Gopher (Geomyidae)

   Gopher is a common name properly given to several species and varieties of animals belonging to the family of pocket gophers, Geomyidae. The name is incorrectly applied to various ground squirrels or spermophiles. The pocket or mole gopher, Geomys bursarius, is a sturdy little animal with a stout, compact body; a coat of soft silky hair, earthy brown in color, and external cheek pouches or pockets. The forefeet are armed with strong curved claws, and the upper front teeth are specially adapted for digging. The animal lives almost entirely underground, where it frequently runs its galleries to great distances, coming to the surface occasionally to throw out the loosened dirt. Once a year the male emerges to seek a mate, but for the remainder of the time the habit of life is solitary. One brood—usually of two or three young—is raised each year.

   The pocket gopher feeds chiefly upon roots and tubers and is extremely destructive to vegetables, trees, and farm crops, while the burrows often cause serious damage, especially to the banks of canals and irrigating ditches. Methods of combating the animal include suffocating by the introduction of carbon bisulfides into the burrow or by pumping in the fumes of burning sulfur, trapping, poisoning, and the protection of the animals natural enemies, notably the barn owl, weasel, and bull snake.

   In North America pocket gophers are found from the interior of British Columbia as far south as Costa Rica. Their range covers the entire United States west of the Mississippi, as well as Southern Alabama and Georgia and Northern Florida. The chief species are the Georgia gopher, Geomys tuza, locally known as the salamander; the red or prairie gopher, G. bursarius; the Louisiana gopher, G. breviceps; the sandy gopher, G. arenarius; the Texas gopher, G. texensis; the Padre Island gopher, G. personatus; and the gray pocket gopher, Thomomys talpoides, known sometimes as the camass rat.

   Ground squirrels are similar to the pocket gopher in their habit of burrowing and their destructive tendencies. A large number of varieties are found in the United States, extending westward as far as the Pacific Coast and eastward to Michigan and Indiana. Familiar species are the so-called gray gopher or gray Prairie squirrel, Spermophilus or Citellus franklini, and the striped gopher, S. tridecemlineatus.