Gophers and groundhogs alike can cause significant damage to property and vegetation. Gophers and groundhogs have similarities that often cause people to think that a gopher is a baby groundhog with their brown furry body and digging habits.
However, critical differences in size, appearance, and habits can help you tell them apart. Groundhogs are much larger than gophers and spend much of their time above ground in warmer seasons. While they both have ever-growing incisors, you can always see gophers’ yellow-colored ones.
Knowing the differences between these two creatures can help you correctly identify them and take the necessary steps to get them off your property.
15 Differences Between Gophers & Groundhogs
Brown soil-colored fur, but can have variations in black or nearly white
Yellowish-brown or brown fur with white-tipped guard hairs and white fur around the nose
|Short, thin, pink, hairless
Long, thick, bushy
|Feet & Claws
|External, fur-lined cheek pockets that can expand to hold food and nesting materials
Do not have cheek pockets; slender face
|Burrow and dig
Burrow, dig, climb, and swim
|Typically silent; can emit a high-pitched scream
Hiss, growl, and shriek; chatter their teeth
|Hoard food, carrying it to the burrow in cheek pockets
Eat food on the spot, up to 1 pound daily in warmer months
|Distribution & Habitat
|Do not hibernate
Hibernate in the winter
|3 litters of 5 to 6 pups
1 litter of 2 to 6 pups
Read on to learn more about these distinct differences.
Gophers and groundhogs alike are mammals that belong to the order of Rodentia. However, they belong to different taxonomic families and genera.
Gophers belong to the family Geomyidaeand the genus Geomys.Geomyidae consists of over 35 species of burrowing rodents, including gophers, kangaroo mice, pocket mice, and kangaroo rats.
Groundhogs belong to the family Sciuridae and the genus Marmota. Sciuridae also consists of marmots, prairie dogs, chipmunks, and squirrels.
The term “woodchuck” is synonymous and used interchangeably with groundhog. Other terms for the groundhog include whistle pig, land beaver, or thickwood badger.
Size is most notably a big difference between gophers and groundhogs regarding body length, tail length, and weight.
Gophers are smaller than groundhogs, typically 1 pound or less, whereas groundhogs are around 9 pounds on average.
Groundhogs are also much longer than gophers. On average, groundhogs are from 16 to 24 inches long, with a long tail up to 7 inches in length. A gopher, on average, is from 5 to 14 inches long, with a tail up to 2 inches long.
For more specifics, the chart above shows each animal’s average body lengths, tail lengths, and weights.
3. Fur Color
The fur color of a gopher and groundhog can be similar depending upon the species.
However, upon a closer look, groundhogs typically have white-tipped guard hairs that cover their bodies. These protect against abrasions and excessive moisture.
Also, groundhogs have yellowish-brown or brown fur, dark feet, and white fur around the nose.
Gophers, on the other hand, commonly have brown soil-colored fur but can have variations of black or nearly white.
Many gopher species have short, thin, pink, and hairless tails. Groundhogs have thick, bushy, and long tails.
5. Feet & Claws
Gophers have large, broad, pink feet with claws for digging. The front claws are bigger and heavier than the back ones.
Groundhogs have dark black or brown, clawed feet with buff undersides, and their forefeet have curved claws for digging.
Gophers have four large front protruding teeth that remain visible when the gopher’s mouth is closed. Their lips close behind their teeth to keep dirt and debris out when digging.
These teeth appear yellow or light brown and continuously grow. Gophers chew on hard and gritty materials, which file these teeth down.
A groundhog’s teeth are not visible when its mouth is closed, and they are white. They have 4 incisors, and the upper ones can grow as much as 1/16 of an inch weekly. Like gophers, they must chew on things to keep them shortened.
Gophers differ from groundhogs in that they have visible cheek pockets. Groundhogs do not and have slender faces.
The external cheek pockets of gophers are fur-lined and flexible and used for carrying nesting materials and food. Their faces will look puffed out when these pockets are carrying items.
While both animals are primarily seen on the ground, overall, groundhogs are more versatile and capable in their locomotive abilities.
Gophers tend to stick close to their tunnels so they can scurry back quickly if there are any threats.
They can maneuver over things close to the ground but have difficulty climbing over obstacles greater than 1 foot high. Their legs and claws are better suited for digging instead of climbing.
While groundhogs are strong diggers, their feet and claws allow them to climb and swim. They will climb trees and swim to access grasses, plants, fruits, and tree bark.
Groundhogs dig inward and incline tunnels to prevent flooding as they travel up to the surface.
Interestingly, gophers will move backward quickly in the tunnels, using their sensitive tails for navigation.
Gophers tend to be silent but can emit high-pitched squeaks. Generally, people will hear their digging, catching, and gnawing sounds instead of vocalizations.
Groundhogs produce various sounds, such as hisses, growls, and shrieks. Their teeth can also chatter, and they vocalize for dominance, warnings, and social purposes.
10. Food Storage
Both animals’ diets consist primarily of vegetation. For example, groundhogs eat various plants such as lettuce, peas, clover, dandelions, tree bark, and apples. Gophers eat vegetation low to the ground, such as grass and clover.
Gophers will carry food in their cheek pouches to store in their burrows, hoarding it for later.
Groundhogs eat their food right away, filling themselves up daily with food up to a pound in the spring and summer months.
11. Distribution & Habitat
Gophers are commonly found in the western hemisphere of North and Central America in prairie regions or areas with loose and sandy soil.
Groundhogs are typically found across Canada into Alaska and in the eastern and central United States in woodland areas adjacent to open areas.
Groundhogs tend to spend the majority of their time on open ground. They do so in dens or simple burrowed tunnels when they sleep or hibernate. They typically have separate dens or burrows for summer and winter.
Gophers build more complex tunnels and burrows, spending most of their life underground, and have separate burrows for food storage, nesting, and defecating.
Groundhogs hibernate in the winter, but gophers do not.
Groundhogs are considered “true hibernators.” Their body temperature falls to about 40°F, and their heart rate slows to 5 beats per minute to conserve energy during cold seasons. They emerge from their burrows again once the earth warms and food sources are available.
Gophers are active during the winter but tend to stay underground, eating their hordes of food and staying warm.
Gophers can have up to 3 litters yearly, and have a gestation period of 18 to 24 days, birthing 5 to 6 pups each time.
Groundhogs only have 1 litter each year. Their gestation is 30 to 33 days, with a litter of 2 to 6 pups.
The offspring of both are born hairless and blind.
The average lifespan of the gopher and groundhog is about 3 years in the wild because they are prone to predator attacks, diseases, and illnesses.
In captivity, a groundhog can live up to 14 years, and a gopher up to 6 years.
The size and overall appearance between gophers and groundhogs are the most notable.
Groundhogs have longer bodies and tails, with white-tipped guard hairs in their fur. Their feet are black, and they spend most of their time above ground.
Conversely, gophers have protruding visible yellowed teeth, expanding cheek pockets, and smaller bodies. Their tails are short, pink, and hairless, with pink feet. Gophers spend the majority of their time underground.
Gophers produce up to 3 litters per year, and groundhogs only one. Both live shortened lives in the wild, but groundhogs can live up to 14 years in captivity, yet gophers only live up to 6 years.
Knowing the difference between gophers and groundhogs can help homeowners know what methods to use to get these pests off their property.