Scientific Name: Thomomys bottae (Botta’s pocket gopher)
When is the best time to view gophers in Monterey County and where is the best viewing?
Gophers are rarely seen because they spend a majority of their lives underground. The best chance of viewing a gopher is in yards with finer soils or the forests and parks of Monterey County. A sign of a gopher nearby can be mounds of dirt and/or holes 2-3 inches in diameter with a crescent or horseshoe shape. If the tunnel is open, the gopher has probably abandoned it as gophers always plug or backfill the hole.
Five species of pocket gophers are found in California, with Botta’s pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae) being the most widespread. The gopher is known for making holes in yards, which gives them a bad reputation. Gophers actually improve the growth of plants when they create mounds and tunnels. Their burrowing helps aerate the ground, infiltrate water and reduce soil compaction.
This rodent prefers life underground and has unique characteristics to do so. Gophers have very strong front legs making burrowing an easy task for them. Their large teeth and long claws are very helpful tools for digging up soil. Soil does not enter their mouth because their lips are positioned behind the teeth. They have hairy tails that help them navigate when moving backwards underground. Gophers are well equipped to move easily in underground tunnels and can run backwards just as fast as they move forwards.
Gophers have large external, fur-lined pouches on each side of their mouth. These cheek pouches are used to transport food. They use their front paws to push food into the pouch and transport it to a hidden collection of food deep in their tunnel system. Gophers remove the food from their pouches by bringing their forefeet all the way to their cheeks and push the food out.
Gopher Fun Facts
- A gopher's burrow systems are 6–12 inches below ground and may cover up to 2,000 square feet
- Can create several mounds a day
- Fur-lined cheek pouches that extend from their mouth to their shoulders, can be turned inside out
- Will store their food as deep as 6 feet below ground
- Do not hibernate; active year-round
- Can move up to 1 ton of soil in one year
- Solitary and territorial - they keep their burrow system away from other gophers’ burrows
Habitat: From deserts to mountain meadows; west-central California
Length: 6–10 inches
Weight: 2.5–9 ounces
Diet: earthworms, vegetables, roots, stems, leaves, grasses, and forbs (herbaceous, flowering plants like alfalfa dandelion and prickly pear cactus)
Lifespan: 1–3 years
Reproduction: Breed throughout the year; litters of 2–5 gophers