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Gophers are small rodents that are known for their burrowing behavior and intricate tunnel systems. Understanding their behavior and habits can help homeowners and gardeners coexist with these creatures effectively. In this article, we will explore various aspects of gopher behavior, including their classification, habitat, dietary preferences, living habits, identification, methods for controlling their populations, public health concerns, conservation efforts, geographic distribution, and some fun facts.

1. Overview of Gophers

1.1 Gopher Classification

Gophers belong to the family Geomyidae, which consists of over 35 species. The most common gopher species in North America is the Pocket gopher, named after the external cheek pouches they use to carry food.

1.2 Gopher Habitat

Gophers inhabit a wide range of environments, including grasslands, meadows, and woodland areas. They prefer areas with loose, well-drained soil, which makes it easier for them to dig burrows.

1.3 Gopher Diet and Behavior

Gophers primarily feed on plant roots, bulbs, shrubs, and grasses. They have powerful front legs and sharp claws that enable them to dig extensive tunnel systems underground. Gophers also exhibit solitary behavior, with each gopher having its own territory.

2. Living Habits of Gophers

2.1 How Many Gophers Typically Live Together?

Gophers are primarily solitary creatures, and it is rare to find them living together in the same burrow. However, there may be multiple gophers in a given area, each with its own network of tunnels.

2.2 Territorial Behavior of Gophers

Gophers are highly territorial and fiercely defend their burrows from other gophers. They mark their territories by scent marking and vocalizations, ensuring that neighboring gophers do not encroach upon their space.

2.3 Gopher Burrow Systems

Gophers construct elaborate burrow systems that consist of several tunnels, nesting chambers, and storage areas. These burrow systems serve as protection from predators and provide a stable environment for breeding and raising their young.

3. Identifying Gopher Activity

3.1 Signs of Gopher Presence

There are several signs that indicate the presence of gophers in an area. These include mounds of fresh soil, crescent-shaped surface tunnels, chewed vegetation, and the absence of surface vegetation where gophers have been feeding.

3.2 Probing for Burrows

Probing is a common technique used to locate gopher burrows. It involves using a thin metal rod to probe the ground and detect tunnels. Probing can help determine the size and location of the burrow system.

4. Controlling Gopher Populations

4.1 Natural Controls for Gophers

There are several natural methods to control gopher populations without resorting to harmful chemicals. These methods include planting repellent plant species, installing barriers around valuable plants, and encouraging natural predators like snakes and owls.

4.2 Habitat Modification Techniques

Modifying the gopher’s habitat can also be an effective control method. Tilling the soil to disrupt burrow systems, removing excessive vegetation that attracts gophers, and maintaining a well-drained yard are some ways to discourage gopher activity.

4.3 Trapping as a Control Method

Trapping is a common and effective method for controlling gopher populations. There are various types of gopher traps available, including box traps, cinch traps, and pitfall traps. Trapping should be done strategically, targeting areas of high gopher activity.

4.4 Baiting with Toxic Baits

In situations where trapping is not feasible or effective, baiting with toxic baits can be considered. However, this method should be used with caution and only by experienced individuals, as it may pose risks to other wildlife and pets.

4.5 Fumigation Options

Fumigation can be an alternative method for eradicating gopher infestations. It involves introducing toxic gas into the burrow system, effectively killing the gophers within. This method should only be performed by licensed professionals to ensure safety and effectiveness.

4.6 Other Effective Control Methods

In addition to the methods mentioned above, there are other effective control techniques available, such as the use of ultrasonic devices that emit sound frequencies repulsive to gophers, and the application of natural repellents like castor oil or predator urine.

5. Public Health Concerns

While gophers themselves do not pose significant public health concerns, their burrowing activities can damage underground utilities or structures. Additionally, gopher feces may contain parasites and bacteria that can be harmful if ingested or if they come into contact with open wounds.

6. Conservation Efforts for Gophers

6.1 Mazama Pocket Gopher Conservation

The Mazama Pocket Gopher, a species native to the Pacific Northwest, is currently listed as a threatened species. Conservation efforts focus on preserving and restoring its habitat, ensuring its long-term survival.

6.2 Facts about Washington Pocket Gophers

Washington State is home to several species of pocket gophers, including the Mazama Pocket Gopher and the Olympic Pocket Gopher. These species play crucial roles in ecosystem functioning and are protected under state and federal regulations.

7. Geographic Distribution of Gophers

7.1 States with High Gopher Population

Gophers are distributed across various states in North America. Some states with high gopher populations include California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and Montana.

7.2 Gophers in Various Regions of the United States

Gophers can be found in different regions of the United States, including the western, central, and eastern parts. Each region may have different species of gophers adapted to the specific environmental conditions.

8. Fun Facts About Gophers

Here are some interesting facts about gophers:

  • Gophers have large front teeth that continuously grow throughout their lives.
  • They are excellent swimmers and can hold their breath for several minutes.
  • Gophers are “bioturbators,” meaning their burrowing activities influence soil structure and nutrient cycling.
  • The average lifespan of a gopher is around 2-3 years in the wild.


Q: Are gophers harmful to humans?

A: Gophers themselves do not pose significant harm to humans. However, their burrowing activities can damage underground utilities or structures, and their feces may contain bacteria and parasites that can be harmful if ingested or come into contact with open wounds.

Q: Can gophers be relocated?

A: Relocating gophers is generally not recommended due to their territorial nature. They are likely to return to the area or cause conflicts with existing gopher populations in their new location.

Q: Do gophers hibernate?

A: Gophers do not hibernate. They remain active throughout the year, although their activity levels may vary depending on environmental conditions and food availability.

Q: Are gophers closely related to moles?

A: While gophers and moles share similar burrowing habits, they belong to different families. Gophers are classified under the family Geomyidae, while moles are classified under the family Talpidae.

Q: Can gophers cause damage to gardens?

A: Yes, gophers can cause significant damage to gardens by feeding on plant roots and bulbs. Their burrowing activities can also uproot plants and disrupt the soil structure.

Q: Do gophers serve any positive ecological role?

A: Gophers play essential roles in ecosystem functioning. By burrowing through the soil, they aerate and mix organic matter, contributing to nutrient cycling and soil productivity. Their burrows also provide habitat for other species, including insects and small mammals.

Q: How big can gopher tunnels be?

A: Gopher tunnels can range from a few inches to several feet in depth, depending on the species and habitat conditions. The tunnels are typically narrow, measuring around 2-3 inches in diameter.

Q: Are gophers active during the day or night?

A: Gophers are primarily active during the day, although they may also exhibit some nocturnal behavior. Their activity patterns can be influenced by factors such as predation risk, resource availability, and temperature.


Gophers are fascinating creatures that serve important ecological roles in their respective habitats. Understanding their behavior and habits can help us mitigate any negative impacts they may have on human structures or gardens. By employing effective control methods and conservation efforts, we can strike a balance between human needs and the preservation of these unique creatures.

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