Gophers are rodents that burrow into the ground. They build networks of tunnels connecting to each other and like areas such as farmland and lawns because of the moist soil. Similar to squirrels, gophers collect food and store it in pouches in their cheeks. Their diet consists of roots, shrubs, and vegetables, specifically ones that have a lot of juice such as carrots and radishes. Because they can fit a lot of food in their cheeks at once, they don’t need to appear above ground very often, spending most of their time under the soil. Understandably, gophers are considered a pest that can do a great amount of damage to your yard and garden.
Have you noticed tunnels, holes, chewed up tree roots, and devastated plants and flower beds on your property? What could possibly be going on? Chances are you are undergoing a gopher infestation. Only by learning the general facts about gophers can you hope to successfully combat their invasion of your back yard or farm field. Gophers in the wild are a helpful part of the local ecosystem; gophers in your yard are disruptive and unacceptable. Here’s what you need to know:
What Is a Gopher? In the construction industry, a “gopher” is an errand boy, someone sent to “go-for” this or that tool and bring it back. In your yard, a gopher is a medium-large, furry rodent normally weighing about half a pound and measuring 6 to 8 inches long with a short stubby tail.
Gophers’ fur can range from black to an off-white, but it is typically some shade of brown. And fur color is usually a close match to soil color with gophers.
There are some 35 species of gophers spread out all over the continent of North America, but the gophers you are dealing with are likely “pocket gophers.”
Pocket gophers have furry pouches, or “pockets, ” on their cheeks in which they store food while transporting it. They have small beady eyes and use their one to two inch long tails to “navigate by feel” when walking backward through their tunnels.
Being similar to many other rodents, gophers often get confused with any of the following other burrowing animals: Groundhogs, Ground squirrels, Prairie dogs, Moles, Voles. Look for the features we mention just above to avoid any confusion, and especially for the tell-tale mouth pockets.
Do Gophers Live Alone? Within a particular gopher burrow, you will probably find but a single gopher, unless a female is there caring for young or it is breeding season. That said, if you see one gopher on your property, you can expect to find more. Up to 60 gophers can infest a single acre of land.
Gophers live only in North and Central America, except for a few in the South American nation of Colombia. Their spread ranges from southern Alberta on the Canadian Great Plains, down through all the western U.S. and Mexico, and as far south as Panama. There is also one species of a gopher that lives in Florida, though most of eastern North America is “gopher-less.”
Gophers aren’t especially picky about their habitat, and they live at elevations ranging from just above sea level to over 12,000 feet. They will take up residence in almost any soil type, though lighter soils are preferable. They like a thick covering of vegetation, which can anything from sod to an alfalfa field.
On the other hand, soils must be sufficiently deep to allow for tunneling and temperature control during hot and cold seasons. And anything more than 10% rocks can deter gophers from burrowing in a locality.
What’s in a Gopher’s Diet?
Pocket Gophers love to nibble on all manner of vegetation, especially on underground bulbs.
Their diet includes:
- Flower bulbs
- Tubers of common weeds
- Thick roots of grasses
- Garden vegetables
- Crops in farm fields
- Small, soft-bodied insects
Gophers will chew on roots they encounter while tunneling. Sometimes they will come to the surface to feed or even bring food back underground or store it in their cheek pockets. And one final amazing fact about gophers’ eating habits: gophers consume over half their own body weight every single day!
We see what gophers feed on, but what feeds on gophers? The most common predators of pocket gophers are other borrowers and diggers like coyotes, foxes, skunks, and weasels. Above ground, they often fall prey to owls and large birds of prey.
Do Gophers Eat Tree Roots? Yes! Gophers will eat tap roots of trees, especially of fruit trees of young saplings. This can devastate newly planted trees. But after a few years in the ground, most trees are safe.
Types of Gophers
There are dozens of gopher species in the U.S., but the two most troublesome among them are:
- Botta’s Pocket Gopher: The Botta is common in California and can tunnel successfully in almost any soil type. It is a major pest on landscaping projects and in alfalfa fields.
- The Plains Pocket Gopher: Inhabiting all the Great Plains from Canada to Texas, the Plains Pocket Gopher can tunnel up to 65 feet per week and is known to both fight other gophers for territory and share burrows with other gophers.
Other common gopher types include:
- The Yellow-faced Pocket Gopher of West Texas, which prefer rural, short-grass prairies.
- The Giant Pocket Gopher of Central and South America that grows up to a foot long.
- The grey-furred Smokey Pocket Gopher of southern Mexico.
Looking at the damage they have done to your property, you might be tempted to say “Gophers don’t behave!” But, all animals have characteristic behaviors. Learn these gopher behavioral traits to better understand “the enemy:”
Tunneling and Other Activity
Gophers are built for burrowing and tunneling, and they have the instinct for it as well. Their squat necks, sturdy, muscular legs, and impressively large claws are ideal equipment for a life of underground excavation. Gophers also use their overgrown teeth to push dirt and dig tunnels.
Gophers will also construct volcano-shaped hills or create grassy, hidden “doors” over their subterranean entry points. Aside from foraging for food below or above ground, sleeping in their burrows, and producing more gophers, there is little else that a gopher’s life involves.
Mating and Reproduction
A gopher will mate one or two times during a year, spring being the prime breeding season. The females will have litters of between one and six, the young being born only 3 weeks after conception.
The newborns are pink, hairless, and wrinkled, with eyes shut tight. Only about 5 weeks after birth, however, baby gophers are weaned from mama’s milk and ready to go dig a burrow of their own.
Gophers have very little social interaction aside from during the mating season and while raising up a litter of baby gophers. They tend to be solitary in disposition, even though dozens of them live in relatively close proximity.
The Basics of Control
Gophers can be somewhat hard to kill, as you won’t find them above ground very often. They’ll come out to gather some basic vegetation like berries and vegetables, but much of their eating is done inside their tunnels. The roots of trees and plants get destroyed from these rodents and their constant chewing, making them a horrible nuisance that needs to be eliminated. But how can you do it?
Do I need a license?
In general, gophers are considered pests and so you won’t need permission to kill them. However, there are some restrictions. When using snapping traps, you may have to have a permit to set them out. This is the local law enforcement’s way of protecting people and pets from getting hurt in the traps on accident. Some types of gophers are endangered, which would mean you’d have to go to greater lengths to trap instead of kill, and they’re also areas where you aren’t allowed to release a trapped gopher on anyone else’s land but your own.
Make sure to find out whether or not you’ll need a permit to catch or kill a gopher, or if there are any special restrictions.
Using gas as a weapon
A good way to kill gophers is to use poisonous gas. The air circulating throughout the tunnels systems will spread the gas throughout the burrows and make sure the gophers investing your property are killed.
Some types of gas you can find are:
- AMDRO Gopher Gasser: This product comes in small rods that you push through into a gopher hole where poisonous gas shoots out from the end. Traveling through the tunnels, it will eventually find every gopher and kill them quickly.
- The Giant Destroyer: These sticks blow a huge amount of poisonous smoke out their ends and into the gopher tunnel system. The smoke is thick and not only kills the rodent but disorients it so it can’t run out of the tunnel and get away.
Instead of chasing gophers, sometimes you want them to come to you. Baiting gophers can be a good way to get your hands on them and into places where a deadly trap is waiting. Traps come in different forms but all serve the same purpose: kill the gophers that are destroying your yard.
- Wire traps: These types of gopher traps look like a puzzle, in a way, and have a hinge attached to them with a pressure plate. Once the gopher touches it, the trap will snap together with a huge amount of force, snapping its neck or spine, resulting in instant death. To use, you must place the trap underground. Find the gopher’s tunnel and place the trap deep inside where you know it will travel through.
- Black hole: This device is formed like a cylinder and so imitates the shape of a gopher tunnel. Once it goes inside, there is a noose-like object that will snap the gopher’s neck. To use, stuff down inside a gopher tunnel and wait for the animal to make its way through.
- Box traps: These traps are basically a box with a spring-loaded bar attached to them. Place them inside a gopher tunnel and once it goes through, the bar will squeeze the animal to death, bringing it inside the box where you can then get rid of it.
Poisoning and How it Works
Poison is an effective way to get rid of gophers. They come in different methods and are all good solutions to the problem.
- Grains: One product shown to kill gophers are poisonous grains. The animal will see it as food to eat, unaware that it is indeed deadly. Typical chemicals used in the products include Diphacinone, Zinc Phosphide, and Strychnine.
- Liquid: A poison that comes in liquid form can be mixed with other bait to leave inside the gopher tunnel. Ingredients are similar to those used in poisonous grains.
Getting your hands on gophers might be hard without the right equipment. Many traps are on the market now that help you to get at the rodents quickly and easily. Learn more about gopher traps by clicking here.
Just like grains, pellets are designed to act as food that the gopher will want to eat. They’re shaped like tiny balls that have poison mixed in that are deadly. Simply place a scoop or two inside the gopher’s tunnel and wait for them to eat.
Some products include:
- Motomco gopher killer.
- Contrac pellets.
- Kaput-D Gopher Bait.
Is there a machine that can deliver the poison?
It might seem crazy, but there are in fact machines that will get rid of gophers for you. Using a simple hose, you stick the end of it into the gopher hole where it will blow a stream of carbon monoxide into the tunnels. Without oxygen, the gophers will die. This is a painless way to get rid of them, as they will slowly lose consciousness.
Another way is to use your car, attaching a hose to the exhaust pipe and letting it run. The carbon monoxide will then fill the gopher chambers. The amount of time until death will vary depending on the extent of the tunnel systems the animal has created.
How to Identify Damage
Believe it or not, not all damage to your yard is due to gophers. After all, there are other critters out there who would love to wreck your lawn. Here are some signs that it may indeed be a gopher who is to blame:
Signs of Damage
The most obvious sign of a gopher infestation is, of course, the mounds and other signs of their burrows. Tunnels can wind throughout a whole yard or field in a complex way and lead to holes when you accidentally step on one too heavily.
Another sign you have gophers and thus gopher damage is when you hear someone whistling at you but see no one in sight. Gophers, like groundhogs, try to scare off “intruders” with their whistle.
Signs of gopher damage include:
- Mounds of dirt covering and killing vegetation and destroying your well manicured lawn.
- Zones devoid of vegetation located near a gopher mound.
- Plants that look very unhealthy because their roots have been gnawed on.
- The soft bark of young trees being eaten away or “girdled” as it is called.
- Damaged underground electric cables, telephone lines, gas lines, water lines, or other utilities.
- Ground crickets and carrion beetles appearing in your house in great numbers. They probably got in through gopher tunnels leading up to your home’s foundation.
How Deep Are Gopher Burrows/Tunnels?
Gopher tunnel systems can cover up to 2,000 square feet of turf and can lead as far as 3 to 6 feet under the ground. Burrows are usually only 6 to 12 feet underground and about 2.5 to 3.5 inches across. The nesting area and food-storage room may be a full six feet down.
Pocket gophers are industrious and amazing creatures, but when they dig their extensive tunnel systems in your yard or field, that is unacceptable. Now that you know some essential gopher facts and know how to identify gopher damage, it may be time to get started de-gophering your property instead of just reading about it!
Get Rid of the Gophers Infesting Your Yard
There’s no way to tell exactly how extensive the tunnel systems are that gophers have created. Once you see plants and trees dying, you can get a general idea of where they’ve burrowed but you probably want to prevent that from happening.
There are preventative measures you can take to ensure the animals stay away from your plants’ root system:
- Castor oil granules: Castor oil is a natural repellent to gophers. Sprinkle castor oil granules all around your garden and yard, then either water the area or let the rain do the job. The dissolved granules will then make the oil soak into the ground, invading the plants’ root systems and making them undesirable for the animals to eat.
- Peppermint oil: The strong smell and taste of peppermint deters gophers and keeps them from eating the plants soaked with it. Simply take some peppermint oil and mix with a little bit of water, then spray all around the plants and trees in your yard. For added absorption, soak the area with water to get the oil into the ground and plants’ root systems.
- Ultrasonic spikes: There are products that emit a certain frequency of ultrasonic pulses from them, creating a sensation uncomfortable enough for the gopher to want to escape from.
Once you get rid of your gophers, what do you do next? When it comes to controlling what goes on in your yard, there are steps you can take. More information about gopher control can be found here.
The quick way
Methods of getting rid of gophers can vary, time-wise. Sometimes you can kill rather quickly, and sometimes it takes much longer. What if you just can’t wait? What options are there to kill gophers in a fast, effective manner?
A gopher incinerator is a machine that ignites gas throughout the tunnel systems. You’ll insert a hose into the gopher hole and pump in a precise balance of oxygen and propane. Once enough time has passed, you’ll stand back and press an ignition, setting the gas on a fire, incinerating anything inside the tunnels. This may sound like a horrible way for the animals to die, but they are actually killed instantly, making it a quick and painless death. An added benefit is that the tunnels will collapse with the blast, letting you then fill in the areas with dirt to make everything level and even again.
Hire an exterminator
If you don’t want to kill the gophers yourself, there are people you can call to do the job. Exterminators use a variety of methods such as capture, poison, traps, and baiting. Look through your local phone directory and choose a trusted vendor, and remember that price will vary depending on the company, the severity of your problem, and the technique used.
What are the Best Ways to Kill a Gopher?
The best ways to kill a gopher are probably ones that involve speed. Once you’ve got those animals invading your yard, you want them gone as soon as possible and not a minute later.
Methods that get rid of gophers fast include:
- Gopher incinerator
When you’ve got gophers, you might be thinking you’ll never have your yard under control again. Will you lose your plants and trees? With gophers, it’s possible. The good news is that there are sure-fire ways to eliminate these animals for good, leaving your home and yard intact and free of unwanted pests.