Gophers 101

Gopher standing up

Quick Summary

What are gophers?
They are small burrowing mammals that dig tunnels and primarily live underground.

How do gophers live?
They live in extensive borrowed tunnel systems and eat various roots, tubers, and plants. They typically live 2-3 years.

How do gophers fit in the ecosystem?
They promote soil aeration, are food for many predators, and can help mix soil nutrients.

What is a Gopher?

Gopher is a burrowing mammal native to North and Central America. They are commonly found in grasslands, domestic lawns, prairies, and agricultural fields. They are herbivorous animals. They feed on underground plant parts such as roots, tubers, and bulbs.

They have short, stocky legs, small ears and eyes, and powerful front teeth that they use to dig and burrow underground. They are known for their extensive tunneling systems that can span up to hundreds of feet and have multiple entrances.

What do gophers look like?

They have a distinctive appearance that sets them apart from various other burrowing mammals. These rodents have a stocky body with short legs and a short, furry tail. They are brown or gray in color, Only a few species have reddish or black fur. They have small eyes and ears that are barely visible from the surface, as they are adapted to living underground.

One of the most noticeable features of is their large, chisel-like front teeth. This teeth is their main tool to dig. These teeth are constantly growing, allowing them to excavate soil continuously and burrow through the grounds. Their long, sharp and curved claws on their front feet are also well-adapted for digging.

Two gophers in field

Gophers emerging from holes in field

Gopher with mouth open

Open Mouthed Gopher

Where Do They Live?

They live in underground tunnels and burrows that they excavate themselves. Their habitat preferences may vary depending on the season. If you are looking to protect your garden from gopher digging, you can use stainless steel gopher wire.

In the summer months, they can be found living in underground burrows that are deeper than their winter burrows. This is because the soil is typically drier and harder during the summer, which requires them to dig deeper to find moisture and food. During this time, they may also create multiple entrances to their burrows, which helps with ventilation and escape routes in case of predators.

During the winter months, they move to shallower burrows that are closer to the surface. This is because the soil is softer and easier to dig during the winter, and they can take advantage of the snow cover for insulation. In areas with harsh winter conditions, they may also hibernate during this time, using stored food reserves to survive until spring.

In other seasons, such as spring and fall, they may adjust their behavior and habitat. It depends on factors such as rainfall, temperature, and vegetation growth. For example, in areas where vegetation is more abundant in the spring, they may focus their foraging efforts closer to the surface to take advantage of new growth.

They typically sleep in their underground burrows, which they create by digging tunnels in the soil. These burrows can be quite extensive, with some they systems spanning up to several hundred feet in length and containing multiple chambers. Within these burrows, they create nesting chambers where they can rest and sleep. These nesting chambers are usually located at the end of a tunnel. Some times found lined with soft plant material such as grass or leaves. They may also create separate chambers for storing food and for waste disposal.

In addition to their main burrow systems, they may also create shallow, temporary burrows on the surface, which they use for foraging or escaping from predators. However, these surface burrows are not typically used for sleeping, as they provide little protection from the elements or predators.

Gopher holes in backyard

Yard with Gopher Holes

Diet and Behavior

They are selective feeders and may prefer certain plant species over others depending on the season and availability. Some of their favorite foods.include grasses, clovers, alfalfa, carrots, and other root vegetables. They use their powerful front teeth to gnaw through tough plant material and their long, sharp claws to excavate soil and dig tunnels.

In addition to their diet, they have several behaviors that are adapted to life underground. These include creating extensive burrow systems that provide shelter from predators and harsh weather conditions. They are also territorial animals and may defend their burrows against other gophers and intruders. They mark their territory with scent glands located on their cheeks and use vocalizations and physical displays to communicate with other gophers.

Gopher peeking out of hole

Gopher Coming Out of Hole

Social Behavior

They are generally solitary animals that do not exhibit social behavior except during the mating season. For the most part, they spend the majority of their time alone in their underground burrows.

When encountered with humans, they are typically not dangerous and are more likely to retreat into their burrows than to attack. They are generally shy and elusive animals that prefer to avoid human contact whenever possible. However, they may cause damage to lawns, gardens, and crops. In some cases, they may also carry diseases such as rabies or plague.

In terms of safety for children, they are generally not a significant threat. While their burrowing activities can cause damage and disruption to play areas, they are not known to be aggressive towards humans and are more likely to avoid contact. However, it is still important to be cautious.around them burrows and to keep children away from areas where they are known to be active.


They have a seasonal breeding pattern that varies depending on the species and the location. In general, they breed in the spring and early summer, although some species may breed in the fall as well. During the breeding season, males may compete for access to females, and females may establish territories and select a mate.

Their mothers are very protective of their young and will aggressively defend their nest against intruders. They may also move their kits to different nesting chambers within the burrow system to avoid predators or disturbance. The kits grow quickly and begin to develop fur and teeth within a few weeks of birth. They may also start to venture outside of the burrow to forage for food with their mother.

After mating, females typically give birth to 3 to 6 young young ones. The babies, called kits, are born blind, hairless, and helpless, and rely on their mother for food and protection. Their mothers have specialized nipples that allow the kits to nurse while they are underground in the burrow system.

In terms of diet, their kits rely on their mother's.milk for the first few weeks of life, after which they begin to eat solid food. The mother may bring back plant material such as roots, bulbs, or tubers to feed the kits, or the kits may venture out of the burrow to forage for food themselves.


They have short life span of a few (2-3) years in the wild.

Their lifespan is influenced by a number of factors, including diet, habitat quality, and predation. Ones that have access to high-quality food sources and live in protected habitats may have a longer lifespan than those that are exposed to predators, disease, or environmental stressors.

They are also vulnerable to a number of health issues that can impact their lifespan, including parasitic infections, dental disease, and respiratory infections.

Role in Ecosystems

They seem insignificant at first glance, they play a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of their ecosystems.

Through their burrowing activities, they can help to aerate the soil, mix nutrients, and create habitats for other animals.

Many predators take them as an easy food. Their burrowing activities can help to support a diverse range of plant and animal species. Lets look at some other ecological benefits.

Many gopher hole mounds

Mounds from Gopher Holes

Ecological Benefits

  • They are ecosystem engineers, as their burrowing activities can help to aerate the soil and mix nutrients, which can improve soil health and support plant growth.
  • The tunnels and burrows created by them can also serve as habitat for a variety of other animals, including insects, snakes, and small mammals.
  • They are an important food source for many predators, including owls, hawks, foxes, and snakes, and their presence can support a healthy food chain in the ecosystem.
  • By consuming plant roots and other vegetation, They can help to regulate plant growth and prevent overgrowth in certain areas.
  • They can also help to create microhabitats within the larger ecosystem, which can support a diverse range of plant and animal species.
Yard with gopher holes

Gopher Damage in Yard

Relationship With Other Animals

They have complex relationships with other animals in their ecosystems. As burrowing rodents, They can create habitats for a variety of other animals, including insects, snakes, and small mammals. These tunnels and burrows provide shelter and protection from predators, as well as access to food.

However, they can also be seen as a nuisance by some animals and humans, due to their burrowing activities and the damage that they can cause to crops and other vegetation.

In addition, they may compete with other animals for resources, particularly in areas where food and water are scarce. For example, they may consume plant roots and other vegetation that is also important to other herbivores in the ecosystem.

What Parts Of The US Do Gophers Live?

They are found throughout the United States. Some of the most common species found in the US include the Plains pocket (Geomys bursarius), the Northern pocket (Thomomys talpoides), and the Botta's pocket (Thomomys bottae).

Difference Between A Squirrel And A Gopher

Gophers and squirrels are both small mammals that are often found in residential areas and other habitats throughout the United States. While they may look similar at first glance, there are several key differences between them:

  • Appearance: Gophers have short, stout bodies with large claws that are adapted for digging. They also have small eyes and ears, and their fur is typically brown or gray. Squirrels, on the other hand, have slender bodies, long tails, and large eyes and ears. They are also more arboreal than gophers, and their fur can come in a wider variety of colors and patterns.
  • Habitat: Gophers are burrowing animals that spend much of their time underground in complex tunnel systems. They are typically found in grasslands, agricultural fields, and other open habitats. Squirrels, on the other hand, are tree-dwelling animals that spend much of their time in trees and other elevated structures.
  • Diet: Gophers are herbivores that feed primarily on roots, tubers, and other underground plant parts. Squirrels, on the other hand, are omnivores that feed on a variety of plant and animal materials.
  • Behavior: Gophers are more solitary than squirrels, and they spend much of their time underground. During day they are less active and not easy to spot. Squirrels, on the other hand, are often seen scurrying along tree branches and other elevated structures.

In conclusion, gophers play an important role in the ecosystems, but they can also cause.significant damage to lawns and gardens.