The pocket gopher is named for the external, fur-lined check pouches the little pests use to carry food to their storage area. These thick-bodied rodents range from six – twelve inches long and have small eyes and ears set back far on the head. Their exposed chisel-like teeth (that grow continuously nine to fourteen inches a year) are used for digging. Their powerful forelegs with long claws are used to dig out a network of tunnels that usually run six to eighteen inches below the soil surface.
Gophers use their keen sense of smell to locate foods such as bulbs, tubers, roots, grasses, seeds, and occasionally, tree bark. They can consume entire plants by pulling them down into their burrows, and will quickly plug off openings in their dark, subterranean tunnels to avoid light, water, gopher snakes and poisonous gasses of all types.
These pesky critters don’t hibernate and come up to the surface only to push soil out of their burrows, forage, disperse to a new area or seek mates. With a lifespan of up to a dozen years, the generally solitary animals will protect their tunnels fiercely from other gophers. Mating time is usually January – April, and a female produces one litter a year.
The first sign of a gopher may be a plant that is mysteriously wilting or a fan-shaped mound of finely pulverized soil in the lawn or planting bed – the result of their excavating tunnels. The mound has a plug off to one side to close the hole. If you do see a wilting plant – give it a tug. A damaged plant will often pull right out of the ground with all its roots gone.