Pocket Gopher Biology

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Handling


Reproduction varies greatly among species. For example, plains pocket gophers have 1 litter per year of 3 to 4 young while yellow-faced pocket gophers can have 3 litters per year of 1 to 3 young per litter. Young of all species are nursed to maturity (typically 2 months).  


The activity of burrowing typically increases in spring when the surface soil thaws and soil temperatures increase. Activity increases in the fall as soil temperatures decrease and pocket gophers prepare for winter.  


A wide variety of habitats are occupied by pocket gophers. Typically, only one species of pocket gopher is found in each habitat. Larger gophers are restricted to sandy and silty soils east of the Rockies. Small gophers of the genus Thomomys tolerate a broader range of soil types and conditions. Pocket gophers occur from low coastal areas to elevations over 12,000 feet. Pocket gophers reach their highest densities on friable, light-textured soils with good production of plants, especially when the vegetation has large, fleshy tap roots, bulbs, tubers, or other underground structures for storage.  

Pocket gophers sometimes occupy habitats with up to 10% rocks in the top 8 inches of soil. They burrow around rocks greater than 1 inch in diameter, but smaller rocks frequently are pushed to the surface.  

Depth and texture of soil is critical to the presence or absence of gophers. Shallow soils may not maintain a tunnel. Tunnels are deeper in very sandy soils where the level of moisture is sufficient to maintain the integrity of burrows. Atmospheric and exhaled gases must diffuse through the soil to and from the tunnel. Light-textured, porous soil with good drainage allows good gas exchange between the tunnel and the atmosphere. Soils with high clay content, or those that are wet, diffuse gases poorly and are unsuitable for gophers. Soil depth is important for ameliorating temperatures. Soil less than 4 inches deep are too warm during the summer. Shallow tunnels may limit the presence of gophers during cold temperatures, especially if an insulating layer of snow is absent.  

Food Habits 

Pocket gophers eat forbs, grasses, shrubs, and trees. They are strict herbivores, so animal material in their diet is from incidental ingestion. Pocket gophers feed on plant roots that they encounter when digging. They typically venture only a body length or so from the opening of the tunnel to feed on aboveground vegetation or pull vegetation into the tunnel from below. Alfalfa and dandelions are some of the most preferred and nutritious foods for pocket gophers. Generally, Thomomys prefer perennial forbs, but they also eat annual plants with fleshy underground structures for storage. Plains pocket gophers primarily eat grasses, especially those with rhizomes, but they prefer succulent forbs in spring and summer.