Pocket gophers, commonly referred to as gophers, are burrowing rodents. There are approximately 35 species of gopher living in Central and North America. They are commonly known for their extensive tunneling activities.
Appearance & Behavior of Pocket Gophers
Gophers present problems that include destruction of underground utility cables, water lines, sprinkler systems and irrigation pipes. Damage is most severe in the spring and fall when gophers are active near the soils surface. Pocket gophers are rodents from 5 to 14 inches long. They have fur-lined pouches outside of their mouths that extend from the side of their mouth and back onto their shoulders. These pockets can be turned inside out and are used for carrying food. Most gophers have brown fur that closely matches the color of the soil in which they live but can range in color from black to light brown and white. Their heads are small and flattened with small ears and eyes. The average lifespan for a gopher is one to three years if there is no disease or predation with the maximum lifespan of a pocket gopher being approximately five years. They are solitary animals except when they are breeding or rearing their young. They are active all year but most visibly active in the spring and fall when the soil is of the ideal moisture content for digging.
Gophers Create Mounds & Tunnels Underground
Gophers are well equipped to live underground. They will live most of their life beneath the surface where they build tunnel burrow systems. They create large horseshoe-shaped mounds that can cause damage to passing farm equipment. These tunnels also interfere with irrigation systems, dams, fields and homeowner’s gardens. These underground burrows can be very deep. As they dig, the soil is pushed to the surface leaving a mound, usually in the shape of a fan. This can cause damage to roots, tree bark, seeds, bulbs and other plant parts in yards or farms. Gophers can create up to 70 mounds per month if soil conditions are ideal.
Pocket Gopher Control Methods
Fortunately, there are methods to control gophers. There are gopher traps that are used for small numbers of gophers. Smoke bombs can be used that are lit and put in the main burrows. Take steps to remove attractants when possible and try to protect vulnerable plants to help you keep your yard and garden free of damage. Some common gopher attractants are poppies, clovers, oxalis and many other native weeds and garden crops with tubers and crowns, like potatoes and broccoli. Vacant burrow systems will also attract gophers. All soil mounds and debris during and after treatment should be knocked down and cleared so you will notice any new activity if other gophers decide to move in. Keep an eye on your yard as the re-occupancy rate of burrows can be rapid. You can create barriers by using gopher baskets to surround the roots of plants. Make sure you choose a basket that will accommodate the root system of the plant as it grows. You can install wire mesh to protect your lawn, laying 1-2 inches of soil on top of the mesh between the mesh and sod roots. You can also line the bottoms of your raised beds with wire mesh to exclude them.