Gophers are active all year around, and live underground, in burrows
that they dig themselves. Gophers find their food by sense of smell.
They either dig a tunnel toward a good-smelling plant, or come upon the
plant randomly in their digging, smell the plant, and then either pull
the plant into their tunnel and eat it, or chew on the roots of the
plant, or continue digging. Also, gophers take their food down into
their burrow and store it for later use, and the burrow can be 6 feet
or deeper below the surface ( guess we wont be seeing those potatoes
anytime soon, or ever again). They dont see or hear too well, and use
the whiskers on their face and hairs on their tail to help them
navigate their way around their underground world.
Only one gopher lives in each burrow system consisting of a main burrow
and burrow side branches, and between each burrow system is a zone not
used by any gopher; this zone is kind of like a demilitarized zone, a
space that neither neighboring gopher uses, maybe to reduce conflict
(gophers are very territorial). Gophers expend so much energy building
their burrows, many, many times more than any animal aboveground, that
they probably have no extra energy for fighting. Their territory (their
burrow system) size, and the size of the"demilitarized zone" changes
somewhat depending on the amount and quality of plant material (food)
If you see a large fresh (usually darker and moister-looking than the
surrounding soil) mound of soil, that is probably the sign of the
presence of a gopher, and if you dig carefully, in the mound, you will
see a little tunnel, slightly off center of the mound, usually several
inches in diameter ( a tunnel branch). You have to dig a little bit to
find it, as they block the tunnel with a small plug of dirt (to hide
tunnel entrance from predators, and keep their home at an even,
comfortable temperature and humidity); pretty smart, huh? That tunnel
is one area where you can set a trap, down into the tunnel several
inches, baited with potatoes, carrots, apples, etc. A light chain
attached to the trap at one end and attached to an 8 inch square of
plywood at the other end of the chain, keeps the trap from being
carried away by the gopher or a predator. Place the trap a few inches
into the tunnel, place the wood over the hole you have dug to find the
tunnel, and cover the edges of the wood with straw/moist dirt, to block
the light, from going into the tunnel; this method has worked here in
the experimental garden
. The main tunnel is deeper, harder to reach,
and you have to dig up more of your garden to get to it, so start first
on the tunnel at the soil mound, though reports state that a trap in
the main tunnel is more successful.
Positive Actions- The Purpose of a Gopher
What is the real purpose of gophers? Noone really knows. But here are a
few observations researchers have noted so far. Gophers mix and aerate
the soil, bringing deeper layers of soil to the surface when they
create the soil mounds, where, over time, the effects of light, water,
and wind, make those soil minerals available to plants. Thus, soil
fertility is increased. Aerating the soil adds oxygen, which aids the
growth of certain plant species. The activities of gophers increase
plant diversity, as different species of plants grow on those soil
mounds, plants whose germination and growth were inhibited in the
surrounding soil. The mounds of soil they push to the surface in the
process of digging their tunnels, actually reduce erosion on steep
slopes. Scientists have speculated that gophers may help to prevent the
extinction of certain ruderal/early successional plant species (whose
seeds may only have a certain life span), by periodically providing the
perfect growing conditions for their germination and growth, in a
natural plant community, such as a forest. Also, gophers are food for
many types of predators, as I mentioned earlier. When a gopher leaves
the area and moves to a new spot with fresh plant material, the burrow
system that the gopher has abandoned becomes a home for a toad, snake,
Gophers are found in disturbed/early successional plant communities (a vegetable garden is a good artificial example!!).
Their activities are similar to our activities, but they are far better
at it than we are; excavating and tilling the soil just so, to create
the optimum soil and light conditions (on and adjacent to those
soil mounds) for the growth of most annual garden plants. Maybe
we could use their efforts to aid us in growing our gardens, but keep
their numbers low enough that we may get some yield from our crops.
We need fertile soil to grow good crops (gophers increase soil fertility).
We need plant diversity in our gardens to inhibit pests/diseases (gophers increase plant diversity)
We need light, fluffy aerated soil to grow the best crops (gophers aerate the soil)
Reducing Gopher Populations
Checking for the presence of gophers regularly once a week, all year
round, and checking every day in the spring, will protect your garden
from being overrun, as they can reproduce several times per year.
Watering the whole surface of the garden regularly, with overhead
sprinklers, (rather than watering small areas with drip/microspray
emitters), especially in heavier soils, reduces the number of gophers
present, if you have a high value crop you want to protect.
Grow plants in raised beds, with chicken wire on the bottom and up the sides of the bed, to prevent gopher damage.
Trapping gophers is very easy.