Botta's Pocket Gopher, Thomomys bottae

DIET: Plants, especially their roots.

PREDATORS: Bobcats, coyotes, foxes, owls, hawks, snakes, herons.

HABITAT: Anywhere with dry soil and plenty of food

CONSERVATION STATUS: Least concern

WHERE TO OBSERVE IN SB: Douglas Family Preserve, La Mesa Park, backyards.

LEARN MORE:

Controlling gophers

Gopher-proofing your yard

Most people have probably seen a Botta's pocket gopher before.  These familiar rodents live in the ground in many backyards and fields, and the holes and mounds they make are telltale signs.

Appearance

The Botta's pocket gopher is a rodent that resembles a small hamster and has large buck teeth which are normally discolored.  As a camouflage adaptation, the fur of a gopher usually matches the color of the local soil.  Usually only the head and upper body of a gopher is seen, since it doesn't normally come fully out of the ground.

Role in Food Chain

Botta's pocket gophers are herbivorous, eating only plants.  They usually eat from underground, by gnawing on the roots of plants or pulling the whole plant into their tunnels. 

Gophers have many predators.  Coyotes, foxes, bobcats, owls, hawks, snakes, and herons are among the animals that prey on the Botta's pocket gopher.  Snakes, such as gopher snakes, crawl into the tunnels and eat the gophers.  Herons are often seen standing patiently in fields, waiting for a gopher to appear from its hole so the heron can catch it with its long beak.

Habitat and Range

Gophers can live in just about any place where there is a constant supply of weeds and other plants for them to eat.  They prefer dry soil, since that enables easier burrowing.  Common gopher habitats include fields, forest edges, and backyards.  They live mainly in the western United States.

Behavior

Gophers are active all day, especially at dawn.  They dig elaborate tunnel systems using their clawed feet and large teeth.  They eat mostly from underground, but frequently dig up to the surface to survey their surroundings. 

Relationship with Humans

To most people, gophers are garden pests.  This is because they damage plants and make the ground unstable and sunken.  Many people respond to a gopher sighting by using poisons and traps.  While traps are an effective way to rid your yard of the existing gopher population, they should be used in combination with other control measures such as gopher-proofing your garden.  Poisons may be used as a last resort for a large population of gophers, but by using them one runs the risk of harming local raptors and other rodent-eating animals.  Learn more about ethical and effective gopher control here.

How to Observe Gophers

Although gophers are active all day every day, they are underground most of the time so they are hard to observe.  The best time to look for gophers is the morning.  Go to a field or open space where there are a lot of gophers and wait patiently.  You will likely see a few gophers poking their heads out of the ground.