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Pocket Gopher

Pocket gopher

Geomys pinetis                                                       Photo Barry Mansell ©

Pocket gophers are rat-sized, tube-shaped animals, rarely seen on the surface. Adapted for a life underground, they have huge, orange-colored incisors, enlarged front feet with long claws, a short naked tail, and tiny eyes and ears.

Pocket gophers can also close their lips behind their incisors, which allow  them to dig and cut roots and tubers with their teeth without getting soil in their mouth. They also have a pair of external, fur-lined cheek pouches, in which food and nesting material is transported to chambers in the burrow. 

Each pocket gopher digs an extensive system of tunnels, including shallow tunnels about a foot below the surface for feeding and deeper (18-36 inches) tunnels where their nest and food storage chambers are located. As pocket gophers dig, the soil in the tunnel (casting) is pushed upward through a tube to the surface, where it appears as a sandy mound. Tunnels are then plugged from the inside. A line of fresh mounds across a field marks the pocket gopher’s passage.  This behavior has resulted in locals referring to pocket gophers as ‘sandy mounders’, which was later corrupted to ‘salamander.’

The gopher’s mound provides a home to other animals, including crown snakes and mole skinks. Radio-tagged pine snakes have been seen tunneling into pocket gopher burrows, where they prey on the rodent.  Pine snakes have a heavy, enlarged rostral scale on their nose that they use to help them punch into the mound so they can gain access to the tunnel.



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