About Gophers


Identification: Pocket gophers are compact burrowing rodents distinguished by their blunt head, large upper and lower incisors, fur-lined pouches on both sides of mouth, and the crescent shaped mounds of soil it digs up. Thirty-three species live across the Western Hemisphere, with varied colors and sizes. Major points of difference in general are the surfaces of their incisors and size of feet and claws.

Physical Attributes: Gophers survive in tunnel environments that offer low concentrations of oxygen and higher carbon dioxide levels through high hemoglobin levels in their blood. Digging and excavation tasks are enabled by the superb physical structure of gopher such as powerfully built forequarters, large digging forepaws with large claws. Aggressive gnawing can be performed with their mouth closed because their upper and lower incisors are on exterior of mouth cavity.

Activity Periods: Pocket gophers work throughout the year, their typical workday begins early in the morning to sweep the area for intruders, forage for succulent vegetation, and for tunnel maintenance. The greatest amount of work is done when the soil is most workable, usually after winter soil warms up and soil dries out. Gophers do not go dormant, they will take prolonged rest periods when temperatures or humidity reach extremes, and will go to deep nesting runway systems and live off of stored food caches. (See above diagram of system).

Social Structure: Male systems don't overlap each other, female systems don't overlap each other. Male systems overlap female systems. Home range sizes are dependent upon the carrying capacity of local food supply. Pocket gophers are typically territorial and solitary. They avoid each other unless during the highly charged breeding cycle and weaning process. Female will drive out juveniles to new habitats after weaning.

Habitat: Pocket gophers live in seclusion in underground tunnel systems, which they rigorously defend. Prefer friable (crumbly) soil that has better than average gas exchange. Systems are typically made up of shallow feeding tunnels that run downward into deep nesting tunnel systems that can be several feet underneath the shallow systems. Average shallow tunnel depth is between 6-12". Gophers can heave up large amounts of soil in random mounding patterns, each forming a crescent shaped mound. (Mole mounds are conical in shape and form almost linear directions in their digging patterns.) Gophers will forage above ground very near the tunnel opening for food and nesting material. They can create up to 70 mounds a month. Will back fill-old systems with new soil diggings, as will moles.

Food: Pocket gophers seek food several ways; feeding above grounds, feeding on vegetation dragged into tunnel system, and direct consumption of roots - which are all mainly located by odor. Gophers are generally thought of as a strict herbivores which eat grasses, shrubs, and trees, but research has revealed that insects make up a small but definite portion of their diet. They prefer perennials that are succulent source of nourishment. Annual plants that provide fleshy underground nutrition and moisture are also highly sought after. They will dig into snow layers to find winter food supply, leaving earthen tubes above ground after snowmelts

Abundance: You typically can find 6-20 per acre in a favorable digging and feeding environment. Higher levels are often found in alfalfa, were populations can reach into the hundreds per acre.

Breeding Season: March through April. Breeding follows the improved food and temperature conditions at that time. Male pocket gophers will construct and maintain linear systems that seek to overlap adjoining female tunnel systems during this cycle. Gophers will breed after reaching sexual maturity the following spring. Litters average 4-6, but litter sizes vary with species. Gestation period 18-19 days. Multiple litters in lower elevations and milder climates with good to overabundant food sources. Breeding can occur throughout the year such as in alfalfa fields located in warmer growing locations, like Arizona and California.

Predation: Badgers, spotted skunks, and some snakes can get in some gopher tunnels. Hawks, owls, fox, coyotes, bobcats, raptors make up biggest threat as gophers feed or are dispersing above ground.

Pocket Gophers

There are five species of gophers, or "pocket gophers" as they are more correctly called, that occur in California, however the most likely to be encountered is the Valley or Botta's pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae ). Not spelled Gofer like so many people do.

 Pocket gophers are a small rodent about 5 to 7 inches long not including the tail. They come in a variety of colors but are most often grayish brown to brown. They have a very short tail, tiny ears and eyes, and huge, yellowish front teeth (incisors) which are always exposed. They also have large, curved front claws used for digging.
Click on image for larger view
Click on image for larger view

How Do I Know if I Have Pocket Gophers?
Since gophers spend most of their time underground, they are hardly ever seen so the best identification method is to examine the dirt mounds that almost always accompany their activity. As pocket gophers dig their tunnels, pocket gophers periodically shove dirt out to the surface forming mounds. The dirt is pushed to the surface from tunnels that are at an angle to the surface, so the mounds form in a crescent or horseshoe shape. This helps distinguish gopher mounds from mole mounds which are volcano shaped. Pocket gopher tunnels and burrows are almost always plugged. This helps to distinguish them from other burrowing rodents like ground squirrels or meadow mice. On average, a gopher makes about 1 to 3 mounds per day out of thier tunnels which is why you want to get rid of pocket gophers right away.

Gopher Damage
Although gophers can be serious agricultural pests, most of the damage gophers cause is to landscaping and turf with their large gopher tunnels made. Gophers feed on many varieties of ornamental plants, and the mounds coming above the gopher tunnel they make can be unsightly, damaging to turf, and even pose a quite real trip hazard on athletic fields. That trip hazard is also important around horse stables and livestock. The facilities feel it is crucial to exterminate gophers to protect their expensive animals from breaking a leg by their foot stepping into the gopher tunnel. If pocket gophers are dealt with before thier gopher tunnel becomes too big it can usually be contained to a small area. When the gopher tunnel is allowed to build and build the gopher tunnels can cover a large area and easier for future gophers to take over those gopher tunnels.

What about flooding?
Outside of agricultural settings where a large amount of water can be put on an area in a short period of time and left standing for an extended period of time, this control method has very little practical value for residential uses. The old "garden hose down the hole" method to fill the gopher tunnel with enough water to flush them the gopher out has been tried by almost everyone who has ever attempted to control pocket gophers but rarely works and is usually a waste of water and time (until Tunnel Fill that is). It can also cause erosion problems because you do not know where the gopher tunnels are going underground and you may cause significant property damage. However, with Tunnel Fill, the expanding properties make this proceedure possible by absorbing the water you are filling the gopher tunnel with.

There are no repellents or scaring devices available at the present time that have been proved to protect lawns or other planting sites from pocket gophers, moles or ground squirrels. Several plants, such as gopher purge (Euphorbia lathyrus) and cantor bean ( Ricinus communis), have been purported to offer protection for a limited time from ravenous gophers, but these claims have never been proved. If they really worked to get rid of gophers we could just simply spray this everywhere and the gophers would just disappear.

Trying to keep pocket gophers out of your yard or garden by using physical barriers can sometimes be effective if done on a small scale. Any large project, such as placing gopher fencing around the perimeter of your backyard would be cost prohibitive and would at best only provide short term control. Raised flower beds can be protected by placing a layer of 1/4 inch galvanized hardware cloth (sometimes called gopher wire) under the bed and securing it to the 2x6 wood frame before filling with soil. In reforestation or orchard situations, a "cage" (sometimes called gopher cages) of hardware cloth lining the hole and extending six inches aboveground can give a young tree room to establish a good root system before being exposed to pocket gopher damage.

Six to eight inches of gravel 1 inch or more in diameter around underground utility cables or sprinkler lines may discourage gnawing by gophers.

Legal Status
Pocket gophers are classified by the California Department of Fish and Game as a nongame mammal. If they are causing damage, they are allowed to be taken using gopher traps and poison bait by the owner or tenant of the property or their employees. Any gopher poison bait used must be registered for use in California for use on gophers. Check your state for laws and regulations regarding gopher, mole, ground squirrels or other animals you are having problems with.


There are five species of ground squirrels that are native to California where Tunnel Fill was developed. The ground squirrel that is most likely to be encountered is the California Ground Squirrel also known as the Beechy Ground Squirrel. Check your state for local squirrel types and habits.


How Do I Know if I Have Ground Squirrels and not Tree Squirrels ?
The California ground squirrel can be identified by physical as well as behavioral characteristics. Adult ground squirrels can reach an overall length of 18-20 inches with the body slightly longer than the tail. California ground squirrels are gray with lighter flecks distributed over the surface of the back and sides. The nape of the neck has a pair of dark triangular patches that extend just beyond the shoulders. A noticeable white fringe adorns the sides and tip of the tail. When frightened they always seek shelter in an underground burrow. Ground squirrels live in unplugged burrows in the ground that are approximately 4 inches across and are active only during the day. Several holes will make up a burrow connected by a tunnel system. If you see a squirrel run up a tree when frightened this will be a tree squirrel which do not burrow and usually do not get removed from property unless eating fruit or causing other problems. Tree squirrel removal is a rare all for us to get it is almost always for ground squirrels.

Squirrel Damage
Ground squirrels damage many fruit and nut trees as well as vegetables and ornamental plants. They may damage young trees, shrubs and vines by gnawing bark, girdling trunks, eating twigs and leaves, and burrowing around roots. Ground squirrels will chew on plastic sprinkler heads and irrigation pipe. They also feed on the eggs of ground nesting birds, such as pheasant and quail. Ground squirrels extensive burrows damage landscaping and undermine structures, roads, dams, and slopes contributing to erosion. When populations become unnaturally high, their burrowing, tunneling and feeding activities may serve to degrade an area’s biodiversity, sometimes leaving it a pockmarked moonscape.

Squirrel Control
California ground squirrels do very well in areas disturbed or altered by man which border a natural setting. In fact, in these areas ground squirrel populations may increase to many times the level it would be in a truly natural environment. It is in these situations that control frequently becomes necessary.
The most effective control measures for ground squirrel removal are poison baits, burrow fumigants and trapping. The last technique is an option that a homeowner can have limited success with. However, due to a change in US EPA labeling requirements, poison baits distributed by the County Agricultural Commissioner offices are no longer available for sale to the general public. Remember, squirrel bait can pose a risk to pets and wildlife if used improperly- FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS VERY CAREFULLY if you are able to find squirrel poison and with to use by yourself. Trapping is another great way to control small popultions of squirrels that the homeowner/non licensed person can do. No matter what method you use or even hire someone to do it for you if you do not destroy the burrows you will get squirrels back. Adding Tunnel Fill down the burrows and tunnels will drastically reduce re-infestation and give long term control.


Legal Status
Ground squirrels are classified as nongame mammals by the California Fish and Game code and most states. Nongame mammals which are found to be injuring crops or other property may be controlled at any time or in any manner that is legal and humane by the owner or tenant of the property. They may also be controlled by federal, state or county officers or employees while acting in their official capacities. Check your state to be sure of your local laws.

Mole Pest Control
Moles are mammals that live under ground, burrowing holes. Moles have cylindrical bodies covered in fur with small or covered eyes; the ears are generally not visible. Moles are of the Family Talpidae: several genera and species, including the Eastern Mole ( Scalopus aquaticus) of North America. Average life span of a mole is around four years.
Moles feed on small invertebrate animals living underground eg: earthworms and other soil inhabiting insects. Moles remove many damaging insects and grubs from lawns and gardens. However, their burrowing habits destroy lawns and parks beauty, destroy flower beds, tear up the roots of grasses, and make the area unsightly. Unlike a gopher tunnel which is deep in the ground, a mole tunnel can be very close to the surface making the mole tunnel visable from the surface. Often times you can follow the mole tunnels across the lawn and often time the mole tunnels will follow along the sidewalk or other hardscaping.

It is important to properly identify the kind of animal causing damage before setting out to control the damage. Moles and pocket gophers are often found in the same location and their damage is often confused. Control methods differ for the two species. Moles leave volcano-shaped hills that are often made up of clods of soil. The Mole hills are pushed up from the deep tunnels and may be 2 to 24 inches (5 to 60 cm) tall. The number of Mole hills is not a measure of the number of Moles in a given area. Surface tunnels or ridges are indicative of Mole activity. Pocket gopher mounds are generally kidney-shaped and made of finely sifted and cloddy soil. Generally, gophers leave larger mounds than Moles do. Gopher mounds are often built in a line, indicative of a deeper tunnel system. Mole Control and Mole Removal is the only way to Control Moles and Mole Breeding. A Mole Nuisance in the yard can upset daily life and removing Moles from the yard can be even more challanging with out the propert equipment.

The two most common mole varieties are star-nosed and eastern. They are nearly 7 inches long from nose to tail. They have broad, outward-facing pads on their front feet, small and narrow hind feet, and tiny pinholes for eyes; their ears are not visible. Moles use their paws to tunnel through the ground searching for ants, earthworms and grubs. They are insectivores who do not eat plants but feed mainly on earthworms, insect larvae and anthropoids found in their mole tunnels. A person can easily find whether they have moles in their lawn or garden by seeing trenches and dug-up soil. Adult mole measures from 12 to 20 cm in length and has dark grey or brown, velvety fur. Moles do not hibernate but remain active day or night throughout the year. During winter, mole looks for food deep below the frost line. Having moles in your garden or lawn can be beneficial as it can consume insects like larvae, slue, in addition there are some who eat small snakes and mice. But the disadvantage is it can destroy lawns, gardens, park, golf courses and cemeteries. They can kill plants when tunneling by removing soil around roots. Unprotected roots dry out and die.

Mole population often times thrive in residential areas because they have large tunnel networks and live on multiple properties at a time. Because so many homeowners will try to eliminate moles on their own unsucessfully, the population is allowed to breed and stay healthy. This is why it is important to use latest lawn mole poisons, techniques and mole traps. Major problem with moles are tunnels and the fact that some tunnels are used over and over and others are used only once then never returned to. They can leave ridged tunnels all over a lawn that can kill some grass and leave it unsightly for others. Garden moles are not harmful but can ruin your nice landscape or yard.