinct characteristics that set them apart. In this article, we delve into the frequently asked questions about gophers to shed light on their unique traits, habits, and contributions to the ecosystem. Let's begin by exploring the fundamental differences between gophers and moles.

Gopher in snow

Quick Summary

What does a gopher look like?
They are a rodent with a small, stocky body, small eyes, that are 6 to 12 inches long.

Where do gophers live?

They are burrowing animals that live in extensive tunnel systems with multiple entrances and chambers in grasslands, meadows, agricultural fields, and backyards.

How to keep gophers out your property?
The best way is to reduce the food supply on your property that attracts them. You can also use various repellents or barriers such as gopher wire.

What is the Difference Between a Gopher and a Mole?

Gophers and moles may seem similar because they both live underground, but they are actually quite different.

Gophers are rodents with stocky bodies, small eyes, and strong front limbs with sharp claws. These claws help them dig complex tunnels in search of food and shelter. Gophers mostly eat plants like roots and tubers that they find underground. As they dig, they push up soil, creating big mounds that look like volcanoes on the surface.

Moles on the other hand have streamlined bodies, soft fur, and long snouts with sensitive whiskers. Their front paws are specially designed for digging. Moles are insect eaters and mainly feed on earthworms, insects, and other small creatures they find in the soil.

Here are some additional difference to make it clear that moles are not gophers:

Physical Appearance

  • Gophers have stocky bodies and small eyes, while moles have streamlined bodies and tiny, almost invisible eyes.
  • Gophers have powerful front limbs with strong claws, whereas moles have large, shovel-like front paws with sharp claws.
  • Gophers typically range in size from 6 to 12 inches long, while moles are generally smaller, ranging from 4 to 8 inches in length.

Diet

  • Gophers are herbivores and primarily eat underground vegetation such as plant roots, tubers, and bulbs.
  • Moles are insectivores and feed on earthworms, insects, larvae, and other small invertebrates found in the soil.

Tunneling Behavior

  • Gophers construct extensive tunnel systems with multiple entrances and chambers. Their tunnels are usually deeper and more complex.
  • Moles create tunnel networks closer to the surface and often create raised ridges as they push up soil, known as molehills.

Habitat

  • Gophers inhabit a variety of habitats, including grasslands, prairies, meadows, and agricultural fields.
  • Moles prefer moist environments such as woodlands, gardens, and areas with rich soil where they can find an abundance of insects.

Ecological Impact

  • Gophers play a significant role in soil aeration and nutrient cycling, as their burrowing activities help improve soil quality and promote plant growth.
  • Moles contribute to soil aeration and nutrient distribution by mixing organic matter within the soil. Their feeding on insects can also help control pest populations.
Gopher in field

Gopher Standing in Field

How can you Control Gopher Populations?

Controlling gopher populations can be challenging, but there are several methods available to manage their numbers and minimize their impact on gardens, lawns, and agricultural areas. Here are some common approaches:

  • Trapping: One of the most effective methods is using traps designed specifically for gophers. Traps can be placed in active tunnels to capture and remove gophers from the area. It's important to follow the instructions for proper trap placement and ensure regular monitoring.
  • Baiting: Gopher-specific baits can be used as an alternative to trapping. These baits contain toxic substances that, when ingested by gophers, can help control their population. Care should be taken to use baits according to the instructions and keep them away from children, pets, and non-target animals.
  • Fumigation: Another approach is fumigating gopher burrows using products like aluminum phosphide or carbon monoxide. This method involves sealing the burrow openings and introducing the fumigant to eliminate the gophers. It's crucial to follow safety guidelines and local regulations when using fumigants.
  • Wire Mesh: Wire mesh, also known as hardware cloth, is a sturdy and commonly used material for gopher exclusion. It consists of small-gauge wire woven in a grid pattern. Wire mesh effectively blocks gophers from accessing grass and plant root systems as the wire diameter (3/4”) is too small for even young gophers to pass through.
  • Plant Selection and Habitat Modification: Choosing plants that are less attractive to gophers can help minimize their presence. Gophers tend to avoid plants with strong scents or toxic properties, so incorporating these plants into the landscape can act as a deterrent. Additionally, modifying the habitat by removing excess vegetation or reducing water sources can make an area less appealing to gophers.
Woman Raking Leaves

Raking Leaves in Fall

Are Gophers Harmful to Humans?

Gophers are generally not harmful to humans in the sense of posing a direct threat or danger. They are not known to attack or bite humans. However, gophers can indirectly cause some issues that may be considered problematic or undesirable. Here are a few ways in which gophers can have an impact:

  • Damage to Landscape and Agriculture: Gophers are proficient diggers and can create extensive tunnel systems underground. As they burrow, they can disrupt the soil structure, damage plant roots, and cause plants to wither or die. In agricultural settings, gophers may target crops, leading to economic losses for farmers.
  • Tripping Hazards: The mounds of soil created by gophers as they dig their tunnels can create uneven surfaces in lawns, fields, or other areas. These mounds may pose a tripping hazard, particularly if they are not easily visible or are in high-traffic areas.
  • Water Erosion: Gophers' digging activities can alter the natural drainage patterns of an area. In some cases, this can contribute to water erosion, especially in sloped landscapes. The removal of soil during tunneling can lead to soil erosion and the potential for runoff issues.
  • Damage to Underground Utilities: In rare instances, gophers may accidentally damage underground utility lines or irrigation systems while tunneling. This can result in costly repairs and inconvenience.

Are Gophers and Groundhogs the Same?

No, gophers and groundhogs are not the same. Although both are burrowing rodents, they belong to different taxonomic families and have distinct characteristics.

Geographic Distribution:

  • Gophers are found in various regions of North and Central America.
  • Groundhogs are native to North America, primarily in the eastern and central parts of the continent.

Physical Appearance:

  • Gophers have stocky bodies, small eyes, and powerful front limbs with strong claws for digging.
  • Groundhogs have stout bodies, short legs, and sharp front claws for digging.

Diet:

  • Gophers are primarily herbivorous, feeding on plant roots, tubers, and underground vegetation.
  • Groundhogs are also herbivores, consuming grasses, plants, and sometimes crops.

Tunneling Behavior:

  • Gophers create complex tunnel systems underground and build mounds of soil as they excavate.
  • Groundhogs create burrows with multiple entrances and chambers, often located near wooded areas or open fields.

Habitat Preferences:

  • Gophers inhabit various regions of North and Central America, including grasslands, meadows, and agricultural fields.
  • Groundhogs are found in North America, typically in areas with open fields, meadows, or wooded habitats.

Size:

  • Gophers range in size from around 6 to 12 inches long, depending on the species.
  • Groundhogs are larger, measuring approximately 16 to 26 inches in length, with additional tail length.

Behavior and Cultural Significance:

  • Gophers are known for their burrowing and tunneling behavior but do not have specific cultural significance.
  • Groundhogs, particularly the North American species known as Punxsutawney Phil, have gained cultural recognition due to the annual Groundhog Day tradition on February 2nd, where their emergence from hibernation is believed to predict the arrival of spring.

Are Gophers Rodents?

Yes, gophers are rodents. They are characterized by two prominent features: continuously growing incisor teeth and a specialized jaw structure.

Are Gophers Nocturnal?

Gophers are primarily diurnal, which means they are active during the day. They are usually more active during the early morning and late afternoon. They spend the nights in their burrows. Gopher activity patterns can vary based on factors such as food availability, environmental conditions, and local disturbances etc.

Nocturnal refers to animals are those which are active during the night and sleep during the day.

Are Gophers Blind?

No, gophers are not blind. While their eyesight may not be as keen as some other animals, gophers do have functional eyes and are capable of seeing. However, their eyes are relatively small and are adapted for life underground. Their visual capabilities are more suited for close-range perception and navigating within their subterranean habitat rather than for long-distance or detailed vision.

Gophers primarily rely on their other senses, such as touch, smell, and hearing, to navigate and find food within their underground tunnels. Their whiskers (vibrissae) are highly sensitive and help them detect objects and changes in their environment. Additionally, their sense of smell is well-developed, allowing them to locate food sources and detect potential dangers.

Mole coming out of hole

Mole on Dirt Surface

Are Gophers Herbivores?

Yes, gophers are herbivores, which means they primarily feed on plant material. Their diet consists mainly of roots, tubers, bulbs, and underground portions of plants. Gophers are known to be particularly fond of grasses, clovers, and other herbaceous plants. They may also consume the stems and leaves of plants if they are accessible within their burrow systems.

Are Gophers and Prairie Dogs the Same?

No, gophers and prairie dogs are not the same. They are two distinct species and have notable differences in appearance, behavior, and habitat.

Gophers are burrowing rodents found in various regions of North and Central America. They have stocky bodies, small eyes, and powerful front limbs with strong claws for digging. Gophers are primarily herbivorous, feeding on plant roots, tubers, and vegetation. They create complex tunnel systems underground and build characteristic mounds of soil as they excavate.

Prairie dogs on the other hand a type of ground-dwelling squirrel. They are primarily found in North America, specifically in prairies, grasslands, and open habitats. Prairie dogs have a more slender body structure compared to gophers. They are known for their social behavior, living in large colonies called "towns" that can contain numerous individuals. Prairie dogs are herbivorous. They feed on grasses and other plant material.

Can Gophers Swim?

While pocket gophers (Geomyidae family) are known to be capable of swimming to some extent, it's important to note that not all gopher species share the same ability. The swimming capability can vary among different species of gophers.

For example, the typical gopher species encountered in North America, such as the Northern pocket gopher (Thomomys talpoides), Botta's pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae), or the Plains pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius), have limited swimming abilities. These species are primarily adapted for a burrowing lifestyle and are not well-suited for swimming.

Can Gophers get in your House?

Gophers typically do not invade houses or structures. In some rare cases, gophers may accidentally enter structures such as basements or crawl spaces if there are openings or access points. This can happen if there are gaps in the foundation, utility penetrations, or damaged vents or screens. Nevertheless, such occurrences are uncommon.

Can Gophers be Pets?

Gophers are not typically kept as pets. They are wild animals that have specific habitat and behavioral needs which are difficult to replicate in a home environment.

Gophers are highly adapted for their burrowing lifestyle and require ample space to dig and create tunnels. They have specific dietary requirements and may need access to a diverse range of vegetation. Their natural behaviors, such as digging, gnawing, and burrowing, discourage people to keep them as pets.

When are Gophers Most Active?

Gophers are primarily diurnal animals, which means they are most active during the day. They are active during the early morning and late afternoon. This activity pattern aligns with their foraging behaviors and their need to gather food and maintain their burrow systems.

During their active periods, gophers venture out of their burrows to search for food, collect vegetation, and perform maintenance tasks on their tunnels. They may also engage in territorial behaviors and defend their burrow systems against intruders.

Castor Bean Plant

Castor Bean Plant in the Sun

Which Plants Repel Gophers?

While there is no foolproof method to completely repel gophers from an area, some plants are believed to have deterrent properties that may discourage gophers from feeding on nearby vegetation. These plants are often chosen for their strong scents or unappealing tastes to gophers. Here are a few plants that are commonly believed to have repellent properties:

  • Castor Bean: The strong scent of castor bean plants is thought to repel gophers. Some gardeners plant them around their properties to deter gophers from entering the area.
  • Gopher Spurge: This plant has a milky sap that is considered unappealing to gophers. It is often used as a natural deterrent in gopher-prone areas.
  • Fritillarias: Some species of fritillaria, such as the Crown Imperial, are believed to have repellent properties against gophers. The pungent odor and alkaloids present in their bulbs may discourage gophers from feeding on them.

What Attracts Gophers?

Gophers are attracted to specific environmental factors and food sources that meet their needs. Understanding what attracts gophers can help in implementing preventive measures or managing their presence. Here are some factors that can attract gophers:

  • Vegetation: Gophers are herbivores and are attracted to a variety of plant material. They feed on roots, tubers, bulbs, and underground portions of plants.
  • Moisture: Gophers likes the moist soft soil such as irrigated lawns or gardens so that they can carry on their diffing activities.
  • Soil Quality: Gophers prefer loose, well-drained soils that are easy to dig through. Soil that is rich in organic matter and provides suitable conditions for plant growth can be enticing to gophers.
  • Shelter and Protection: Areas with dense vegetation, shrubs, or tall grasses can offer cover and make an environment more attractive for gophers to establish their burrow systems.
  • Lack of Disturbance: Gophers are more likely to thrive in undisturbed areas where they can establish their extensive tunnel networks without frequent disruptions. Locations with minimal human activity or disturbances may be more appealing to gophers.

Can Gophers Climb?

Unlike some other rodents, such as squirrels or rats, gophers do not possess the agility or anatomical adaptations necessary for climbing trees, walls, or other vertical surfaces. Their bodies are more suited for tunneling and navigating through underground burrows.

Gophers and Voles

Here are the differences between gophers and voles:

  • Physical Appearance: Gophers have a stocky build with stout bodies, short legs, and strong front limbs adapted for digging. They typically have small eyes and ears. Voles, on the other hand, have a more mouse-like appearance with a compact body, short legs, and relatively larger eyes and ears.
  • Burrowing Behavior: Gophers are highly skilled burrowers and create complex tunnel systems underground. They excavate soil to construct extensive networks of burrows and leave characteristic mounds of soil on the surface. Voles, while capable of digging shallow burrows, do not create elaborate tunnel systems like gophers. They are more likely to use existing burrows or construct simpler runways through grass or vegetation.
  • Diet: Gophers are primarily herbivores and feed on plant material such as roots, tubers, and vegetation. They have a preference for underground plant parts. Voles are also herbivores but have a more varied diet. They consume a range of vegetation, including grasses, seeds, roots, bulbs, and sometimes bark.
Vole Standing Up

Vole Standing up Outside

  • Habitat Preferences: Gophers are commonly found in open grasslands, meadows, or agricultural areas where the soil is suitable for burrowing. They prefer areas with ample vegetation and a stable food supply. Voles can exist in grasslands, forests, wetlands, and gardens. They are adaptable and can thrive in different environments.
  • Population and Social Structure: Gophers are generally solitary animals, with each individual occupying its own burrow system and defending its territory. Voles, in contrast, are often social animals that live in colonies or small family groups. They may share runways or burrows with other voles.