Cute little ears, buck teeth, beady eyes and brown fur, the color of dirt. Oh yeah. We are talking about a pocket gopher. In fact, the Western pocket gopher (Thomomys mazama) to be exact.
I watched the little guy excavate, kick out more dirt, disappear back down into the hole, then partially pop out to catch a breath of air. Over the next few days, I chuckled as new triangular tailings popped up along the dry wash next to the house. These guys really are good at loosening and aerating the soil. I laughed when I found the screen door blocked by a fresh mound of dirt.
Then the trouble started. Horrified, we watched the pocket gopher struggling to drag an Echinacea plant down into a freshly dug hole. Next, a snapdragon started doing a strange, wobbly dance, before disappearing from sight. I grabbed the nearest hose, stuck it in next to the vanishing flower, and let it run.
But when it comes to pocket gophers, a little water just doesn't cut it. Pocket gophers are burrowers and food hoarders. Their large fur-lined cheek pouches extend from the side of their mouth well back onto the shoulders. These “pockets” are used to collect and transport food back to their burrows. After dumping out the contents, the pouches can be turned inside out to be cleaned. Their short, hairy tail helps them crawl backwards through their tunnels—almost as fast as they can move forwards.
Over winter, the pocket gopher lines its snow tunnels with soil. After the snow melts in the spring, trails of soil are left behind, evidence that you have pocket gophers in your area.
House cats have been known to keep a pocket gopher population in check. Most often, they little animals will attempt to flee when threatened, but they might attack—cats and humans—and inflict serious bites with their long, sharp teeth.
Depending on species and local conditions, the breeding season may be an annual event, or may occur repeatedly throughout the year. A typical litter consists of two to five young, although it can be much higher. In general, each pocket gopher inhabits its own individual tunnel system, and aggressively maintains its territories depending on the available resources. When those resources are also yours, something needs to be done.
An Internet search brings up dozens of eradication methods, but none are fool-proof. I managed to trap (and simultaneously kill) one individual with the deadly “Black Box”. There are also poisons available, including some that are harmless to other animals. The success of any method, however, depends on the grim determination and perseverance of you, the unfortunate predator.