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

Gophers

Pocket Gophers

Scientific Name:  Varies
Phylum:  Chordata
Class:  Mammalia
Order: Rodentia
Family: Geomyidae
Genus: 

Gophers in your yard and gardens would be a rare sight, but having them in your yard is quite common throughout the United States and parts of Canada and Central America.  They find tender perennials irresistible and with a habit of pulling them from their underground tunnels below the soil surface, the case of the missing begonia plant can sometimes remain unresolved for days!

Gopher Natural History

The official name of this mammal is "Pocket Gopher", named after their very visible cheek pockets used to carry food. Gophers live most of their lives underground.  There are 35 species of gophers living in both North and Central America. With a 12 year life span gophers out live quite a few of their neighboring wild animals.  This is most likely due to their underground lifestyle. They rarely leave their burrows.

Gopher Physical Appearance

Gopher Appearance

Gopher's physical appearance resembles that of many rodents.  They have a very fine and variable colored fur which can range from gray to white.  This fine fur is a tool to keep the dirt from getting into and clumping the fur.  At a length of about 5-14 inches the animal falls in the medium range for a rodent.

Pocket Gophers are true underground dwellers having certain physical characteristics that make life easier for these types of creatures. Gopher's have very powerful front leg quarters to assist in the digging process and very long, very large front claws and teeth.  A short, barely discernable neck, and their small flat head both help with the digging process by keep the animals head low with those front teeth and legs do the hard work of digging. They have relatively small eyes and ears which provide less surface area to get dirt in thereby keeping irritation low; however, these mammals are a little deficient when it comes to eyesight and hearing capabilities because of it.  To make up for the poor eyesight and hearing they have highly sensitive whiskers on their face to help feel their way through the dark tunnels.

A very interesting physical feature of this little mammal is its ability to close its lips behind their very large incisors.  Most experts agree that this characteristic keeps all of that dirt from getting into the animals mouth while still having use of those large incisors to help with the digging!

But perhaps the most well known gopher characteristic is their cheek pouches, aka, "pockets".  These versatile little wonders make easy work of food gathering due to their amazing ability to turn completely inside out!

Gopher Behavior

Pocket Gophers prefer to spend the majority of their time underground. This makes it hard for some to believe that Gophers are not primarily nocturnal animals.  They have been known to be active at all times of the day.

As with many rodents, pocket gophers do not hibernate.  They forage year round and do store food in their burrows for winter use in colder climates.

Pocket Gophers are solitary animals.  In fact, with the exception of a mother with babies, it would be a rare occurrence to find two (2) gophers living together in the same burrow. 

Because there are so many species of gopher their reproduction habits vary. In general, most species mate two (2) times per year, with some varieties breeding throughout the year. Gestational periods last 18-19 days with number of offspring ranging from three (3) to four (4) at one birth. Babies are born with not only their eyes closed, but their ears and cheek pockets, too!

Gopher Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem

Gophers benefit humans and ecosystems in several ways. As with all burrowing animals, gophers are doing wonderful things for the top soil in the areas where they live.  The burrowing process aerates the soil, reduces compaction, and increases water filtration.  Living underground has is benefits, too, by adding nutrients to soil through natural composting of nesting materials and, believe it or not, regular excrement. 

Unfortunately, those large incisors can have a negative effect to humans when they accidentally chop through plastic water lines and underground sprinkler system.  The mounds formed during the burrowing process have been known to dull the blades of harvesting equipment and may not be fully appreciated by the homeowner who prides themselves on a pristine lawn and garden.

The presence of gophers can also make the area more preferable for badgers which can cause considerable damage to yards and gardens.

 

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