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Small Mammals of North Dakota

Northern Pocket Gopher

Thomomys talpoides


GIF-Northern Pocket Gopher GIF-Range Map
Northern Pocket Gopher
Range Map

The northern pocket gopher is the smaller of our state's pocket gopher species and weighs less than one-quarter pound compared to more than half a pound for the plains pocket gopher. Its body is shaped for burrowing by being more pointed at both ends and rounder in the midsection. Gophers are darkish-brown on the back and lighter on the belly. Both the eyes and ears are reduced in size because of the little need for them underground. The upper incisors and front claws are long and sharp and made for digging. The neck and shoulder muscles are powerful. A sensitive tail is used by the gopher to navigate backward within a burrow. A special adaptation allows the gopher to close its lips behind the teeth while digging to prevent soil from entering its mouth.

This gopher species is found in a variety of habitats from cultivated fields to prairie meadows. Moist, sandy soils are preferred for excavating extensive burrow systems sometimes reaching 400 to 500 feet in length. Burrows include food storage areas, nest sites, tunnels for depositing feces, and tunnels made while foraging for food.

Favorite foods consist of entirely vegetation, mostly roots of broad-leafed plants, bulbs, and tubers. Garden vegetables are often eaten below the surface with only the leafy material left above ground. Sometimes the gopher will actually pull the entire plant below the surface as is often demonstrated on cartoon shows. Food is carried by the gopher in cheek pouches to a storage chamber for later use.

Breeding takes place in the spring and after about 20 days, 4-7 young are born within the burrow system. Young remain with the mother until they are two months old. At this time, they are forced out on their own. Gophers live a solitary life and a burrow is usually occupied by only one individual except during breeding season and when young are present.

Population densities for gophers may exceed 50 per acre in favorable habitat. Weather, food availability, and flooding may be most important in determining mortality rates. Badgers and great horned owls are probably the chief predators of the northern pocket gopher but coyotes and weasels also take their share.

GIF-Proof of Gopher Digging
Proof that pocket gophers have been excavating during the winter is evident by "tubes" of soil laying above the ground after snow melt. The gopher digs a hole within the soil and pushes the material out of the hole and into the snowbank. This cylinder of soil is what remains in the spring.

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