- Photo: Ned Harris
Pocket gophers prefer to pull plants down into their tunnel from below
Botta’s Pocket Gophers are about 9.5 inches long and weight 6-8 ounces. They have small eyes with relatively poor vision, small ears, long catlike whiskers that help them feel their way through the extensive tunnel systems in their dark underground burrows, a short mostly hairless tail and long, slender claws on their forefeet. They use their forelegs, elongated claws and occasionally their large, yellowish, chisel-like paired front teeth for digging. Their lips close behind the large incisor teeth, which lets the animal dig without getting a mouthful of soil. They are active year round.
Pocket gophers are named for the external, fur lined cheek pouches on either side of their mouth that serve as pockets for carrying food (plants, roots & bulbs) back to store in their burrows where they can eat in relative safety. In Arizona, they are generally varying shades of brown in color with a white chin. They are found throughout the Sonoran Desert where there are easily dug soils such as those in riparian regions. They are found at all elevations and have been seen several times both in lower Sabino as well as atop Mt. Lemmon.
They are not easy to locate since they spend almost their entire life underground in their extensive tunnels. Only the many mounds of dirt on the surface show where these animals are active. Botta’s Pocket Gophers leave a fan-shaped dirt mound in front of their burrows with the burrow entrances closed up with dirt.
Pocket gophers are very shy and timid; seldom leaving their underground tunnels systems. They prefer to pull plants down into the tunnel from below. Several times I have located a gopher by noticing vegetation being pulled underground. They occasionally venture to the surface to dash out for an appealing plant and that has allowed me to photograph them. Gophers are solitary, only getting together for mating once or twice a year with 2 to 6 hairless, blind young born 19 days later.
Badgers and coyotes hunt pocket gophers by digging out their burrows while snakes are known to pursue them underground. Other predators include bobcats, skunks, hawks and owls.