Pocket Gophers

Pocket GophersPhoto by Dominic Sherony

 Click here to download Living With Pockets Gophers from USU Cooperative Extension (PDF)

There are three species of pocket gopher native to Utah, the northern pocket gopher, the Idaho pocket gopher and Botta’s pocket gopher. Like other gophers, the northern pocket gopher is fossorial, meaning that it lives under the ground.

Pocket gophers are herbivores, eating primarily plant roots and bulbs, although stems and leaves are also consumed. Food is carried in external cheek pouches to storage areas in burrows. The species is active throughout most of the year, and individuals are usually solitary. Mating occurs in the spring, and a litter of four to seven young is born about three weeks later. (Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

Pocket gophers are sometimes confused with moles because of their similar burrowing activities. Moles, however, are smaller and lack cheek pouches.

Northern pocket gopher Photo by Leslie Hugo

Northern pocket gopher Photo by Leslie Hugo

Pocket gophers have yellowish-colored incisor teeth. These incisors are always exposed even when their mouth is closed. Pocket gophers vary in length from 6 to 13 inches. The color of their fur ranges from light brown to almost black. They have short, hairless tails, which are very sensitive and used to guide them when moving backwards in a tunnel.

Pocket gophers are best identified by their external cheek pouches and the soil mounds they leave behind as evidence of their tunneling or burrowing activities. Mounds are fan-shaped and the entrance is sealed by a soil plug. The mounds are created when the gophers move excavated soil to the surface when tunneling.

Because pocket gophers spend most of their time under ground, the best way to identify their presence is fresh soil mounds. Pocket gophers have been responsible for damage to underground utility cables and irrigation pipes, direct consumption and destruction of plants with their soil mounds, and changes in plant species composition when the soil mounds create an opportunity for weed seeds to germinate.

Exclusion of pocket gophers can be very costly and is usually impractical for most farms and ranches where populations are high. However, barriers can be used effectively to valuable ornamental trees and shrubs around homes, gardens, and nurseries. A mesh (1/4-1/2 inch) fence, buried about 18 inches can be effective at protecting gardens, flower gardens, and plant nurseries. Plastic cylindrical netting placed over the entire seedling can be used to help reduce damage to newly planted trees and shrubs.

(Excerpts from Gerald W. Wiscomb and Terry A. Messmer,USU Cooperative Extension)