What are Gophers?
Pocket gophers, commonly referred to simply as “gophers”, are burrowing creatures belonging to the rodent family, scientific name Geomyidae.
These rodents reach reproductive age at about one year old and can live up to 3 years in the wild.
How to Identify Gophers
California pocket gophers are often confused with other similar-looking mammals, such as moles, ground squirrels, rats, or chipmunks. They look like a long-tailed beaver with their buckteeth.
Most gophers are between six and ten inches long, and they have small eyes and ears that are barely visible. They get their name from the external fur-lined pockets in their cheeks, which they use like grocery bags to carry roots and other vegetative food.
Gophers have large-clawed front paws and strong front legs designed for digging. Their bodies are covered in fine, short fur that repels wet soil.
Gophers also have four large front teeth and can close their lips behind their teeth to keep dirt out of their mouths, even while using their teeth to help tunnel into the earth. They use their sensitive facial whiskers to help navigate the dark tunnels underground.
Behavior, Diet, and Habits of Gophers
Gophers are some of the most common rodents in North America. The pocket gopher lives throughout the Great Plains, American West, and Southwest.
They love to live in areas with loose, sandy soil that’s easy to dig through and plenty of edible plant cover.
They’re common in crop fields, golf courses, and residential lawns.
Gophers are voracious eaters, and they have many favorite foods. Some of their primary food sources include roots, tubers, and aboveground plants. Their teeth are adapted to grind woody vegetation, which makes these rodents capable of eating even the fast-growing roots of the quaking aspen tree.
Regarding behavior, pocket gophers are solitary rodents that only come together in the summer and spring to breed. Mothers have one litter per year in non-irrigated areas and up to three litters per year in irrigated areas. Females give birth in underground nests, where they rear their young for several weeks before sending them out on their own.
What Damage Do Pocket Gophers Cause?
In their natural ecosystem, pocket gophers are actually beneficial to the ecosystem. They help aerate the soil and provide critical habitat for other animals.
When their numbers get out of control, or they take over residential areas, though, gophers can be destructive, problematic pests that cause extensive damage. In ideal habitats, pocket gophers invade yards and gardens, destroy crops and ornamental plants, and girdle trees.
As they burrow underground, gophers can gnaw through water, irrigation, and utility lines. Their extensive tunnel networks can divert irrigation water and lead to soil erosion, while the mounds they create in yards can make it difficult to mow or maintain the area.
Finally, gophers carry diseases that can be dangerous to humans, including hantavirus, rabies, and leptospirosis.
What are the Signs of a Gopher Infestation?
Need help determining if you have a gopher infestation? Look for these telltale signs:
Fresh mounds of soil can signify the presence of a gopher. Gophers dig tunnels and push the loosened dirt to the surface, leaving horseshoe-shaped mounds of dirt on the ground.
There are rarely any visible signs of the hole since the loosened dirt fills back in around the tunneling gopher.
Gophers rarely come out of their holes, so if you think you see one hanging out above ground, you probably have a ground squirrel rather than a gopher.
2. Vegetation damage
You’ll know you have gophers if you notice damage to your grass, trees, plants, and flowers in addition to the mounds of dirt.
Remember that gophers usually attack plants from underground, as they feed safely from their tunnels.
Because of this, you’ll want to look for signs like discolored or dying plants or sudden, unexplained loss of crops.
When gophers feed above ground, you may notice signs like girdling on trees and noticeable bite marks on your plants and vegetables.
3. Damage to utility lines
Water line damage can also signify a gopher infestation. Look for gnawed sprinkler heads or malfunctioning utility lines.
Remember that once a gopher has settled into their underground tunnels, they will live there permanently until you take steps to get rid of them.
How to Prevent Gophers
- Use exclusion methods like mesh wire fencing to keep gophers out of your favorite flower bed or away from valuable ornamental plants. Look for wire fencing made from ¼ mesh. Bury the mesh fencing at least 18 inches deep around the area you wish to protect, leaving about six inches of fencing above ground.
- Invest in scent-based repellents that make your yard unpleasant for gophers to inhabit.
- Plant gopher-repelling herbs like lavender and rosemary or flower varieties like marigolds and oleander.
- Introduce natural predators like barn owls.
How Smith’s Can Help Get Rid Of Gophers
If you already have California pocket gophers tunneling around your yard, Smith’s Pest Management can help without using harmful toxins.
We use either a three-step gopher trapping process with professional-grade stainless-steel traps or a carbon monoxide fumigation treatment to eliminate gophers (note: California has limited the use of carbon monoxide; read more here). We start each gopher control contract with an initial inspection, during which we pinpoint and expose gopher tunnels and take stock of existing gopher damage.
Next, we develop a gopher mitigation program and start to deploy treatment, including traps, which control gophers humanely and without unnecessary environmental risk.
Finally, we provide a follow-up visit for your property, during which we evaluate the effectiveness of our preliminary treatments and deliver additional treatment as needed.
Both gopher control options satisfy the We’re Healthy Schools Act and are ideal for schools, daycares, other commercial environments, and homes.
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Bob M. - Fremont, CA
The gophers killed my fruit trees, and upended my garden and it became impossible to keep up with them. So I contacted Smith and they took care of them for me.