Gopher hills discussed

This time of year you will see a lot of gopher hills. I had someone ask me the question how they get the dirt out of the ground.

Pocket gophers are medium-sized borrowing rodents that have external fur-lined pouches located on the outside of their mouths. They use the pouches to carry food and dirt.

Gophers have yellowish-colored incisor teeth. These teeth are always exposed even when their mouth is closed. They vary in length from six to 13 inches. Their eyesight is poor but their other senses are keen. They have short, hairless tails that guide them as they move backwards in a tunnel. Their large whiskers are sensitive to movement and guide them in pitch dark.

Their mounds are fan-shaped and a soil plug seals the entrance. All the soil on top is what they have excavated to the surface.

Their powerful claws and teeth are for digging. Their incisors grow continuously and require constant gnawing and chewing to keep them at a manageable length. Soil and rocks are loosened by digging and moved behind their back feet and then brushed to the surface with their chest and forefeet,


Their burrowing systems are complicated. A main tunnel runs about 4-18 inches below the surface with a number of lateral tunnels branching off from the main one. Lateral tunnels end at the surface where the mound is created, Pocket gophers usually construct one nest and a number of food-holding chambers in deeper tunnels that branch off from the main tunnel. A nest chamber is lined with vegetation. Some of these can reach five to six feet below the surface.

A single pocket gopher may construct as many as 300 mounds in a year, moving more than four tons of soil. Burrows constantly change. Old tunnels are sealed and new ones are constructed. Pocket gophers are territorial and will defend their tunnels from intruders. Typically there is one pocket gopher per tunnel system, unless the female has a litter or it is mating season.

Pocket gophers are active all year. They tunnel in the snow.

Females may only have one litter per year. The litters are usually born from March to June. The litters range from one to 13.

Pocket gophers eat grasses, shrubs and trees. They eat roots that are exposed by their tunneling as well as above-ground vegetation. Alfalfa and dandelion roots are preferred foods.

Gophers can cause considerable damage to fields, lawns and trees.

Modifying their habitat can reduce or eliminate the damage. The techniques used include crop rotation, using resistant crop varieties, flood irrigation and cultivated buffer strips in urban and rural areas.

Trapping on a small scale can be effective. The best trapping times are spring and fall. Several rodenticides can be used. You can ask your local extension agent about those.


Keep those questions and comments coming by sending to Christine Schlueter, 19276 Walden Ave Hutchinson MN 55350 or email to

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