Wednesday, March 4, 2009
The Pocket Gopher
The pocket gopher is an interesting animal, with a tail which acts like a guide, so that the rodent can run as fast backward as forward, and four yellow incisors which grow about four inches per month. But since he is such stiff competition, when he establishes an intimate relationship with a gardener or alfalfa farmer, the situation becomes worse than embarrassing .
If your children rush to the house screaming, "Mama! Mama! A big mouse came up out of the ground and got a pea vine!", you can be pretty sure the "mouse" was a pocket gopher. In early summer, perhaps about the first of July, you might notice a disturbance in your alfalfa field. If you watch closely, you may see a brown head appear, clip off an alfalfa stem, and drag it down a hole. If a man is fast enough and accurate enough he can dispatch his competitor with a .22 rifle. These opportunities are rare, however, however, unless one has as much time on his hands as the family cat.
Young gophers become independent of their parents in early summer and spread out to establish their own territories. Pocket gophers are called "moles" by many westerners, although a mole is much different, being insectivorous instead of a Plant-eater. The mole's fur is soft and fine, whereas the pocket gopher has a rather ordinary, coarse coat of hair.
The name is not as important as the damage he does. The two reversible, fur-lined, roomy, external cheek pouches make it easy to carry a large supply of carrots, pea vines, parsnips, and other roots and stems (as well as buds and grass) to his underground cache.
The presence of gophers is a very good reason for not leaving carrots or parsnips in the ground over winter. The gopher works all winter - he has to, keep his teeth from growing too long. The evidence of his winter's work comes to view when the snows melt. Then "ropes of dirt" show up where the gopher has disposed of it by packing it into a snow tunnel.
The long, overhanging front teeth and the long claws on wide front feet, together with the large, strong shoulders, enable the gopher to dig about three hundred feet of tunnels in one night. Many tunnels are used only once. The short hairless tail serves much like a blind man's cane, being a tactile organ which makes it possible to travel rapidly in reverse. This ability is especially desirable from the gopher's position, since he can't turn around until he reaches a junction of the tunnel.
The pocket gopher seldom stays above ground any longer than it takes to dump his dirt-filled pouches, or to steal some bit of herbiage, but in a heavy rain or during a fast spring thaw, he will have a water-filled burrow and travel on the surface to higher ground.
Geomys (earth mouse) and his western cousin, Thomomys, who are well-fitted for their niche in the ecology of America. He seems easily trapped in the midwest, but not so easily in Idaho and Montana. The most practical way to remove him seems to be with poisoned grain, dropped into small holes in the roof of the tunnels. The tunnels are located with a pointed steel rod (This of course would not be wise around pets or small children).