The Gopher’s Digging Behavior (Burrows, Tunnels, Chambers, and Problems)

Gophers, also known as pocket gophers, are medium-sized rodents of the Family Geomyidae. Their length can range between 5 and 14 inches (12.7 and 35.5 cm), meaning they are larger in stature than mice and smaller than rats.

There are 41 species of gophers which can only be found in North and Central America. Their tunneling activities are well-known for their tendency to wreak havoc and mess up farms and gardens. Let’s learn about these digging behaviors and the actions you can take when you see these small creatures in our gardens!

Are Gophers Good At Digging Holes?

Yes, these small, furry rodents are fossorial, which means that they live underground and spend most of their time digging tunnels through the yards of North and Central America.

Gophers’ digging behavior poses serious threats to underground utility wires, water lines, sprinkler systems, and pipes. But this does not mean that they are simply pests. On the contrary, they play a very important role in the environment. 

Gophers help mix plant material and fecal wastes into the soil to improve fertility. Soil is aerated and is less compacted as a result of their burrowing. They can also speed up the development of new soil by bringing minerals to the surface. So don’t hurt gophers when you see them in your yard.

How Do Gophers Dig?

Gophers are fascinating creatures that are well equipped for tunneling and digging. They use their strong large-clawed front paws to dig and scrape dirt to create tunnels. 

They throw the soil backward, towards the surface so a pile builds up behind them, in the opposite direction. They clear out their tunnels by digging a hole to the surface at an angle to the ground and pushing the dirt to one side like a bulldozer. 

This creates the crescent-shaped dirt pile, that can help you recognize gopher tunnels.

Their physical features also assist and are well-adapted to this way of living. Their fur is fine and short, so it does not get tangled in damp soil. 

A remarkable adaptation of a gopher’s lips is the ability to close behind its four enormous incisor teeth, which it uses to keep dirt out of its mouth when digging.

Can Gophers Dig Through Obstacles Like Rocks, Gravel, Concrete, or Chicken Wire?

No. Rocks, gravel, concrete, and chicken wires can prevent gophers from digging. Their claws are not sharp and hard enough to dig through these materials.

These can be used to create barriers that prevent gophers; however, they can still dig below or around these underground, which might end up making foundations and structures more fragile.

Why Do Gophers Dig?

Gophers dig tunnels or holes to serve a variety of functions. This includes creating a home that shelters and protects them from predators and climatic stress. They also nurture and rear their young in the tunnels that they dig and use the burrows as “larders,” where they store their food supply safely.

Gophers also rely on these tunnel systems to aid in their search for food. They continue to dig and excavate tunnels until they come across some roots to eat. Pocket gophers favor alfalfa and dandelions as some of the best and most nutritious diets.

Another common tactic you may have seen is the sudden pulling and disappearing of the plants in your garden. They will pull underground the roots, bulbs, and even young plants that they want to eat. 

What Do Gophers’ Tunnel Systems Look Like?

Their tunnels have a wide main section with lots of openings inside that leads to a network of smaller corridors. Their tunnels consist of several vast, narrow network tunnel systems that can be several hundred feet in length. 

The burrow system that one gopher can produce is similar to an ant colony. There are smaller tunnels that will lead to rooms dedicated to a specific function.

Are Gopher Burrows Organized In “Chambers”?

Yes. The network tunnels that are connected to the main tunnel have specific functions such as the main nesting area, feeding area, food storage, and excrement heaps (gophers’ toilet or latrine areas).

In other words, gophers build six-foot-deep nesting and food storage chambers where they store their food. They also take care of their young in another tunnel and use a different tunnel for toilets.

Their tunnels are typically found nearby food sources. The nesting region is surrounded by a layer of dried grass or other plants in the area.

How Deep Do Gophers Dig?

Gophers’ main tunnel system can cover 200 to 2,000 square feet. They range in diameter from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches, only enough for them to fit in and avoid predators. Soil type can affect the depth of the nest and the food storage chamber, which can be up to 6 to 18 feet deep.

Why Do Gophers Seal Their Tunnels? 

Gophers seal the entrances of their burrows for several reasons. The main reason is to keep unwanted guests out and to barricade their burrows from predators. They seal the entrance also to help maintain the temperature and humidity inside the tunnel. 

Since gophers don’t like sunlight, they can also keep the light from entering the burrow by blocking the openings. Gophers seal the entrances of their burrow with plugs made of soil. They create this plug by pushing the dirt and moving it to the surface of the entrance.

Do Gophers Ever Come Out Of Their Holes? 

Gophers may come to the surface, but they will only go a few body lengths from their holes before heading back below. They can be seen out of their tunnels sometimes, but this is only on rare occasions.

They do not need to go to the surface because they have everything they need inside the burrow. 

They can spend a lot of time inside their burrow without going to the surface. In most cases, gophers only emerge from their tunnels to feed on fresh plants, push dirt out of the tunnels, or relocate to a new home.

How Many Gophers Live In A Burrow?

Gophers are solitary animals and don’t like the company of other gophers, so there is usually one gopher per tunnel system. The only exception for this is during mating season, and when the mother gopher is taking care of her young.

Three or four gopher babies per litter will share the burrow with their mother to be nurtured for five weeks. After this, they will establish their own tunnels and live independently. 

Do Gophers Share Their Tunnels With Other Animals?

Gophers are solitary animals, so they are not enthusiastic about socializing, specifically with their own kind. 

However, they will remarkably share their burrow with other animals, allowing other species to live in their tunnels, such as prairie dogs, kangaroo rats, woodchucks, lizards, armadillos, rabbits, toads, and weasels. 

Their tunnel systems do not support colonies of gophers. Even though they don’t share their burrow with other gophers, many live quite close to each other, which helps them to locate partners easily. 

A female brings a male into her own burrow to mate. He departs, and she stays to raise her young.

How To Tell If You Have Gophers or Moles?

The appearance of moles and gophers and their behavior are very similar; that is why distinguishing them from one another is prone to confusion. But they are different in many ways. 

Here are some points to take note of to determine whether the digging creature in your garden is a mole or a gopher:

The Difference in Size and Appearance

The gopher and moles differ in size, geography, and appearance. The average mole is just 4 to 7 inches long, compared to the average gopher’s 6 to 8 inches length.

In terms of their body, gophers have broad, fur-lined cheeks that are utilized to scrape away soil as they dig their tunnels, while moles have short, silky fur that can be brown, grey, or golden in hue.

The Difference in the Location and Distribution

Regarding their distribution and geography, the distribution of moles is greater. They can be found on every continent except for South America and Antarctica. Gophers, however, are native to only North and Central America. 

Check the Appearance of the Mound or Hill.

You can tell whether you have gophers or moles in your backyard by simply looking at the mound. When seen from above, dirt mounds of gophers have a crescent or horseshoe form with holes around 3 inches in diameter. 

An example of what a gopher’s holes look like
These are molehills. Gophers don’t make these.

On the contrary, the molehill consists of dirt that is symmetrical and conical, like miniature volcanoes, running roughly 2 feet in size.

Do Gophers Dig Under Houses?

Gophers can dig under houses because they have large front claws that aid in tunneling beneath yards and houses. 

Gophers damage the walls and foundation of houses by digging under them from the outside and burrowing all over the land for many years. A single gopher can dig 200 yards of tunnels and range in size from 200 to 2,000 square feet during its lifetime.

Can Gophers Damage Buildings and Foundations By Digging?

Gophers can damage buildings and foundations by digging. The foundations of the buildings will sink due to this burrowing and the hole underneath, and over time, cracks will appear in the building. 

Although gophers cannot penetrate the concrete, when they dig beneath it, the concrete will move, and the displacement of the soil underneath frequently causes damage to the building. 

They may occasionally enter houses through the plumbing pipes on the ground floor. Once the gopher is already inside the house, they settle down in the walls, cabinets, and areas underneath bathtubs.

How Do You Find A Gopher Tunnel?

A gopher’s hole consists of the main tunnel and several lateral tunnels connected to it. A person can locate a gopher tunnel by searching for a mound shaped like a crescent moon or horseshoe when looked at from directly above the burrow. 

Look for moist, fresh dirt if you come across several mounds and are unsure whether one has active tunnels. Typically, gopher-feeding tunnels are six inches to almost a foot underground.

Can You Just Fill In A Goper’s Hole To Get Rid Of It?

No, filling in a gopher’s hole with soil won’t help to get rid of it. A gopher will just continue digging in the backyard. It will be a wasted effort to fill an occupied burrow. 

With this, you should get rid of the gopher first before filling the hole. There are several ways to catch and prevent a gopher from digging, which will be mentioned later in this article. 

Once you successfully catch the gopher, it is the right time to fill in the tunnels and patch up the holes to prevent further gophers from occupying the abandoned burrows.

How Can You Stop A Gopher From Digging?

There are several ways to prevent gophers from digging in your backyard without harming them. Here are some of the best ways if you want a gopher-free backyard.

Natural Repellants

You can stop gophers from digging in their backyard by planting a variety of organic repellents such as iris daffodils, sage, iris, thyme, and other fragrant plants. You may also spread fish oil, peppermint oil, coffee grounds, or tabasco sauce on the ground close to gopher tunnels.

Strong fragrances are repulsive to gophers. These odors confuse them and aggravate their senses by disguising prospective food sources.

Ultrasonic Repellents

You can also buy and use ultrasonic repellents (link to amazon). These will create high-pitched sound waves that can also stop gophers from digging. Even though people cannot hear these sounds, gophers find them annoying and will quickly relocate elsewhere if the noise is there.

The Use of Traps

If you want to use poison-free ways to get rid of gophers in your yard and lawn, the ideal strategy is to use live traps. These traps are simple to find and easy to set, making them a great option for any budget.

Carrots, lettuce, apples, or peanut butter can be used as bait for traps in the main tunnels. The trap’s location should be changed if it fails to catch a gopher within 48 hours.

Relocate the gopher at least half a mile away from your property once it has been caught in it. Repair holes in your lawn afterward to hinder other gophers from making their homes there again.

Can The Gopher’s Digging Behavior Actually Be Good For Your Garden?

Yes, gophers are a crucial part of ecosystems. Their digging behavior is actually good for the garden because it aerates the soil by shifting vast amounts of soil every year. 

They increase plant production by loosening the soil and reducing the rate at which plants decompose, and they might be significant for plant biodiversity. 

They undoubtedly have a significant impact. By transporting minerals to the surface, they can promote the development of new soil. They improve the soil’s capacity to absorb water. They are also a source of food for many other creatures. 

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