Gophers In The Winter (How Do They Deal With The Cold?)

Pocket gophers, or simply gophers, are quite different compared to other mammals when it comes to their adaptive behaviors during the winter season. These burrowing rodents from the Geomyidae family are a very resilient bunch. 

Gophers are quite the “busybodies” due to the fact that they are very active all throughout the year. No heat nor cold weather can keep gophers in place. 

What do gophers do during the winter season? Let’s find out.

Do Gophers Live In The Cold?

Pocket gophers live in a variety of habitats and environments. They can be found in temperate as well as in cold places. Some species of gophers even prefer high-altitude, low-temperature areas of North America

Living in the cold shouldn’t be an issue for gophers. Their main concerns are limited to having a place where food and water are available and at the same time, they can enjoy their favorite pastime —digging.

Are Gophers Active During The Winter?

Gophers are active all year long, including the winter season. They are most active during the spring and fall but are still awake and busy during the winter. These rodents are born to perform the following cycle of activities: 

Dig, eat, multiply, and dig again.

This simple pattern of activities has placed gophers in a position where they are least affected by the seasonal changes. They don’t go out of their burrows much. These small animals spend 95% of their lives living underground. As the season starts to get cold above ground, gophers continue to perform their routine tasks under the earth’s surface, where the temperature is more stable.

A freezing winter day is just another day at the office for these lucky critters.

How Do Gophers Deal With Cold Weather?

So, what do these smart gophers do when the climate starts to get cold?

Pocket gophers deal with cold weather by doing their favorite pastime—they dig. The cold above the ground can only penetrate as much as 8 feet. Below that level, the soil is as warm as in the summer and spring. The frost line or frost depth may vary depending on the gophers’ geolocation but will never exceed 8 feet.

Gophers will dig a maze of tunnels deeper than the usual depth, below the frost line. These highly-branched tunnels are built for various purposes. The deepest ones are used as resting dens and for rearing their babies. Other tunnels lead to their food and water sources.

Do Gophers Hibernate Or Migrate  In The Winter?

Many mammals go into hibernation or in a state of torpor in the winter. Other animals (mostly birds) migrate to warmer regions to escape the cold. You can exclude the gopher from those lists. Gophers have developed a unique adaptive behavior when the season starts to get chilly.

While other animals conserve their energy and slow down their metabolism during the winter season, what do gophers do? They dig deeper.

How Are Gophers Adapted For The Cold?

Gophers, like most fossorial animals, are well-adapted to the cold and any other changes in their environment. Environmental fluctuations do not affect them. Their bodies, behavior, microenvironment, and levels of activity all play a role in helping these rodents survive the cold.

The Gopher’s Cold Weather Posture

One interesting thing to note about gophers is their ability to change their posture during times when the temperature starts to drop. Like any seasonal hibernator, they instinctively assume this posture during the winter season as a way to control body heat.

  • Gophers use their hind legs to support their total body weight.
  • The nose is tucked against the belly.
  • The forehead is rested on the soil.

This kind of posture allows minimal exposure to the cold air and allows the gopher to stay warm and conserve energy when it’s not moving about. For the rest of the day, it can use its saved-up energy to perform its daily activities near the surface and times they go out of the burrows.

The Gopher’s Fur Helps in Regulating Heat

There are species of gophers that have bodies that are adapted to the cold. The North Pocket Gopher, for example, has fur that is a few millimeters longer compared to gophers found in warmer regions. Fur helps in lessening the heat produced by the body from escaping too quickly.

The Burrows Is The Gopher’s Best Friend Against The Cold

As mentioned earlier, there’s only a certain depth where the ground is frozen and the cold can penetrate. Gophers use their burrow system as protection from the harsh environment above ground, and if the weather is cold, they simply stay inside!

Gophers Aren’t Afraid to Burn Their Calories

One interesting thing pocket gophers do during the winter season as they keep themselves busy. When you burn calories, you tend to produce body heat. Paired with their long thick fur, that’s a natural insulator for the gopher!

Tunnel digging is a great way of heat production for the pocket gopher. Moreover, digging deeper tunnels requires an exponentially bigger amount of energy than digging near the surface, which helps them stay warm. Gophers build mounds all year, but the activity increases during the fall and continues throughout the winter.

Do Gophers Grow Thicker Fur In Winter?

Gophers do not grow thicker fur during the winter. They do not have an on and off switch for that. The different species of gophers have all evolved and developed attributes that are suited to the environment they are living in.

Species of gophers that live in cold climates with winter seasons naturally have thicker fur while those that live near the equator have thinner fur. Northern species have short tails that are less exposed to the chilly air and thick furs that protect them from the cold. Other species like the Southern pocket gopher have a longer tail but are sparsely-haired.

How Do Gophers Deal With Frozen Soil In The Winter?

Gophers still burrow through the snow and frozen soil. The energy and activity levels of gophers are tremendous. During the fall and at the onset of the winter season, the rodents will move to higher grounds and build new burrows to last them through the spring.

They usually avoid staying in the low plains during winter. Gophers will seek areas with trees and build their winter homes there. This setup provides a couple of advantages for the gophers. 

  • First, the soil beneath the trees will never get too wet nor freeze. 
  • Second, the roots of the trees and plants in the vicinity provide the gophers with a seemingly unlimited food supply. 
  • And lastly, the soil under areas with tree growth is looser and easier for the rodents to dig in.

Do Gophers Come Up From Their Tunnels During Winter?

Gophers rarely come out of their tunnels, winter or otherwise. Most of their activities occur underground. The only instances they come out of their holes are when they want to snatch some fallen fruit or munch on evergreen plants, push dirt out of the tunnels, and move to a new area.

Pocket gophers are wary creatures and they do not wander too far away from the entrance of their mound.

How Do Gophers Prepare For Winter?

As early as late spring and fall, gophers will start preparing for the winter season. First, they will start looking for good areas to spend their winter season. From hereon, the animals will be busy building their elaborate burrows and tunnel systems.

Gopher burrows usually consist of the main tunnel with multiple branches. Some tunnels are dug parallel to the ground while others go at a depth of up to 10 feet. The deepest chambers are used for nesting, resting, and for food storage. Yes, gophers store their food for the snowy days.

What Do Gophers Eat In The Winter?

Food is almost never a problem for pocket gophers in the winter. These industrious and very energetic mammals will start storing food as early as spring. They keep their food in the warmest chambers of their burrows—away from any fluctuation in temperature.

In addition, the availability of fresh food is also part of their winter preparation plans. Gophers will build their homes near or beneath trees where they can chomp on the roots anytime they want. Tunnels are also built that lead to roots of different plants that are covered in snow during the winter.

The gopher will rarely come out of its burrows to pick leaves of evergreen plants if a craving for fresh salad kicks in. 

Author: Jomvie Reyes

Jomvie has been a writer for over 10 years and animals and wildlife are among his favorite topics. Learning and writing about the vast and diverse wildlife from all over the world, is more of a hobby than a job for him. Jomvie loves to watch and observe these remarkable species up close and personal.

Leave a Comment