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Pocket gophers: An entry from Thomson Gale's Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia by Thomson Gale

Gopher Diet

Gopher diets consist of strictly vegetation.  These mammals are herbivores, eating only plants and staying far away from animal products all together.   While this makes the beetles breathe a little easier, this does not bode well for your garden and landscaping!  They eat their food in one (1) of three (3) ways:

  1. Gophers may decide to physically pull the vegetation into the tunnel from below the surface
  2. Feed on roots they come across will digging burrows, and finally
  3. Gophers may venture out of their burrows to feed on vegetation above ground.

Gopher Diet-Food

As an herbivore, pocket gophers like a large array of vegetation. Just like you and I, however, they have their favorites.  One of their preferred delicacies is alfalfa, followed by the dandelion.  By and large, this mammal will eat most non-woody plants, shrubs, and trees.  In your yard and garden this could mean the sudden disappearance of your carefully tended vegetable garden including beans, lettuces, etc.

Gopher Diet-Physical Attributes

Gophers have a two (2) physical attributes that assist them greatly in their dietary preferences.  These include their teeth and cheek pouches.  All rodents, including the pocket gopher, have continuously growing incisors.  While this little mammal prefers the herbaceous varieties of plants, as described above they occasionally partake in woody shrubs and trees making their big front teeth an important attribute to the animal’s diet.

Perhaps the greatest physical attribute of the mammal with respect to the gopher’s diet may well be their cheek pouches.  These little beauties are exclusively used to carry food.  Beginning on the face and extending back to shoulders the cheek pouches of the pocket gopher open on the outside and not on the inside of the animals mouth.  The gopher can turn the pouches completely inside out for cleaning after which a muscle, specific to this purpose, pulls the pouch closed again.

Gopher Diet-Seasonal Variances

As established earlier, the pocket gophers do not hibernate.  As a result, feeding in the winter time will sometimes lead to more emphasis on above ground, woody vegetation.  In areas of the animal’s range that include snowy habitats the gopher has been known to feed on bark several feet up.  This is because they will very instinctively burrow through the snow.

During the growing season gophers will eat more above ground portions of the vegetation they pull through the soil with roots making up the majority of winter dinners along with tree and shrub bark.

Gopher Diet-Benefits and Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Detriments of the pocket gopher’s diet are varied.  Their effect on alfalfa plantings includes a loss of total productivity and has been estimated to be between 20% and 50%. The mounds left at the entrances of burrow holes have been attributed to dulling and even damaging harvesting tools.

On the smaller scale of backyards and garden areas, gophers can devastate vegetable gardens in a short amount of time.  Young trees and shrubs may also have a difficult time surviving the constant denuding of their lower bark from the winter feeding of a pocket gopher.

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