Pocket Gophers: Staple Chow for Coyotes

Cute gophers are part of the food chain of life. When you think about it, it’s really weird: species eat each other up. We all need the energy from the sun to live, but only plants can eat sunlight — no animals can do this. So some animals eat plants to get this energy and other animals eat those animals, and on it goes up the food chain.

Well, anyway, here’s a cute little gopher. Until eaten, it lives its life mostly underground, digging tunnels and grabbing plants.

HERE ARE SOME FACTS ABOUT THEM:

They get their name, pocket gopher, from their fur-lined cheek pouches, or pockets which they use to carry food. The pockets on a gopher open on the outside and turn inside out for emptying and cleaning.

Adults are 8 inches long, including their 2-inch tail. The males are larger and can weigh up to 2.2 pounds — double the weight of females.  They live from one to three years, with most of the population being young adults.

Gophers are vegetarians. They eat roots, trees, shrubs, grass and plants they encounter while digging underground, and they eat the leaves and stems of plants around their tunnel entrances, sometimes pulling entire plants into their tunnels. Gophers are able to obtain enough moisture from their food, so they don’t need a source of open water.

They build intricate underground tunnel systems using their front legs and long teeth to push dirt out of their tunnels. Gophers like to be alone and only one gopher will be found in a tunnel system.

For their tunneling lifestyle, they are equipped with large-clawed front paws, small eyes and ears, and sensitive whiskers that assist with movement in the dark. Their sparsely haired tails—which also serve as a sensory mechanism—help gophers run backward almost as fast as they can run forward. Their large front teeth are used to loosen soil and rocks while digging, and to cut roots.

Gophers can move about a ton of soil to the surface each year! Their tunnels are built and extended, then gradually fill up with soil as they are abandoned.

They benefit the areas where they live, increasing soil fertility by mixing plant material and fecal wastes into the soil, by aerating or tilling the soil with their tunneling activity, which also brings minerals up to the soils surface, and they serve as food for a variety of animals including owls, coyotes, weasels, and snakes. They prevent erosion because their burrows hold water from heavy rains instead of it running over the surface.

They breed in the springtime, producing one litter of 3-7 pups per year. The nesting chamber is about 10 inches in diameter lined with dried vegetation. The young leave after 5-6 weeks, wandering off above ground to form their own territories. Densities range from 2 to 20 gophers per acre depending on food availability.

Many mammals, large birds, and snakes eat gophers and depend on their tunnels to create safer living conditions. Salamanders, toads, and other creatures seeking cool, moist conditions take refuge in unoccupied gopher burrows. Lizards use abandoned gopher burrows for quick escape cover.

Gophers are captured at their burrow entrances by pets, coyotes, foxes and bobcats. They are cornered IN their burrows by badgers, weasels, skunks, and snakes. They are captured above ground by raptors.

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