Pocket Gopher Damage Identification

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Handling

Damage to Structures 

Damage caused by pocket gophers includes destruction of underground utility cables and irrigation pipes. Tunnels of pocket gophers in banks of ditches and earthen dams can weaken structures, causing loss of water, piping through, and complete loss of a bank. The presence of gophers also increases the likelihood of activity of badgers, whose digging can cause considerable damage. 

Utility cables gnawed by pocket gophers.  
Photo by University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). 

Damage to Livestock and Pets 

Pocket gophers do not harm other animals, although feeding may cause competition with grazing livestock. 

Damage to Landscapes 

The parts of plants that pocket gophers consume vary with the seasons. Pocket gophers consume aboveground vegetation during the growing season, when the vegetation is green and succulent. Height and density of vegetation at this time of year may offer protection from predators and reduce the risk of short surface trips.  

Gophers damage trees by stem girdling and clipping, root pruning, and possibly root exposure caused by burrowing. Trees and shrubs may be clipped just above ground level, primarily during winter under snow cover. Damage may reach up to 10 inches aboveground. Roots are a major source of food for pocket gophers.  

Pocket gophers clip the roots of seedlings. If forbs and trees fail to thrive, then they may have sustained severe damage to the roots. Pocket gophers alter habitats through direct consumption of vegetation, smothering of forage by earthen mounds, and change in species composition on rangelands by providing seedbeds (mounds) for invasive annual plants. Mounds dull and plug sicklebars during harvest. In irrigated areas, tunnels of gophers can cause the loss of water for surface irrigation. 

Root of a fruit tree gnawed by a pocket gopher. Photo by UNL. 

Large, tap-rooted plants may be killed or weakened from feeding by pocket gophers on the roots. Plants with several large roots rather than a single taproot suffer less from feeding by pocket gophers. Several provenances of ponderosa pine have natural resistance to damage by pocket gophers.   

Health and Safety Concerns 

Pocket gophers are not known to be a significant threat to the safety of humans or animals. Pocket gophers have very strong jaws and sharp incisors (front teeth), so avoid getting bitten when handling pocket gophers that are trapped. Always wear gloves when controlling gophers. Pocket gophers carry parasites, but the potential threat to humans is thought to be low.