Wheeler's Gopher Control Services
One of the more harmful and annoying rodents found inyards and landscaping is the gopher, a medium-size burrowing animal which can move over one ton of soil to the surface each year. They average about five to seven inches in length, with some growing as long as 13 inches. Their front limbs are strong and carry long claws used for digging and occasionally, fighting. They have relatively large incisors (large front teeth), which are used for the same purpose. Their muscular lips close around and behind the teeth so that the gopher can use its teeth for digging without “eating dirt”. Their tails are short and have little hair and are used as a sensory organ. Gophers often run backwards through their burrows with great ease using their tails as a guide.
Behavior of Gophers
The gopher is a solitary creature, which spends nearly all of its life beneath the surface of the ground alone, generally emerging only at night to feed near an entrance or clean out its burrow. The burrow system of a single pocket gopher may include over 600 feet of tunnels, which are from 2 to 4 inches in diameter and a hundred mounds. The main, or foraging runways, usually are from 4 to 12 inches beneath the surface, although they may occasionally be deeper or shallower. They also build side tunnels that are used for feeder holes and small chambers that are used for nests to store food for places to rest, places to put feces and for moving extra soil they haven’t pushed to the surface yet. These nests or chambers are located two to six feet below the surface. Surface openings usually are plugged with soil, except when the gopher is foraging around an open hole or cleaning the burrow of excess dirt, which it does by pushing the dirt with their chest, head, and forefeet. Soil pushed from the burrow forms the mounds, which characterizes the gopher-infested area. In this way, each gopher moves between 1 to 3 tons of soil to the surface each year. Mounds have a horseshoe-shaped depression on one side where the hole is located.
Gophers are most active in the spring and fall. In the summer, heat drives them into the deeper reaches of their burrow systems and foraging activity slows considerably. The mating season is in late winter or spring and females usually produce two litters per year of four to six pups. Young gophers are forced to leave their parental burros after they are weaned, traveling above ground to new territories or to old ones, which have been vacated by other gophers. The rest of the year the pocket gopher leads a lonely life and will defend its territory against others of either sex.
What Gophers Eat
The diet of the gopher is limited entirely to plant material. Roots and tubers form a large part of the diet, but above ground, parts of plants also are consumed, especially during spring and early summer. When foraging above ground, an activity largely confined to the dark hours, the gopher usually keeps its rear feet, or at least its tail, in contact with the rim of its hole. In addition to such surface foraging, the gopher obtains aboveground parts of small plants by cutting the roots beneath the surface and pulling the rest of the plant into the burrow.
Harmful Effects of a Gopher Infestation
Gophers eat substantial amounts of vegetation in a short period of time. In addition, both time and money are lost trying to level their mounds and replanting the infested areas. Much of your time is wasted leveling mounds since they will reappear quickly. Old tunnels collapse causing holes and gullies. Serious damage in irrigated areas is often caused by water loss due to burrowing. Although gophers fall prey to a number of natural enemies, predators rarely eliminate them from an infested area and it is usually necessary to actively control them.
Gopher Control by Exclusion
Gophers can be excluded from small areas although at significant expense and labor. To exclude gophers from ornamental trees and shrubs, you can bury a 1/4 to 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth fence at least 18 inches deep. The bottom of the fence should be bent at a 90-degree angle so that a 6-inch apron of wire projects horizontally toward the gopher. Place the fence in shallow soil at least 2 feet from the nearest plants to avoid root injury.
Direct Gopher Control Extermination
The two main methods of gopher control are trapping and hand application of baits. Gopher Extermination by Trapping
To trap a gopher, the main runway must be located by probing about 12 to 18 inches from the mound on the side of the horseshoe-shaped depression with a pointed stick or similar device. Open the main runway and insert traps, one on each side of the opening.
Gopher Control by Baiting
For large and heavily infested areas, trapping is both too time consuming and too expensive in comparison with the use of baits. To bait gophers, the main runway must be located by probing about 12 to 18 inches from the mound on the side of the horseshoe-shaped depression. When the runway is found, bait is dropped into the hole made by the probe and the hole is covered so that no light leaks into the tunnel. It is usually necessary to place baits only near the two freshest mounds in a burrow system.
Long Term Gopher Control
Gopher numbers can recover quickly if control is not maintained. Re-treating may be necessary as soon as any signs of re-infestation are found. Monitoring the boundaries of your property and working with your neighbors for community control will help keep gophers in check long-term. Encourage your neighbors to control gophers on their property and your homeowners association to control gophers on the commons land to reduce migration onto your land. Developing a community-wide control program to limit gopher populations in existing source areas will reduce cost for gopher control for all participants.
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