What Are Gophers?

Learn to ID—and get rid of—these pesky rodents.

When it comes to gophers, most of us fall into one of two camps: chuckling over the destructive dancing gopher from a particularly well-known ‘80s movie or grimacing over the havoc caused by the real ones in our backyards. Either way, the little rodents are a nuisance.

Real-life gophers are small, burrowing, tunneling mammals that are often confused with other small mammals, likes shrews, prairie voles, and (especially) moles.

Gophers vs. Moles

There are plenty of differences between gophers and moles. For one thing, gophers are strict vegetarians that eat trees, shrubs, and grasses. Moles are not. Gophers have long, yellowish incisor teeth that are always exposed. Moles have small teeth and tiny eyes. Unlike the mole, the gopher also has fur-lined cheek pouches, which is why it's sometimes called a pocket gopher. Ranging from 6 to 13 inches long, gophers are also bigger than moles, and are usually light brown to almost black, with short, hairless tails.

There are 35 different species of gopher. The most widespread species, the plains pocket gopher, is found throughout the Great Plains, from Montana to Kansas to New Mexico.

Tunnel Habits

As for their tunneling behavior, gophers use their long teeth and sharp claws to loosen below-the-surface soil. Then they put their thick, broad shoulders to work, pushing the soil out of the burrow and to the surface where it piles up in a distinctive fan shape. These gopher mounds can be up to 18 inches wide and 6 inches high, and multiply quickly, as the average gopher creates one to three mounds a day

What you won't see around your yard, though, are entrances to their burrows. Unlike other burrowing mammals, gophers keep a closed tunnel system, plugging any openings with loose soil.

Gophers In Your Yard

If you’ve got gophers, you can be sure they are underneath your lawn, feeding on plant roots and pulling down the green, succulent vegetation growing above-ground, creating holes in your lawn and weak spots throughout your yard.

Besides harming plants, this tunneling-feeding behavior can destroy anything else in its wake, including water lines, cables, and pipes – which is all the more reason to get rid of gophers in your yard.

Getting Rid of Gophers

Try one or more of these methods to get rid of gophers.

  • Apply a repellent containing castor oil, like Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Repellent Ready-To-Spray or Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Repellent Granules, to gopher-infested areas – the fresher the mound, the better. Castor oil is a remedy that won't harm or kill gophers; it just sends them packing. Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Repellents contain castor oil and are specially formulated to penetrate deep into the soil. Be sure to follow all label directions.
  • Set traps when gophers are most active, which is typically in the spring and fall. Look for the freshest mound in your yard and dig to find the tunnel. Open the tunnel up by removing the soil plug, then set a trap at each end of the tunnel. Re-plug the tunnel or leave it open so the gopher will return to close things up. Give gophers a day or two to find the trap before moving it to another infested area.
  • Bait an active burrow system with a pelleted bait like Tomcat® Mole & Gopher Bait to help eliminate gophers. Locate an active tunnel by finding a fresh mound and opening it up by poking small holes with a wooden dowel or stick. Following label directions, spoon the bait just inside the tunnel so that the gopher can find it even after you've re-plugged the holes. When re-plugging, be sure not to crush the underground runway area or cover the bait with loosened soil.

Unless they're killed by natural predators like owls, hawks, foxes, and weasels, gophers will be content to live out their short lives (usually less than three years) destroying your yard and garden.

Your move, then, is to go after those gophers!

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