Both of these critters create tunnels and are active underground, improving the soil by aerating it and mixing nutrients. But they are otherwise very different. Gophers are rodents that eat only plants, favoring bulbs and roots, and can do real damage to plants. Moles are NOT rodents; they are meat eaters, feasting on grubs and other insects, especially in lawns. They can be beneficial by keeping populations of insect pests under control. Learn the difference between these critters as the first step in successfully managing them.
The pocket gopher is named for the external, fur-lined check pouches the little pests use to carry food to their storage area. Their thick-bodies are about six – twelve inches long; they 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.
Moles have cylindrical bodies with slender, pointed snouts and short, bare, or sparsely haired tails. Their limbs are short and spade-like. Their eyes are poorly developed, and their ears aren’t visible. The fur is short, dense, and velvety. Active throughout the year, especially after rainfall or watering events when digging new tunnels is easiest.
The first sign of one of these excavators may be mounds. Gophers create a fan-shaped mound of finely pulverized soil in the lawn or planting bed while mole mounds are circular and may be accompanied by raised surface runways.
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