The Surprising Diversity of Gopher Species Around the World

Gopher Face

Quick Summary

Species of North American Gophers
They include the Plains Pocket, Botta's Pocket, Northern Pocket, Yellow-Faced Pocket, and Camas Pocket.

Species of Central American Gophers
Southern Pocket, Desert Pocket, Nicaraguan Pocket, Goldman's Pocket, Merriam's Pocket, Talamancan Pocket

Species of South American Gophers
Argentinean Plains, Brazilian Tuco-Tuco, and Patagonian Tuco-Tuco

North American Gophers

North America hosts a spectacular number of gopher populations unrivaled by any other corner of the globe. Across vast stretches of this majestic continent, these furry inhabitants have established their flourishing colonies, creating a tapestry of underground civilizations. From the sun-drenched plains to the rugged mountains, North America has become a realm where gophers, in their countless numbers, have found their true home. In this section, we will dive into the North American species, physical characteristics and habitats of these fascinating creatures. So, put on your explorer hats and let's embark on this adventure!

Species of North American Gophers

The North American gophers surpass the tiny stature of mice, yet fall short of the formidable size of rats. With their sleek frames measuring anywhere from 5 to 14 inches in length and weighing a mere few hundred grams, these gophers strike the perfect balance between delicate and robust. Here are the notable species that inhabit the northern terrains of American continent.

  • Plains Pocket Gopher: In the heartland of North America, a captivating creature known as the Plains pocket gopher reigns as a master of the subterranean domain. Found throughout the central and eastern regions of North America, these resilient beings boast robust bodies and dainty yet powerful legs with an average length ranging from 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm). But what truly sets them apart is their remarkable dental artillery, shovel-like front teeth specifically crafted for sculpting intricate tunnel networks beneath the earth's surface. With fur as diverse as the prairie itself, the Plains pocket gophers display a stunning palette ranging from earthy browns to ethereal grays. These color variations serve as a testament to the uniqueness of each gopher's individuality, transforming their subterranean realm into a living canvas of hues and shades.
Side of Gopher

Side of Gopher Face

  • Botta's Pocket Gopher: Botta Pocket Gophers are typically around 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) long, with a stocky body and short limbs. They have a fur-covered external cheek pouch on each side of their mouth, which is used for carrying food and nesting materials. Cloaked in a kaleidoscope of hues, their fur weaves a tapestry of possibilities, spanning from the gentle light brown to the shades of dark gray. It traverse the western expanses of North America, ranging from the Great Plains to the Pacific Coast.
Gopher coming out of hole

Gopher Leaving Hole

  • Northern Pocket Gopher: The northern pocket gopher has a stocky body with a short tail and short legs. It typically measures around 6 to 8 inches in length and weighs between 4 to 8 ounces. These gophers have a dense fur coat that varies in color, ranging from gray to brown, which provides them with excellent camouflage and dense fur helps them survive in colder climates. These gophers are primarily solitary and territorial animals, which aggressively defend their burrows. Northern pocket gophers are herbivores and have a diet consisting mainly of roots, tubers, bulbs, and other underground plant parts. They are capable of consuming large quantities of vegetation, and their feeding activities can sometimes damage crops and gardens. The species inhabits various regions of North America, including parts of Alaska, Canada, and the northwestern United States. Its subterranean domain stretches far and wide, encompassing diverse landscapes from snow-laden forests to sun-kissed meadows.
  • Yellow-faced Pocket Gopher: The Yellow-faced pocket gopher are small mammals measuring around 7 to 9 inches in length, with a tail length of about 2 to 3 inches. These gophers have distinctive yellowish facial markings, and their fur color ranges from gray to brown. Yellow-faced pocket gophers are solitary creatures and are mainly active during the night. They are herbivores and feed on the roots, tubers, bulbs, and other underground parts of plants. They have specialized cheek pouches that allow them to carry food back to their burrows for consumption or storage. They prefer arid and semi-arid habitats such as deserts, grasslands, and scrub lands. They are native to the southwestern United States and primarily found in the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
  • Camas Pocket Gopher: Camas pocket gophers are small rodents, measuring around 6 to 10 inches in length, with a short tail of about 1 to 2 inches. They have robust bodies covered in soft, dense fur, which can range in color from gray to brown. The Camas pocket gopher is primarily found in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, including parts of Oregon Idaho, British Columbia and Washington. They are known for their preference for bulbs and underground plant parts as a food source. Also, this species plays a crucial role in shaping and maintaining the unique grassland and prairie ecosystems it inhabits.

Central American Gophers

Now let us embark on a journey into the intriguing realm of Central American gophers! In this section we are going to explore their diverse species, physical descriptions, habitats, and the crucial ecological roles they fulfill.

Species of Central American Gophers

Generally gophers are small rodents but few species of Central American gophers reach almost 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs.).

  • Southern pocket gophers: This species is native to Central America but has claimed a couple of US states as its home. This species has reached New Mexico (southeastern areas) and Arizona (southeastern) as well. They are most abundant in pine-oak woodlands, open pine Flatwoods, and grassy fields. The adults range in size from ~200 to 300 mm in length and 100-300 g in weight. Southeastern pocket gophers are strictly herbivores that feed on a variety of plants including roots, forbes, shrubs, and grasses.
  • Desert pocket gophers: They are medium sized rodent, with a relatively long and hairy tail, and pale coloration. Like other gophers, their bodies are thicker than other rodents, eyes are reduced, and they are equipped with large, strong-clawed forelimbs allowing them to be fossorial. They can be found in small patches of areas in Sonoran desert and Central American states.
  • Nicaraguan Pocket Gopher: Also known as Cherrie's pocket gopher, this species is endemic to Nicaragua and is found in the northern part of the country. It inhabits forested areas and feeds primarily on roots, tubers, and other plant material.
  • Goldman's Pocket Gopher: This gopher species is found in southern Mexico, including the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as parts of Guatemala and Belize. It occupies a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and agricultural areas.
  • Merriam's Pocket Gopher: While primarily found in Mexico and the southwestern United States, this species extends its range into parts of northern Central America, including portions of Mexico's Chiapas state and Guatemala. It prefers grassy habitats and feeds on underground plant parts.
  • Talamancan Pocket Gopher: This gopher species is native to the Talamancan montane forests of Costa Rica and western Panama. It is adapted to the cool, moist environment of the highlands and plays an important role in shaping the landscape through its burrowing activities
Mound of Dirt in Backyard

Gopher Hole in Backyard

South American Gophers

South America is home to various gopher species, each possessing distinct physical traits and adaptations. Let's delve into their notable characteristics and the significant contributions they make to their ecosystems.

Species of South American Gophers

    • Argentinean Plains Gopher: Measuring around 6 to 9 inches in length, they have short limbs, robust bodies, and small eyes, which indicate their subterranean lifestyle. Found in the grasslands of Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil, these gophers create intricate tunnel systems within the fertile soils of the plains.
    • Brazilian Tuco-Tuco: They possess sturdy forelimbs with sharp claws for efficient digging and a cylindrical body structure, adapted for underground living. Thriving in the savannas and grasslands of Brazil, these gophers construct extensive burrows, providing shelter and protection from predators.
    • Patagonian Tuco-Tuco: Ranging from 4 to 6 inches in length. These gophers have a compact body, short limbs, and a rounded head with small eyes and ears, all adapted for their subterranean lifestyle. They are found in the grasslands and shrub lands of southern Argentina and Chile.

Habitat Preference

Gophers have distinct habitat preferences that influence their choice of living environments.

Gopher Hole

Gopher Standing in Hole

  • Soil Types: Gophers prefer loose, well-drained soils that are easy to dig through. They thrive in areas with sandy or loamy soils, as these provide suitable conditions for burrowing. Clay soils, which are heavy and compact, are less favored by gophers.
  • Vegetation: Gophers are often found in habitats with ample vegetation cover. They prefer areas with a mix of grasses, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, which provide them with both food and shelter. Gophers are herbivorous and primarily feed on underground plant parts, so areas with a diverse plant community support their dietary needs.
  • Moisture Levels: Gophers are generally found in habitats with moderate moisture levels. They can adapt to different moisture conditions, ranging from dry grasslands to moist meadows. However, excessively wet or swampy areas are typically avoided as they make burrowing more challenging.
  • Altitude and Climate: Gopher species in North America have adapted to a wide range of altitudes and climates. They can be found in various regions, from lowland plains to high mountainous areas. However, they tend to avoid extreme environments, such as deserts and very cold alpine regions.
  • Landscapes: Gophers are well-suited to living in open landscapes with minimal tree cover. They are commonly found in grasslands, prairies, agricultural fields, and meadows. These areas provide them with the space and resources they need to dig their burrow systems and forage for food.

Ecological Role played by Gophers

Gophers play a very significant role in their ecosystems, and their activities can have both positive and negative impacts. Let's explore the ecological importance of gophers in more detail:

Positive Impacts

  • Soil Aeration: Gophers create extensive burrow systems that promote soil aeration. By digging tunnels, they enhance the movement of air through the soil, which improves its structure and increases its ability to hold water and nutrients.
  • Nutrient Cycling: Gophers play a crucial role in nutrient cycling within ecosystems. They bring organic matter from below the surface, such as plant material and decaying roots, to the topsoil. This process enhances nutrient availability for plants and contributes to the overall health of the ecosystem.
  • Seed Dispersal: Gophers aid in seed dispersal by burying seeds while excavating their burrows. This behavior helps to distribute seeds across different areas, facilitating plant colonization and increasing plant diversity.
  • Habitat Creation: Gophers create complex underground burrow systems that serve as shelter and habitat for various organisms. These burrows provide refuge for small mammals, reptiles, and invertebrates, offering protection from predators and extreme weather conditions.
  • Predation Control: Gophers are herbivores, primarily feeding on plant roots, tubers, and bulbs. By limiting the abundance of these plants, gophers indirectly regulate herbivore populations, preventing overgrazing and maintaining a balanced ecosystem.
  • Erosion Prevention: The extensive burrow systems created by gophers can help prevent soil erosion. Their burrows act as channels for water to percolate into the ground, reducing surface runoff and minimizing erosion caused by heavy rainfall.

Negative Impacts

  • Crop Damage: Gophers are known to damage agricultural crops by feeding on their roots and tubers. This can lead to reduced crop yields and economic losses for farmers.
  • Garden Damage: Gophers can cause damage to gardens and landscaping by burrowing near ornamental plants and eating their roots. This can lead to the decline or death of plants and impact the aesthetic value of gardens.

    Many people use stainless steel gopher wire mesh to protect their garden from gopher damage.
  • Damaged Infrastructure: Gopher burrows can undermine structures such as roads, dams, and foundations, potentially causing structural damage or collapse.
  • Disease Transmission: Gophers may serve as carriers of various diseases, including bubonic plague and tularemia. While transmission to humans is rare, it can occur in certain circumstances, posing a potential health risk.
  • Competition with Native Species: In some cases, gophers may compete with native species for resources such as food and habitat. This competition can disrupt natural ecosystems and negatively impact the populations of other species.
Gopher Head

Gopher Looking at Horizon