Gophers

Gophers are burrowing rodents. They are powerfully built in the forequarters and have a short neck; the head is fairly small and flattened. The forepaws are large-clawed and the lips close behind their large incisors. They are medium-sized rodents ranging from about 5 to nearly 14 inches long.

A wide variety of habitats are occupied by gophers. They similarly are found in a wide variety of soil types and conditions. They reach their greatest densities on friable, light- textured soils with good herbage production, especially when that vegetation has large, fleshy roots, bulbs, tubers, or other underground storage structures.

Gophers feed on plants in three ways: 1- they feed on roots that they encounter when digging; 2- they may go to the surface, venturing only a body length or so from their tunnel opening to feed on aboveground vegetation; and 3- they pull vegetation into their tunnel from below. They eat forbs, grasses, shrubs and trees. Plants like alfalfa and dandelions are apparently some of the most preferred food, but gophers also feed on perennial forbs and annual plants with fleshy root systems. Gophers utilize above ground portions of vegetation mostly during the growing season, however, roots are the major food source year-round.

Fan-shaped soil mounds are characteristic evidence of their presence. Typically, there is only one gopher per burrow system. Obvious exceptions are when mating occurs and females are caring for their young. Burrow systems consist of a main burrow, generally 4 to 18 inches below and parallel to the ground surface, with a variable number of lateral burrows off the main one. These end at the surface with a soil mound or sometimes only a soil plug. There are also deeper branches off the main burrow that are used as nests and food caches. The maximum depth of at least some portion of a burrow may be as great as 5 or 6 feet below the surface. The diameter of a burrow is about 3 inches but varies slightly with the size of the gopher.

Burrow systems may be linear or highly branched. The number of soil mounds on the surface of the ground may be as great as 300 per animal per year. A single burrow system may contain up to 200 yards of tunnels. The poorer the habitat, the larger the burrow system required to provide sufficient forage for its occupants. The rate of mound building is highly variable, and could average from 1 to 3 per day, up to 70 mounds per month. This activity represents one gophers ability to move up to 2 1/4 tons of dirt per year. The home range of a single gopher may be up to 700 square yards.

Gophers do not hibernate. Mound building increases from spring through summer into fall.

Gophers breed and produce 1 litter per year. Litter sizes typically average 3 to 4 young. The breeding season produces births from March through June. Densities of gophers are highly variable, with 16 to 20 per acre not being uncommon. They may attain densities of up to 62 per acre if left undisturbed.

Damage caused by gophers includes destruction of underground utility cables and irrigation pipe, direct consumption and smothering of forage by earthen mounds and introduction of seedbeds for invading annual plant life. Gophers damage trees by stem girdling and clipping, root pruning, and possible root exposure caused by burrowing. Gopher mounds dull and plug sickle bars when harvesting hay or alfalfa, and soil brought to the surface as mounds is more likely to erode. In irrigated areas, gopher tunnels can channel water runoff, causing loss of surface irrigation water. Gopher tunnels in ditch banks and earthen dams can weaken these structures, causing water loss by seepage and piping through a bank or the complete loss or washout of a canal bank.

Contact Info

ABOL Rodent Control
P.O. Box 1876
Lodi, CA 95241
209-333-9680
adentone@abolrodentcontrol.com
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